Hummingbird feeders filled with a sugar-water solution can be a great addition to a hummingbird-friendly space. These are commonly placed outside only over the warmest months, whereas hummingbirds are present during the summer months alone.
Therefore, feeders are often put out during spring to accommodate migrating arrivals and removed a couple of weeks after the last hummingbirds are spotted in fall.
However, what some birdwatchers and hummingbird lovers don’t realize is that hummingbirds, even when they usually migrate, can be present even in northern areas year-round.
Even when most individuals of a particular hummingbird species migrate, there can still be some individuals that remain all winter because they are too old, injured, sick, or otherwise incapacitated to make the long journey south.
What is more, in some areas, there are species of hummingbirds that aren’t migratory at all, and some that stay in one area throughout the year.
For those who experience sub-zero temperatures, catering for these backyard birds in winter can bring up some unique challenges. Foremost among these, for some, is how to keep hummingbird feeders from freezing.
A frozen feeder can break or crack, causing a range of problems. Of course, when frozen solid, a sugar-water solution won’t be any good for the birds you are trying to aid.
Even when the liquid in the feeder thaws in the morning, if it the nectar is cold, it could still be bad for the birds.
Drinking nectar that is too cold, as explained in the link above, can sap energy from the birds and make it more difficult for them to maintain the right body temperature, which is crucial, especially during the coldest part of the year.
Bring Hummingbird Feeders Indoors on the Coldest Nights
One important thing to remember is when hummingbirds feed. Hummingbirds typically feed only during daylight hours. They aren’t commonly seen flying or feeding at night.
So, one solution if you are worried about hummingbird feeding stations freezing is to bring them indoors on the coldest nights and place them out again first thing each morning.
Though this may seem like it will take up a lot of your time, once you get into a good morning and after-work routine, you might not find that it’s too onerous at all.
For some, this ‘labor of love’ is something they become used to, and are happy to provide a food source to help their feathered friends.
Change the Recipe of the Sugar-Syrup in Your Hummingbird Feeders
For those who truly find this too much to take on, however, there are some other things that you can do to keep the sugar syrup in your hummingbird feeders from freezing on cold nights.
The first thing to consider is switching up your usual summer recipe for the sugar-water solution that you add to your hummingbird feeders.
In summer, most of those feeding hummingbirds will mix up a solution of four or five parts water to one part sugar. By switching this to a mix with three parts water to one part sugar in winter, you can make a solution with a slightly lower freezing point.
Yes, a more sugary solution can still freeze – but it’s slightly less likely to do so.
However, even when the solution doesn’t freeze, ice may still form on and around a feeder on a very cold night, and there is still the issue of cold nectar to deal with.
Placing a Hummingbird Feeder to Keep It From Freezing
Where you position a hummingbird feeder is always something important to think about. But in winter, when temperatures can drop to a bitter cold, careful positioning is even more vital.
Here are some tips for placing a hummingbird feeder in winter:
- Take advantage of transferred heat from your home. Place a feeder against a window or affix one to the side of your property. But if placing the feeder near glass or other reflective surfaces, make sure that you place decals or something on the window to prevent injuries to birds.
- Place a hummingbird feeder below a pronounced eave, or a porch structure, where it is likely to remain warmer, and where it will be sheltered from strong, cold winds, snowy weather, and other precipitation.
- Consider how trees, shrubs, and other features within the landscape channel the wind, serve as windbreaks, and position feeders in the most sheltered and protected spot.
- Analyze your garden, looking for areas that remain colder for longer periods (frost pockets), and keep your hummingbird feeders away from those locations.
- Ideally, place a hummingbird feeder where the nectar within it will be very gently warmed by the sun, especially early in the day.
Add Protective Features for a Hummingbird Feeder
Even if you can’t find the perfect place to position a hummingbird feeder in your winter garden, there are certain ways that you might add some protection where this isn’t already present due to the natural surroundings or built environment.
For example, you might:
- Add Plants for Protection Ordering and planting bare-root trees and shrubs is a great way to add to your garden and make it even better for hummingbirds, all the other birds, and any other creatures with whom you share your space. Placing these in your garden before the worst winter weather arrives could also help you create more sheltered and protected spaces. For example, you might think about creating a shelter belt or windbreak hedgerow to reduce the impact of chilling winds in your garden. This could make your garden less frost-prone, and give you milder and more protected spots to place hummingbird feeders.
- Create a Roof Structure Over a Feeder Providing shelter over the top of a hummingbird feeder is an excellent option for protecting it from precipitation and keeping it somewhat warmer during a cold spell. Even if you don’t have a porch or other covered area to place your feeder under, you might make a similar, smaller structure using reclaimed wood or natural timbers from your property. You might also erect a canopy of reclaimed fabric, an old parasol, or an umbrella to protect your feeder from the skies. In a pinch, even something like an old bucket or pail placed over the top of a feeder might make a difference, since it can stop snow/ hail/ freezing rain from falling directly onto it during the winter season.
- Add Insulation – Put Some Lagging Around the Feeder.
Adding a layer of some material around your hummingbird feeder can help stop it from freezing by insulating it from the cold.
There are options that won’t cost a thing – often, you will be able to find and make use of things you already have lying around.
An old scarf, a hat, a knitted tea cozy, or a piece of scrap from thick fabric clothes or bedding that you no longer use could work just fine to insulate its contents and act as a feeder cozy.
As well, using a red material around your feeder can also help hummingbirds to find it. You might also use some bubble wrap or other packing materials.
Binding a jacket of a natural material like straw to place around a hummingbird feeder could also work to keep the contents from freezing.
If you don’t have anything insulating on hand, you might purchase some plumbers’ heat tape that is used for plumbing pipework in the cold, and wrap this around the feeder.
- Add Thermal Mass Close to Feeders
A stone or brick wall is a good example of a material that has high thermal mass. Materials with high thermal mass are excellent at catching and storing heat energy during the day and releasing it slowly when temperatures fall.
Placing a feeder against a south-facing (N. hemisphere) structure with good thermal mass can slightly increase temperatures adjacent to it during the night. If you don’t already have such a structure, you might consider building one.
Water containers such as butts and barrels, and large bodies of water like wildlife ponds in your garden, will also catch and store the sun’s energy and keep the area close to them slightly warmer at night.
You might also protect feeders by creating walls of bottles filled with water, earth bags, or other thermal mass materials to make it more likely that the specific area will remain frost free.
Heating a Hummingbird Feeder (Not Recommended)
Sometimes, protective measures like careful positioning, sheltering, and insulating won’t cut it. Where winters are very cold, feeders may still freeze in spite of such measures.
Therefore, it’s sometimes recommended to add a gentle heat source close to your feeder, to keep the feeder temperatures above the surrounding temperatures. Some may purchase a heated hummingbird feeder.
Use the following:
Hand warmers or hot water bottles, pre-heated/ filled and then strapped to a feeder.
Incandescent bulbs (not low-energy LED ones) will give off some heat. For example, people have decked their feeders with old-fashioned fairy lights or placed a feeder and bulb within some kind of shelter. Red-colored lights will attract hummingbirds too.
One problem with methods of this sort, however, is that safety can be a concern. For instance, it can be difficult to ensure outdoor electrical safety when lighting is used.
Another thing to consider is that high energy use might not be the best option in environmental terms, especially if the source of electricity isn’t renewable.
Another issue with using lighting is that, overnight, lighting outdoors can pose problems for nocturnal birds and other night-time creatures.
Also, with any solution that involves heating the nectar feeder, there is also the issue that heating up the sugar-water solution can cause it to spoil – often far more quickly than it would otherwise.
The heat source and warmed nectar may also attract unwanted creatures to your space, and lead to pest problems. This can be a real issue during the winter when competition for any food can be much more intense.
So, if you live in a colder weather climate and hummingbirds are present during the winter months, I would usually recommend avoiding more complex solutions. Instead, to keep hummingbird feeders from freezing, take them inside when night falls and place them back out each morning during harsh weather conditions.