Can Hummingbirds Drink Cold Nectar? Why or Why Not!

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Hummingbirds are beautiful and amazing birds, so it’s no surprise that people love attracting them to their yards. If you’re new to trying to attract hummingbirds into your space, it’s natural to have a lot of questions about the best way to go about it.

You’ll no doubt want to make sure that you are doing the right thing when it comes to acting to and feeding wild hummingbirds in your garden.

Make your yard hummingbird friendly

You should start your hummingbird-watching journey by making sure that you plant things that hummingbirds like.

This way, your yard will become an appropriate habitat with plenty of food sources– both nectar and insects — for the hummingbirds to eat.

Hummingbird feeders filled with a sugar-water solution can be an excellent way to give these birds a boost.  If you have placed a hummingbird feeder in your garden, one question you might have is can hummingbirds drink cold nectar?

In short, it depends on how exactly how cold you mean, and also on the environmental conditions and the time of year. However, we aim to answer this question in more detail below!

Do hummingbirds like cold or warm nectar?

When feeding, hummingbirds prefer flowers whose nectar has been warmed naturally by the sun. This nectar usually has a slightly stronger scent, which will attract the birds and other pollinators.

The other reason is that cold nectar can deplete their internal body temperature. And since hummingbirds are little energy globes, they need a food source that doesn’t work against them. 

Hummingbirds require, and burn, a ton of energy each day, due to their fast metabolisms and seemingly endless flight as they flit from place to place looking for food. 

Do hummingbirds like cold or warm sugar water?

The sugar water – also known as homemade hummingbird nectar – that you put in your feeders should mimic, as closely as possible, the natural nectar they find in the wild.

Like most animals, hummingbirds will take advantage of any available food source, whether it’s cold or warm – especially first thing in the morning when they are in search of their first food sources of the day and tend to be less fussy. 

However, it’s best to serve them sugar water at a reasonable temperature – neither too cold nor too warm.

Sugar water that is too cold will sap the birds’ energy and can make it difficult for them to maintain their body temperature, which is dangerous for them.

Similarly, sugar water that is too warm, or gets too warm during the day, will spoil and create a breeding ground for bacteria and mold to develop.

Do you need to boil sugar water before putting it in a hummingbird feeder?

It’s not always necessary to boil the sugar-water solution before you place it in your feeders. However, boiling the solution may help stave off the growth of harmful pathogens and may reduce the speed at which the mixture spoils.

Just make sure that you allow the solution to fully cool before you fill your feeders. If the solution going into the feeders is too hot, it could damage the feeder. 

And if you use a plastic feeder, the hot solution could cause the material to degrade, allowing harmful substances to leach into the hummingbird’s food.

Is it OK to put out cold hummingbird food?

Can Hummingbirds Drink Cold Nectar

During summer, slightly cool hummingbird feed should not pose an issue, as long as it is not too cold. The best option is to make sure the mix is warmed a little by the Summer sun before you place it into your feeders.

If it’s winter, when the hummingbird nectar can get very cold — even close to the freezing point if you live in a colder climate area – it can cause serious health issues.

The sugar-water solution, which consists of one part water to four parts sugar, has a lower freezing point than water on its own. But even when the mix has not frozen, it could be a threat to hummingbirds – especially at a time of year when they may already be having a more difficult time maintaining their core body temperature.

Is refrigerated nectar too cold for hummingbirds?

You can certainly keep the sugar-water solution in your fridge.

Since you’re supposed to regularly empty and clean out your feeders, bird experts actually encourage you to refrigerate any leftover mixture. 

Making a large batch and, then refrigerating or even freezing it in an airtight container will mean that you have some on hand when you need to refill your feeders. (On hot summer days, you may need to do so as often as every 48 hours.)

The solution can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen for a month or so.

Once you remove the refrigerated nectar from your fridge, it is best to let it warm just a little before you fill your feeders. In summer, a solution straight from the refrigerator and left outside will warm quickly and should not be an issue.

But in winter, when the birds experience freezing temperatures, leave it to warm first.

If you have frozen the nectar in your kitchen, this should be fully defrosted in your kitchen before you attempt to add it to your hummingbird feeders.

Can I put ice in my hummingbird feeder?

The ratio of sugar to water in a hummingbird feeder is super important.

The usual ratio is one part sugar to four parts water. During the winter months, when the birds are in more need of an energy boost, you may occasionally find that people increase the amount of sugar a little (one part sugar to three parts water). 

During hot weather, from time to time, some people also decrease the sugar content and increase the water (a ratio of one to five) to make sure the hummingbirds don’t get dehydrated.

However, generally speaking, it is important to make sure that the ratio you use remains the same, and is appropriate for the needs of the birds.

You should also defer from putting regular ice cubes in your hummingbird feeder. Once they melt, they add water to the mixture and dilute it, so it may no longer have the correct ratio for hummingbirds’ needs. You could, however, consider adding cubes of frozen nectar to room temperature nectar in your feeders.

This will help prevent the nectar from spoiling too quickly without diluting it too much. Still, it’s important that you never use ice of any kind in a feeder unless you’re sure that the external temperatures can combat the initial temperature plunge. 

Final Thoughts 

It’s great that you want to help cultivate a space where your hummingbird visitors can thrive, but it’s important that you do so as safely as possible!

The key thing to remember is that you need to avoid nectar that is cold enough to cause a cold-stunned reaction in the birds. A nectar or sugar water solution that is a little cool is typically fine – a very cold one can send them into hypothermia.

Similarly, you should steer clear of feeding hummingbirds nectar that’s been subjected to any extreme temperatures as it will compromise the efficacy of the solution, and could cause undue harm to the birds.

When it comes down to it, it’s all a question of degree!

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.