I live along the Columbia River that flows between Washington State and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. We have two parallel mountain ranges in Western Washington and Western Oregon; The Coast Range/Olympics along the coast, and The Cascades about 100 miles inland. Between these ranges and their foothills is mostly a wide valley from Eugene, Oregon north to Canada. This valley and the Salish Sea in NW Washington has generally quite mild winters whose weather is mostly influenced by the Northeast Pacific Ocean whose temperature near the continent is in the mid 50s F (summer and winter). Occasionally our weather will come at us from the Great Plains and we’ll have weather in the teens, ice and/or snow for a few days. Because of this valley corridor from Canada leading into the Banana Belt of Southern Oregon and Northern California this area has been a flyway for migrating birds since the end of the last ice age. Hummingbirds migrate along it as well and fly down to California and Mexico for the winter. However a few (relatively speaking) decide to spend the winter here.
Hummingbirds eat bugs for protein, however they need tremendous amounts of energy to fly and hover. They get this energy from flower nectar (sugar.) There are very few blooming flowers up here in the winter. Thus to survive, our hummingbirds rely upon the kindness of strangers.
I had mixed feelings about posting solutions for feeding Hummingbirds during the winter in places that Hummingbirds rarely naturally occur. I certainly want them to thrive, yet I wouldn’t want to attract them to a location where they may become trapped relying on people that don’t appreciate the responsibility of caring for them 24/7 through the winter until such time as the season changes and the birds can forage or fly off to greener pastures on their own. That’s why I waited until midwinter before posting these solutions. The birds are already here, now we have to look out for them.
This is the bird feeder that I have hanging in an inside corner directly outside my front door. It is heated by an old fashioned (heat producing) Xmas tree light. The Xmas bulbs last about 3 or 4 weeks. I replace them with non-Xmas Tree lights that have a much longer life and are used in appliances .
In this plastic feeder I would not go above a 15 watt bulb.
If you directly search Amazon for Heated Hummingbird Feeder you won’t easily find one. But Google will show several:
is the model that I have here.
This is how you switch out bulbs, or remove the light so that you can refill the feeder with nectar.
This tubular bulb is used in portrait lighting.
Below is the easiest Do-it-yourself Hummingbird Feeder heater. It is also the most inefficient. It can only be used when there is no wind. You can't use it in damp weather. You must use old fashioned inefficient light bulbs (if you can still find them) and you are limited to about 40 watts max bulb size because of the plastic bottom on the feeder. Modern energy efficient bulbs will not work because you need inefficiency to generate the heat.
It’s a plain old mechanic’s trouble light (~ $20) upon which I strung a length of stiff copper wire down between a couple of the perches to hang the light upon. The hummers like to sit around on it and bask in the heat gently rising from the bulb below.
I live in a neighborhood with about 5 other houses that have Hummingbird feeders. The feeders are mostly still up, but haven’t been tended since last summer/fall. These seasonally abandoned feeders still attract hummingbirds that expend precious energy to fly over hoping to find a few drops of food. To me they seem like abandoned deep sea gill nets that continue to trap and kill prey without benefit to anyone yet producing grave harm to the environment. So I compensate for my unknowledgeable neighbors by providing 5 feeders in winter scattered around the perimeter of my house. Today 3 of them can be heated at the flick of a switch. The two pictured at the top of the diary are good in calm wind down to about 28º F for a few hours. I have 3 other heaters that are good in strong winds down into the low teens — which we have about every 3 years or so here in Greater Troutdale (located between Portland’s Airport and the Columbia River Gorge.) I’ll do another diary on how to construct those later, but here’s a preview of what to expect:
There is another solution, it’s labor intensive, but you use your existing feeders. You bring them inside to a warm place after dark, and then return them back outside before dawn. Even in very cold (teens ºF) a room temperature feeder will go a couple of hours without freezing. Cut the foot off an old thick sock and slip it over the glass as insulation and it will go a bit longer before freezing.
Keep several in rotation during the day. Hummers go into torpor right after sunset in cold weather, and dial their body temperature and energy use down to reserve fuel for the next day. It takes some time for them to reverse the process in the morning to be able to warm enough to fly and find food. It wasn’t until recently I found out they actually came out of torpor before dawn. I would set my alarm for first light and would wonder why they were already there waiting for their warmed feeders, screeching at me to move my ass. They had been expending lots of energy waiting for me to get out of bed. But with a mix of heated feeders on all night, and room temperature ones waiting in the solarium to be placed outside at dawn, even if the unheated ones froze my guests would still have a good meal waiting for them when they arose for breakfast.
I only mentioned my regional conditions here, because I’m unfamiliar with Hummingbird winter conditions elsewhere. South Florida and Southern California probably have sufficient natural food in winter for hummers to do quite nicely with what nature provides. The Gulf Coast could probably use some of these techniques at times. Chicago or Buffalo, NY would definitely be poor places for migrating Hummingbirds to attempt to overwinter. . . .
. . . . at least not for the next 30 years.
The Portland WeatherUnderground has greatly increased the chances for snow and the once-every-3-years chance for substantial accumulating snow in the NW Oregon & SW Washington areas beginning Thursday morning. Right now their graphics are showing about 18 inches arriving and staying between Thursday 2/11 and Tuesday 2/16. They also have the wind starting out at 20 MPH and slowly diminishing over the period to 8 MPH steadily coming down the Gorge. Between Thursday and Sunday morning the temperature is forecast well below freezing.
So I guess I’ll be posting directions for constructing heavy weather feeders later today.
Seattle WeatherUnderground shows snow during the same period, but mostly periodic and in much smaller amounts, with Wednesday through Saturday morning remaining in the twenties.
The National Weather Service in Portland in their textual forecast from 9:03 AM this morning reports that the stage could be setting up for such an event, but only says the current processes of that big cold air mass in Saskatchewan are ‘subtly changing.’ That could be that the NWS Sunday Shift is waiting for the regular weekly shift to become involved.
So, make lots of nectar. Remember 1 cup demon white sugar dissolved in 4 cups boiling water, returned to boiling for a short period of time. Don’t use brown sugar or natural sugar, Hummingbirds need the real nasty white stuff. (It’s the only thing I use white sugar for.) Be very strict with the proportions, too much sugar and the hummers can dehydrate, not enough sugar and they slowly starve. If your feeder has some colors, or they already know where it is, you don’t need to add food coloring to the nectar.