What Happens to Hummingbirds in the Winter?
Bird feeders are a great way to support local wildlife especially in the winter. However, when they are not properly cared for, feeders can do more harm than good. Hummingbird feeders need extra care in the winter to ensure safe nectar consumption. If you are unwilling or unable to keep up with these sub-zero alterations for your feeders, it is best to bring them in until it warms up again!
When temperatures drop below freezing, Think Wild sees increased numbers of hummingbirds with injuries related to the cold. Some of these injuries include having frostbitten tongues, and suffering from hypothermia, often as a result of freezing to a feeder or other structures.
Despite popular belief, hummingbirds don’t require feeders to be available in the winter to survive. Hummingbirds have adaptations that help them survive the winter and sub-zero temperatures. One of these adaptations includes adjusting their feeding behaviors when there is less food available to them. Hummingbirds are adapted to eat more insects in the winter when other food sources are scarce. Another adaptation hummingbirds have to help them survive the winter is an energy saving state called torpor. Torpor allows hummingbirds to save energy as they go into a deep sleep, lowering their body temperature and metabolic rate. When food sources are scarce, or when temperatures decline, hummingbirds will go into a torpid state to survive. If you find a hummingbird in this state, it is important that you leave them alone and don’t force them out of this torpid state. You can help protect hummingbirds in torpor by supervising your pets so they don’t attack the bird while it’s vulnerable.
If you would like to continue offering a food source to our hummingbird friends during the winter, it is extremely important that you keep up with the care of your feeder to reduce any chances of the hummingbird getting injured. It is of utmost importance to prevent feeders from freezing during the winter. If your feeder has any exposed metal, the safest option would be to take it down during these cold months. If you have a plastic feeder with no metal parts, you can purchase or make a feeder heater to use during freezing temperatures. It may also be beneficial to have two feeders so you can switch them out when ice starts to form. When keeping feeders out during the winter, it is extremely important to keep the entrance tubes and the liquid thawed. It is also essential to keep your feeder clean and to replace its contents every day.
Please do not touch or move a hummingbird that is in torpor. If you find a hummingbird you think is injured or in distress, call Think Wild’s hotline at: (541) 241-8680.
To learn more about hummingbirds and their winter behaviors, check out this article!