How to help hummingbirds survive the winter

In a cold spell such as last week’s, hummingbird feeders can freeze, shutting down the restaurant for resident Anna’s hummingbirds.

In response to callers, we’re rerunning suggestions to help the birds keep their little metabolic engines running:

• Bring the feeder inside at night; put it out in the morning.

• Use two feeders and swap them when necessary.

• Put up a clamp light with a 100-watt bulb about 10 inches from the feeder. It keeps the feeder from freezing and warms the hummingbirds.

• Wrap tiny incandescent Christmas lights around the feeder and plug it into an extension cord.

• If the feeder is frozen during the day, dry it out with a hair dryer and rehang it.

Generally speaking, healthy hummingbirds can live through bitter weather, although it helps to provide sugar-water for calories.

Use a 3-to-1 ratio of water to sugar during the cold snaps rather than the standard 4-to-1 we normally use. It provides more energy and the freezing level will drop to about 27 degrees; tap water freezes at 32 degrees.

Use the 3-to-1 ratio only in the coldest days of winter. It’s possible that this higher concentration of sugar water taken over a longer time might harm the hummingbirds’ kidneys.

Sometimes people find perfectly still hummingbirds with that frozen look. It’s called torpor, a short-term hibernation when the birds reduce their rate of metabolism as well as body temperature to conserve energy and survive the lower temperatures.

They are not “frozen.” Don’t come to the rescue. Don’t bring them inside. While the odds are not as bad as the Mariners reaching the World Series in my lifetime, the rate of successful warming and surviving is poor.

What are you going to do when the hummer reaches an active state, when its torpor turns into extreme agitation in alien surroundings and it starts burning the small reserve of calories left after a full day in the cold?

The hummingbird’s best chance is to be allowed to do what comes naturally

Exploring the ocean: When I think of the ocean, I think of power and grace, brilliant color in small creatures, sharp teeth in aerodynamically designed packages.

Similar thoughts come to mind for award-winning National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, although he adds the voice of experience.

“I think of a place of mystery and a place of magic. I don’t want to overly dramatic but I’ve been exploring it for about 35 years, and I realize more than ever that I know so little about it.”

Skerry is the first speaker in the National Geographic Speaker Live! series of lecturers at Benaroya Hall. He speaks Sunday (sold out), Monday and Tuesday.

Skerry’s fascination with the ocean started in a childhood when he was inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s documentaries and National Geographic magazines.

“I wanted to be an ocean explorer. Once I started scuba diving at 15, I quickly discovered photography and had this epiphany that I could be an ocean explorer but with a camera.

“I come from a blue-collar working-class mill town. The odds must have been a billion to one of achieving that dream: to be a National Geographic photographer. Now I’m diving with the cool animals of my childhood dreams.”

Skerry’s perspective has evolved after more than 10,000 hours under water, diving under as a photojournalist, surfacing as an ocean advocate.

“I’ve been surprised how fragile the oceans are. They have been pretty resilient for a long time but they’re being attacked on many fronts, dying a death from a thousand cuts. Many times I’m looking (at what may be) at the last of a species.

“I’ve photographed sharks. There are not many left, and the ones left are seemingly in a fragile state, the last of the Mohicans. I see the fragility of the oceans more than ever.”

It was that degradation that pushed him to educate himself, then others.

“As a journalist, I have had the privilege of spending a lifetime in the ocean, and I have a sense of responsibility to tell those stories as well.”

Skerry said that he is fortunate to have animals welcome him into their world.

“An underwater photographer doesn’t have the luxury of time that terrestrial photographers have. I can only photograph as long as the air supply on my back will last.

“I can’t use a telephoto lens because even in the clearest water, the ocean filters out the colors.

“In order to make good underwater photographs, I need to get very close, 5 to 6 feet. Every assignment I am very stressed about photographing a species, about how little opportunity you’re really going to get.

“Yet it somehow usually happens, which is a testimony to the animals.”

National Geographic Books released Skerry’s latest book, “Ocean Soul,” last November. For more information on Skerry and his photographs, go to

Other speakers are: photojournalist Catherine Karnow, “Journey to Vietnam,” Feb. 26 to 28; scientist Albert Lin and archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert, “Searching for Genghis Khan,” April 1 to 3; filmmaker Mattias Klum and scientist Johan Rockstrom, “Becoming Human: Our Evolutionary Journey,” April 29 to May 1; and extreme filmmaker Bryan Smith, “The Lens of Adventure,” May 20 to 22.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or

See the series

Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; tickets are $12 to $28. Go to or call 866-833-4747.

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