Tips for feeding birds in cold weather

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A hummingbird at a feeder. (File photo by Bill Anderson)

A reader asked us to share information about maintaining bird feeders — and especially hummingbird feeders — in cold weather. We posed the questions to our experts, and received this column from Candy Brown, a member of the Pilchuck Audubon Society.

Songbirds

  • Provide plenty of dry, nutritious seed. I only feed black oil sunflower seed as it is high in fat and protein and appeals to the many songbirds visiting my yard.
  • Suet cakes in the winter are popular with several species.
  • Water in birdbaths or dishes on the ground will be appreciated and is necessary for birds in freezing weather. There are devices available at bird feeding stores that will gently heat water to keep birdbaths liquid in freezing weather.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds eat from dawn to dusk and become dependent on feeders in freezing weather.

  • Continue to only feed sugar water that is 4 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar to your hummers. Increasing the amount of sugar can lead to kidney failure and death.
  • Bring feeders in at dark, take them back out at dawn. Keep a spare in the house and fill and take out to replace your feeder if the sugar water freezes during the day.
  • To keep the sugar water liquid, equip your feeder with a “Heater Hearth” (I bought mine at Wild Birds Unlimited), which includes a light in the bottom of it and keeps the water thawed even overnight. Some people have luck taping non-LED Christmas lights to the bottom of their feeder. You will need, of course, a power outlet outdoors.
  • We moved one of our feeders from out in the open to an overhang by our front porch (on the same side of our house) where the water stayed liquid all day and night and the hummers could still find it.

— By Candy Brown.

9 Replies to “Tips for feeding birds in cold weather”

  1. We’ve been changing our hummingbird feeders every few hours and have had so many coming we also ordered littlenhouses for them and hungthem up yesterday in hopes they can hunker down in them if need be. We have to take care of these little ones!

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  2. I tape chemical hand warmers to the bottom of the feeders. These will prevent freezing in all but the coldest weather.

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  3. Thanks everyone these are all great ideas. I have been making 3 parts water to 1 part sugar, glad you told me 4 to 1. And I didn’t know about hummingbird houses, and the hand warmer idea is great. So many hummingbirds stick around. I love the birds and was glad I got out and refilled the feeders yesterday before the big snow. I use the no mess seed and use a product that help keeps it dry – just a little – they must have dry food, no moldy wet food as you all know.
    Carolynne Harris

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  4. To aid in keeping feeders thawed and the birds warm, we have created something that keeps hummingbird feeders warm enough to feed from throughout the winter months and gives our hummingbirds a place to get warm while they drink. As anyone who has enjoyed a hot meal after playing in the snow knows, restorative heat gives you the strength to go on. This is even truer for the tiny hummingbird. Any warmth and energy we can give them increases their chances of survival in the winter months. Please visit us at http://hummingbirdheiniewarmer.com

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  5. I use a wool sock with a cut out toe on my cylinder hummingbird feeder and a wool cap on my disc hummingbird feeder. I cover the bottom portion of the feeding disc with the hat The nectar has not frozen on mine using this method.

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  6. My problem is the high winds. They’re too strong to keep my feeders hanging & the winds would knock them over if I put them out on a table. I feel so bad for the littl guys. I tried hanging the feeder lower on a bare branch of a low bush but I think it’s too close to the ground. I’ve seen the fly by but not down to it. Any suggestions?

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  7. I have a dominant male hummingbird who is not into sharing HIS hummingbird feeder. Does anyone have suggestions on how to encourage his little guy to allow others to also use the feeder.

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    1. This might not help but I have 3 hummingbird feeders
      One on front deck and two in back yard. They
      Are very territorial.

      Carolynne

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  8. This is typical Anna behavior. The only answer is to get another feeder and place it out of sight of the first feeder.

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