How to help hummingbirds in the winter months

Anna’s Hummingbird / Becky Matsubara, CC License

It turns out that hummingbirds, as they appear to be in the spring and summer, will sometimes stay in the winter when many proud owners of a hummingbird feeder hide them away.

While many species are migratory, some remain throughout the winter – a terrifying sight for the animal with the fastest metabolism in the vertebrate world.

If you are someone who loves hummingbirds, there are things you can do to support them in the lean times until the warm weather returns and the flowers cover the ground again.

A myth, tips and warnings

Hummies are sensitive birds, and worried bird people may have heard a myth and taken it for granted. For example, the myth that hummingbirds will be lulled by the sugar water in the feeder to not migrate.

This is a myth because it is not the availability of nutrients that determines whether a hummingbird migrates or not, but rather an internal clock that tracks the length of the days and the angle of the sun in the sky.

MORE: Woman wakes up to find an amazing icicle outside that looks exactly like a hummingbird

Feeders can be omitted; but in the cold winter it is likely, especially at night, that the water inside will freeze. There are several ways to prevent this.

Frigid wind will accelerate the formation of ice in the sugar water, so it helps to place your feeder behind a wind break. A feeder that sucks up on a window not only brings the hummies closer, but the heat from the glass will be transferred to the material in the feeder.

Two other methods to prevent ice formation are to either wrap a bead row of violet or red non-LED Christmas lights around it or do the same with insulating material such as bubble wrap or aluminum foil. The heat from the bulbs will keep the feeder warm, look beautiful at night and attract hummingbirds thanks to their preference for the red light spectrum in the case of the former, and the latter will prevent the cold air from penetrating the reservoir.

Some guides will suggest increasing the usually accurate mix of hummingbirds from one part sugar to four parts water, to one part sugar to three parts water. This will actually have the effect of lowering the temperature at which the mixture turns to ice, but the British Columbia SPCA claims that this will make it too unhealthy for the hummies to digest the mixture.

SEE: Watch the moment when a bubble freezes into a beautiful sphere at sunrise and creates a natural snow globe

Furthermore, the SPCA gives a warning that even though a hummingbird will never give up its migration for your feeder, they may come to trust it if local winter nectar sources are too scarce. Under these circumstances, the homeowner who simply wanted to attract these little flying gems as an interest will inadvertently become the only food source that keeps them alive, and therefore they only propose to put out a winter feeder if the house is able to sustain a clean and full reservoir of sugar water throughout the season.

There is no reason why anyone with a little effort and a little diligence can not access the lightning-fast chirping and the beautiful scaled colors that characterize the smallest birds, even when the snow is falling and most other songbirds are long gone.

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