Ways to keep visiting birds warm and fed during cold weather

Heated bird bath. (Photos by Chris Walton)

Finding ways to keep bird baths and feeders from freezing can be challenging, but Edmonds resident and retired biomedical engineer Chris Walton has some suggestions.

“The bird bath is relatively simple,” he said. “They sell waterproof heaters online that are quite effective. Quite a few birds have been visiting my bird bath for a drink.”

When it comes to preventing frozen bird feeders, hummingbird feeders — which commonly deliver a sugar water mixture — are a particular challenge, Walton said, because they come in so many shapes and sizes.

Chris Walton’s heated hummingbird feeder.

Because he designed medical equipment during his career, Walton said he felt comfortable designing his own heated hummingbird feeder years ago. But he has some words of caution for those who may want to make their own feeder. especially related to safety.

“I don’t recommend anyone making one using 120 volts unless they know what they are doing,” he advised. “You also have to be very careful to not get the water too warm. I used a nightlight bulb that is only 7 watts! As you can see in this picture (below), I did a lot of testing to ensure the water temperature never got above about 70 degrees.”

In addition, he added that “warm water breeds bacteria. People should also clean the feeders (without using chemicals).”

“I have seen devices online that are battery operated but suspect they won’t work very well in extremely cold weather,” he continued. “My recommendation is for people to buy two or three feeders and rotate them to keep them from freezing. You can also put a beer can cozy on the glass to help insulate it.”

He invites others to share their tips, too. (Leave them in the comments below.)

“Years ago when I designed this heater, a local bird store owner wanted me to manufacture them,” Walton said  “But my challenge was finding a company to make the plastic base, which would be a large initial investment. I was also worried about the safety issues of using 120 volts. Remember, it rains on those feeders! ”

Publisher’s note: Here’s an image of lights wrapped around a feeder, as Kristin Sterner suggested in her comment after this story was. published:

 

16 Replies to “Ways to keep visiting birds warm and fed during cold weather”

  1. A couple of years ago. I read about wrapping your hummingbird feeder with small Christmas lights (not LED). They work great and are pretty too. The hummingbirds don’t mind them at all.
    I will admit it is kind of a pain to unwrap/rewrap every time you fill it, but it’s worth it!

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  2. Thanks Chris. You must meet my wife, who is a certified bird whisperer & even has a pet crow… ( Heckle ) After talking about the terrible icy roads and limiting travel, she up and tells me that we have to drive to Lake Forest Park to purchase a Humming Bird feeder heater…………I’m in no position to argue. 🙂

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    1. The crows I usually see are looking skinny. Love the warmed water idea. Needs a control loop/regulator?

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  3. Chris, Thank you for your input. I use the “saucer” shaped feeders. I attach an activated Hand Warmer to the bottom of the feeders with duct tape before putting them outside. I also let the “nectar” warm up to room temperature before putting the feeder outside. In this extremely cold weather even these aren’t enough to keep the nectar from freezing so having a back up feeders is really necessary.

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  4. I bought a second humming bird feeder so Manage to keep one out there all day by alternating them . I bring it in before bed and my husband puts it out when he wakes up at 5:00 AM. The poor little guys are always so hungry in the morning. I can’t figure out how they stay warm but at least we can feed them Since I don’t think they would appreciate me bringing them inside

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  5. Yes the handwarmers work but they are detrimental to the planet! You’re helping one species but harming ALL of the others. Just get a second feeder and switch it out! Not only better for the planet, but you eliminate the on-going expense of the for additional handwarmers.

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    1. How are hand armers bad for the environment? You can recycle them in your garden even. Electric cars and solar panels are bad for the environment, I think by the same metric you’re using. Rare Earths mining is horrible, as is dredging for coke glass sand.

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  6. I bought a multi-use de-icer a couple years ago at Wild Birds Unlimited and it’s been fabulous. It works in bird baths or many different types of containers. You need an outdoor electrical socket and an outdoor extension cord can be used if that’s not nearby.
    My WBU hummingbird heater on the other hand has been a disappointment. It didn’t prevent freezing so now I’m just switching out nectar feeders. I saw some do-it-yourself heater ideas on YouTube I may try so I’m better prepared next cold snap.

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  7. I work all day long, so I am not home to switch out hummingbird feeders. I agree that is the simplest solution.

    But, the handwarmer on each feeder solves the freezing for my situation.

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  8. I put out 2 warm feeders in the morning and bring them in at night. The electric warmers I ordered that attach to the bottom of the feeders are a month away from getting here.

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  9. I’m making a pouch from PUL fabric to hold a rechargeable battery operated hand warmer and then suspend it beneath the hummingbird feeder to see if that helps. And changing out feeders as well.

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  10. Please encourage others to help thru the winter. Neighbor pulled his feeders then realized We were the only ones left feeding them- we’re elderly & broken so his are back out thank goodness. Alternating 3 feeders every hr from 1st light; the access holes freeze shut & they try to drink from the side. THANKS for ideas.

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  11. Thank you, Matt, for posting this. It would be great if people check their facts before posting misinformation. Yes, hand warmers (HotHands is the big brand) look pretty awful environmentally if you don’t do your research. However, the package is completely compostable, and the inside components are as Matt says good for your garden.

    If you search any good gardening site you will see that most disposable hand warmers contain a mix of iron, water, activated carbon, vermiculite, cellulose, and salt. Once exposed to air, the iron oxidizes and releases heat in the process presumably into your mitten or glove. Once the hand warmer is used, it is no longer toxic, as the iron is essentially considered “inactivated.” But what is left is good for our soil as it returns some needed minerals, and the other items are mulch

    If you throw an unused handwarmer into your garbage or compost it is bad (why would you be doing that). If it is used fine and you can either bury it in your garden or put into your yard waste bin.

    Like some other folks commenting I splurged and bought the heater from Wild Birds Unlimited — one for me and one for the grandkids. At the grandkids feeder the hummingbird is out there and just hanging out on the feeder perch to stay warm. In my yard, I have this extremely mean, aggressive hummingbird; he [his coloring suggests a he / him] attacks us sometimes if we are invading his territory/He him found our heated feeder today and changed others away. If you have some unused handwarmers that aren’t vintage or antiques, you can use them as well.

    The big message today is there are lots of very cold birds out there. They are very hungry; they need access to food but more importantly water. I have been cleaning the bird baths a lot because they have learned to rely on them. I love watching the backyard birds here in Edmonds and this week has been fascinating–they even work together. The secondary message–check facts before posting.

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