Tips to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing

Birdwatchers are protective of their backyard birds. We invest in plants so a variety of species can find food and shelter. We hang feeders to supplement their diet and bring them close enough to observe their behaviors.

Now that Anna’s hummingbirds are staying here in the winter, we keep out the hummingbird feeders.

And every winter, I get calls for help: “My hummingbird feeder froze! What do I do?”

Here are a few tips to keep the sugar water flowing:

Let there be light. Wrap the feeder in outdoor-rated incandescent holiday lights. The new lights, energy-efficient LEDs, aren’t helpful because they don’t give off enough heat. Hopefully the incandescent lights can warm the air to just above freezing.

This would work during the recent cold snap but probably not in bitter cold. Make sure your electric cord also is rated for outdoors use.

Or, put a clamp-on infrared shop light a foot or two from the feeder. Test both the wattage and distance. You don’t want too much heat. If your mix becomes cloudy (think of hot days), use fewer lights, lower wattage or a different distance.

On the plus side, you might see a hummingbird huddling near a light for the night.

Warm wrap. Activate a hand warmer and wrap it around the feeder. Keep it close to the ports.

Seeing double. Rotate two feeders. Or use a feeder only during the day, when the temperatures are not as cold.

Location, location. Put the feeder where it gets the most sun but is also protected from cold winds; use a dome or a roof to protect the feeder from snow.

Wrap it up. Be creative. You can crochet or knit a cover, or just go with a wool sock over the reservoir. Other options include using down-filled material or even pipe insulation. Use heat tape with a thermostat.

Sweet tooth. The standard 4:1 ratio of water to sugar begins to freeze around 27 degrees. If you’re in a particularly long, hard cold snap (not to be confused with chilly weather), change the mix to 3:1 because it lowers the temperature at which it freezes. According to research, this ratio will not hurt the bird, and since they use more energy during the winter, they’ll have more “fuel” to convert to heat and energy.

Spend money. Buy a heated hummingbird feeder.

Check out YouTube. Go to

Disturbing sight. A strange scenario at a hummingbird feeder caught a friend’s attention.

“A female Anna’s was stuck between the perch and the base of the feeder. A male Anna’s had her trapped. She dropped to my deck and was caught between the decking boards where the male continue to peck at her. It almost looked like he was trying to mate,” said Corinne Storey.

“He flew off and I picked her up and placed her on the railing. She flew into a nearby shrub. This morning, I found a hummingbird wedged in between the perch and the base of my hummingbird feeder, frozen.

Has anyone seen a situation similar to what Storey described?

Later she found a very cold hummingbird on a stump next to her house and brought inside. After talking with me, and since it had started to move, she placed her outside.

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

Not all hummingbirds can live after being “rescued,” given their agitation and energy expended after a full day in the cold. Taking them inside is, at best, a 50-50 proposition. Keeping one inside can fail, letting them stay outside can succeed. Or the reverse.

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

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