Some hummingbirds tough out the Northwest winter

  • By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
  • Friday, November 9, 2012 1:48pm
  • Life

After a glorious summer, fall is here with a vengeance.

It’s cold, wet, windy and a bit gloomy, certainly not the sunny, flower-filled weather we associate with hummingbirds. Does that mean it’s time to take down their nectar-filled feeders?

It’s your call, according to area biologists.

Most hummingbirds have already headed south for the winter. But a few Anna’s hummingbirds stay here year-round, said Patricia Thompson, a biologist from the Mill Creek office of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

And the number is growing.

She said annual bird counts showed 179 hummingbirds on the western side of the state in 2001 and 1,137 last year. Experts say Anna’s hummingbirds typically were based in California, but have become residents in Oregon, Washington and southwestern British Columbia as more people there have provided plants that offer year-round food. More feeders haven’t hurt, either.

Because there is enough natural food, feeders really aren’t essential for the hummingbirds that live here year-round, according to experts from the wildlife department or from the Seattle chapter of the Audubon Society.

They also note that it’s unlikely that feeders will prevent hummingbirds that typically migrate for the winter from leaving the area.

Audubon experts suggest you keep watch on your feeders and discontinue them about two weeks after you see the last hummingbird. But if birds are still using them, they may be helpful, especially in colder weather.

“If you have been feeding the hummingbirds, and they have become accustomed to finding food in your yard, we would encourage you to continue this responsibility,” the Seattle Audubon notes on its website,

Chris Anderson, another biologist from the wildlife department, noted that he believes “wild birds are not pets that need to be taken care of.” But he added that people who do feed birds shouldn’t be haphazard about it.

“If you do want to maintain feeders, be responsible and committed to it,” he said. “Keep those feeders clean, filled and heated with lights if necessary.”

Stringing Christmas lights around a feeder will usually keep them usable in cold weather. In addition to lights, you can also keep a couple feeders going and rotate them inside and out in freezing weather, according to the Audubon Society.

Audubon experts also recommend using duct tape to place hand warmers on a feeder if needed or setting up heat tape used by plumbers to keep pipes from freezing.

The society also suggests you provide water for birds when everything’s frozen.

Hummingbird nectar

If you choose to feed hummingbirds, you can make the nectar using 1 part white sugar and 4 parts hot water. Boil for a minute or two, then let cool. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

During cold weather, clean the feeder once a week with a solution of 1 part vinegar and 4 parts water. Rinse three times with warm water before refilling.

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