Want to know more about feeding hummingbirds in the winter?
I’m guessing you’re one of the lucky ones that live in a state with overwinter hummingbirds.
That’s great, but it’s important you know there is a little more care you need to put into your hummingbird feeders over the winter season.
Anna’s, Allen’s, Costas, ruby-throats, rufous, and other hummingbird species don’t always migrate south. Some will stay in the USA and see out the winter months.
The winter brings a lot of changes to the climate that creates significant challenges for hummingbirds to survive. Let’s look at these issues.
Why feeding hummingbirds in the winter is important
We all know that the weather in winter is usually icy cold temperatures, snow, and blizzards.
Tiny hummingbirds need to survive these conditions outdoors. And the only way they can do this is to have enough energy to go into a regular state of torpor.
Leaving your feeders out will provide an energy lifeline for overwintering hummingbirds in your area.
Lack of flowers
In winter, all the lovely nectar-filled plants and flowers have died off. These plants are a vital source of energy for hummingbirds.
Without nectar from natural plant sources, hummingbirds feed to search further for energy sources from tree sap. This search leaves them using up more vital energy during the day.
You may already know that nectar isn’t a hummingbird’s primary food source. It’s actually insects.
In the winter, hummingbirds could really do with a helping hand for extra energy to find them. There are still plenty of insects around; the hummingbirds just have to work harder to find them.
Winter seems like an unusual time for a bird to breed. But some hummingbird species, such as Allen’s and Anna’s, do.
Once the chicks hatch, the female hummingbirds will need to source even more insects to feed them. That’s where your feeders will help provide a stable energy source for the females.
The winter months will bring with it shorter days. That means there are much fewer sunlight hours in the day for hummingbirds to search for food.
Without help from your feeder, hummingbirds have to work extra hard to get enough energy to go into torpor. Remember, torpor is essential for hummingbird survival.
I think you’ll agree that these little hummingbirds can have it pretty tough in winter conditions.
The good news? You can do a few things with your hummingbird feeders that will make life so much easier for them in the winter. And I’m going to show toy how in this guide.
Like the sound of that? Then let’s jump right in.
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12 Tips for Feeding Hummingbirds in the Winter
1. The right design
The first step to helping your hummingbird through the winter is using a quality bird hummingbird feeder.
Those $1 feeders are great for the bank balance. But the reality is it’s a false economy as you’ll need to buy them frequently.
They’re made of cheap plastic that simply doesn’t hold up in the winter months.
The last thing you want for your hummingbird feeders is for them to crack, break or leak. That’s easily done when they have to withstand bitter cold wind, snow, blizzards, and ice.
I would highly recommend using a glass hummingbird feeder over a plastic one in the winter.
Glass is so much more durable than plastic in brutal winter weather.
You’ll also want a relatively small feeder without too many portholes.
Why do I say this?
Well, ideally, you want to be able to defrost any frozen nectar quickly, and this can be done with smaller volumes. Also, you won’t be feeding hundreds of hummingbirds as you do in the summer. A smaller feeder will keep your nectar fresh for your winter hummers.
Check out some of these great hummingbird feeders, which are great for use in the winter months.
2. Use window feeders
You may consider using a window feeder instead of a hanging feeder in the winter.
The window feeder will help you to see any visiting hummingbirds close up.
You may also find that a window feeder will provide some protection and heat for the feeder, depending on where you live.
Keeping your feeder clear of snow or from reaching freezing temperatures will make it easier for hummingbirds to feed in the early hours.
A window feeder will also make it easier to see how much nectar you have left or if it’s contaminated. This ensures you keep your nectar much fresher for your hummingbirds.
This window feeder is one of the best sellers on Amazon. You can even pour some warm water into the ant moat in the morning. This will help to defrost any nectar that froze overnight.
3. Take it in
One of the easiest ways to provide unfrozen nectar for your hummingbirds is to take your feeder indoors overnight.
This is the best option if you live in an area where the weather drops below 40°F at night.
You may even want to rotate a few feeders so that your hummingbirds always have access to nectar.
The idea is that you replace the feeders each morning with a fresh, unfrozen supply of nectar. That way, the hummingbirds don’t arrive at a frozen feeder and need to wait for the nectar to defrost.
Although the most significant drawback of this method is that you need to be up very early in the morning. That’s because the hummingbirds will start to wake with the sunlight and look for nectar straight away.
4. Change Location
One of the things you’ll have to consider in the winter is the position of your hummingbird feeders.
If you have it hanging in an exposed area, this won’t be good for the hummingbirds or your feeders.
An exposed feeder will have to battle the harsh weather conditions. Your hummingbirds may also have to contend with driving snow, wind, or sleet as they feed.
Try to look for a reasonably sheltered place to hang your feeders. This will protection for both your hummingbirds and make your feeders last longer.
5. Cover it up
If moving your hummingbird feeders isn’t an option, why not use a weather guard instead?
These plastic devices look like umbrella tops for your feeders. It will protect your hummingbirds and your feeders from the harsh winter weather.
Any rain, sleet, or snow will just roll right off the top, leaving your feeder clear for the hummingbirds to eat in peace.
A weather dome isn’t just a winter investment. It can also protect feeders from the sun in the summertime. Plus, it helps to keep pests such as squirrels or ants off your hummingbird feeders.
6. Heat it
When dealing with frozen nectar, the most logical thing to do would be to defrost it using heat.
There are techniques used by birdwatchers to try and keep their hummingbird feeders frost-free.
Some popular solutions include:
- Using hand warmers
- Wrapping holiday lights around the feeder
- Shining a bright light onto the feeder
- Using heated feeders
- Plumber heat cable
As birdwatchers, we mustn’t cause any harm to any visiting birds.
The issue with these solutions is that if they aren’t done correctly, they can cause safety issues for the hummingbirds.
You have to be really careful about using wires and attachments on your feeders. The risk is that the hummingbird could become entangled.
If you go down this route, remember to use outdoor electrical plugs and outlets to prevent any risk of electrical shocks.
In the name of safety, heating your hummingbird feeders may be out of the question. But you have the option to slow down the rate the nectar freezes by keeping your feeder insulated.
You can use a jacket of bubble wrap covered in aluminum insulating tape wrapped around your feeder bottle. This is the type of thing you can use to protect your pipes from bursting in the winter.
Try not to use this tape directly on your feeders as it’s super sticky. It will likely ruin your feeder if you try to take it off again.
Placing the bubble wrap underneath provides an extra layer of insulation. You can slip it off quickly to clean the feeder and remove it for spring.
Another cute method is to add a knitted or crochet feeder cover. I’m not sure how effective these are, but they look super cute. You can cut the toes off of an old thick sock if you’re not crafty. Try to use pure wool, which will help provide extra insulation for your feeder.
8. Don’t adjust the ratio
There is a lot of debate about whether you should adjust the ratio of homemade hummingbird nectar in the winter.
The recommended ratio is using 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.
Some hummingbird watchers suggest using a ratio of 3:1 in the winter.
This is because sugar water doesn’t freeze as fast as plain water. And so, the more sugar there is in the water, the slower the nectar will freeze.
Plus, there is the idea that the extra sugar will provide more energy for the hummingbirds.
And that all sounds logical, but I don’t recommend changing the ratio in the winter.
Well, a 4:1 ratio provides a nectar solution that most closely matches the nectar that birds eat from flowers.
Not only this, but the Seattle Audubon society also states that more concentrated sugar water is more challenging for hummingbirds to eat. But want to know what’s worse? It can damage a hummingbird’s kidneys and liver.
While it’s good to try and help the hummingbird as much as possible, doing too much can cause them harm.
Changing your sugar ratio in winter is only more beneficial to you and not to the hummingbirds.
9. Provide shelter
One of the best ways to attract any local hummingbird to your feeder in the winter is to provide them with shelter close by.
It’s likely that if the hummingbird has somewhere to go into torpor and not travel too far, they’ll use your feeders all winter long.
Ideally, hummingbirds prefer a sheltered tree that keeps them safe and protected from the weather and predators.
To give the hummingbird a helping hand, you can hang a woven hummingbird house close to your feeder. They can use this to take shelter during the night.
10. Keep it clean
Don’t forget that you need to keep your hummingbird feeders clean in the winter.
Although your nectar may not spoil as quickly as they do in the summer. Remember, your feeder may not empty as soon in the winter.
Regardless of how often hummingbirds use your feeders, it’s good practice to be cleaning them every 3-4 days.
Birds can carry various diseases which quickly spread to other birds if you don’t keep your feeder well maintained. These bacteria and viruses are still active in the winter months.
Diseases like salmonella are worse in the bird population in the winter. Clean feeders and fresh nectar are best to prevent infection from spreading to your hummingbird visitors.
11. Keep topped up
Feeding hummingbird in the winter is slower than in the summer. With only a few hummingbirds using your feeder, it may take longer to empty them.
Just make sure you keep an eye on your nectar levels. Forgetting to fill your feeder may leave your hummingbirds without a reliable nectar source. This can result in starvation if they can’t find another food source.
During winter, other animals may use your hummingbird feeder as an easy food source. So look out for empty hummingbird feeders in the morning.
Check your feeders daily to check the nectar levels. This doesn’t take longer than a few seconds. If your feeder is low or empty, take it down, clean it, and then refill.
12. Offer Water
One thing that you may not have conserved over winter is a water source for your hummingbirds.
Snow and ice may be all around, but it’s no use if frozen.
Hummingbirds still need a source of fresh water in winter. This is something you can provide for them.
Heating your birdbath (with a device like this) is a simple way to provide a constant source of water that does freeze over. You can also top up any water source in your yard with warm water to remove any icy layer from the surface.
Feeding Hummingbirds in the Winter – FAQs
Can hummingbirds drink cold nectar?
There is a lot of debate about whether you can give cold hummingbird nectar.
You’ll see many anecdotal pieces of advice saying, ‘my hummers eat cold nectar, and they’re ok.’
And that may be true. But consider this.
The National Audubon Society recommends you don’t offer cold nectar to your hummingbirds.
That’s because there is a risk that the lower temperatures will cause a cold-stunned state. I like to compare this to the brain freeze you feel when you eat ice cream too quickly.
This cold stun can be fatal for hummingbirds. And you may not notice the effect straight away if the hummingbirds fly off.
To not harm the hummingbirds, I recommend you take in your feeders overnight. Especially if you live somewhere that causes the nectar to drop to almost frozen.
Can you buy heated hummingbird feeders?
Yes, you can buy heated hummingbird feeders. These come with a little electrical heat box attached to the bottom of the feeder.
You’ll need to have a weatherproof electrical outlet to use these feeders.
Should you leave hummingbird feeders out in winter?
You can leave the hummingbird feeder out as long as you have a hummingbird in your yard.
Some southern and west coast states will have hummingbirds who stay all year round.
Don’t worry that leaving hummingbird feeder out will stop hummingbirds from migrating. This is a myth, and only hormones and sunlight will tell a hummingbird when to fly south.
You can check out when you’ll likely see the last of them in my guide to taking your hummingbird feeders down.
Can you leave hummingbird feeders out in winter?
You can leave hummingbird feeders out in the winter. But you need to make sure you’re prepared for more maintenance.
Hummingbird feeders in winter can be a lot more commitment than in the summer.
First, you’ll need to make sure the nectar does freeze and is available for the hummingbirds.
Hummingbird feeders left up in the winter are more prone to damage from harsh weather conditions.
You’ll also need to keep cleaning them regularly. This stops any disease from spreading amongst the hummingbirds.
This guide has shown you 12 different tips for feeding hummingbirds in the winter.
If you take anything away with you, make sure your hummingbirds have easy access to any food you have on offer.
Make your yard as inviting as possible for them. Provide shelter and fresh nectar in the harsh winter conditions.
Remember, hummingbirds that stay around are well adapted to winter conditions. But it’s always good to give them a helping hand to make sure they survive the winter.
Please share with your family and friends if you found this article helpful.
Let me know in the comments below if you get hummingbirds visiting over the winter.