Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winter hummingbird feeding: Your birds still need you!

Popoki watching the hummingbird feeder
In the spring and summer, Oregon is awash with hummingbird feeders. I see them hanging off front porches, dangling from the edges of trees and parked in the midst of flower beds. But in the winter? It's a whole different story. By November, I seem to be the only person in my entire neighborhood with active feeders.

And they're packed every single day.

Let's talk about why.

There are literally dozens of different species of hummingbird. And many of these little guys migrate. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, for example, go miles and miles to Central America in the winter, where they can gorge up on insects. There isn't much critter activity up here, so they head where the climate is warmer.

But some species of hummingbirds do not migrate at all. The Ana's Hummingbirds we have in Oregon, for example, are almost completely non-migratory. They pick a spot and they live there all year round, come what may. And since there are no insects for them to feast upon in the winter, and there are no flowers that can supply nectar, these guys rely on feeders in order to stay alive.

If I pull down my feeders, I can't entice the birds to travel south. That isn't something the birds do. They don't know how. If I pull the feeders down, it will simply remove a food source these guys need.

In addition, some researchers suggest that some hummingbird species are delaying their migration trips due to global warming. Some species, including the Rufous Hummingbird, have been spotted in places like Texas in the depths of winter. These guys will also rely on human help in order to get through the winter.

And you'll enjoy helping.

There's a special thrill involved with keeping a winter feeder, as you can see the birds a whole lot easier. They're not blocked by leaves or trees or other foliage. They're right out in the open, where you can see them easily. And they tend to stay for really long drinking sessions, too. It's great fun to sit and watch them drink and drink and drink. Mine are used to that observation, and they don't even fly away. It's wonderful.

I should mention, if you'd like to get on board, that there are special steps involved with winter feeding. I bring my feeders in at night, so I can ensure that the fluid doesn't freeze. And that means no sleeping in when morning comes. Hummingbirds need to load up first thing in the morning when they awake, so the feeders need to be up and running.

Also, on really cold days, I need to do a swap of feeders in the middle of the day. That allows me to swap a frozen set for a new set that's been warming in the house. It's a little extra work, but it's totally worth it.

So what about you? Have I convinced you to keep your feeders up this winter? I hope so. The birds need all of us. Not sure where to put your feeder? This very old blog post of mine might help. Enjoy!


  1. We have terrible luck getting hummingbirds. Our humans try every year. Mom has researched their favorite flowers and favorite colors and always plants what they are supposed to like. The ants seem to always get the feeder wherever we hang it. If our humans have one or two sightings a year, they feel lucky. You are a good person to feed these sweet things year round. We feed all the other birds year round. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

    1. I use a little ant repellent on my feeders (it's that red thing the feeder is hanging from), and that has 100 percent solved my contamination issue. As for placement, I've found that wide-open spaces sometimes work best. These guys can be fierce competitors, and they like to keep an eye on things when they eat. Hanging a feeder where they can see all around them can sometimes help to lure them in.