Hummingbirds survive in snow and freezing temps

I have seen many posts in which folks have said they wished their hummingbirds would migrate south so as not to freeze. And many others have said they were taking their hummingbird feeders down so they wouldn’t stop them from migrating. Both are inaccurate–hummers are not wimps and food does not interfere with their migration.

As I noted in my blog ‘Keep-hummingbird-feeders-out-to-help-stragglers’ in September, the experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology state:

  • “A number of factors trigger the urge for birds to migrate, but the most significant one is day length. When the days get shorter, the hummingbirds will move on, regardless of whether there are still filled feeders available for them.
  • We do, however, encourage people to keep their hummingbird feeders full for several weeks after they have seen the last hummer just in case there are stragglers in need of additional energy before they complete their long journey south.”

And there are many documented reports of hummingbirds that survive the snow and freezing temperatures.   In fact, Anna’s Hummingbird winter in the state of Washington where  they endure cold periods well–as long as they have food sources.  On their webpage about wintering hummers the  Seattle Audubon Society states, “If you have been feeding the hummingbirds and they have become accustomed to finding food in your yard, we would encourage you to continue this responsibility of maintaining this food supply as much as possible through the cold snap. “

Here is a video that shows several hummers going to a hummingbird feeder during a snowstorm.

How do these little birds survive? Again, they are much hardier than many believe. And they have the ability to go into a state of ‘torpor’: “a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake.”

If you do have a hummer coming to your feeder during snowy and very cold weather, be sure to either 1)take the feeder in at night and put it back out early in the morning so the hummer can get the fuel it needs to survive or 2)try one of the methods on the Seattle Audubon Society webpage for keeping the feeder from freezing.

Have you hosted hummers during the winter before?

If you have, what have you done to make sure there was unfrozen sugar water available for the hummer(s)?

  1. Cheery Chickadee says

    Once we had a snowstorm (yes, in AZ!) and then shortly thereafter broke the ice off the feeder. The next day, there was a Rufus, drinking happily. We were excited, because it was the first Rufus we’d seen, and it was almost on my birthday. It was an exciting birthday gift!

  2. Cheery Chickadee says

    For keeping feeders fresh in winter, I’ll pass along a tip from Donna Hayes. Place a red heating lamp so that it shines on the feeder!

  3. says

    Hi Cherry! Thanks for passing the word! I tell people all the time to keep those feeders up through the winter and how to maintain them. I like to hope that my advice will help to save a little hummer life one day! Thanks for sharing your story! Our Rufie is back for his third winter with us and the red light is ready! If anyone would like to join our Winter Hummingbirds Facebook Group, the link is above! Keep spreading the word Birds And Blooms! You guys are awesome!

  4. Donna Haynes says

    I’m sorry, the link for our Facebook Group did not show up, so here it is. We share pages like this one, share personal experiences, photos, videos and any resources found on the web regarding these special little guys. And Cheery, sorry my autocorect insisted your name is Cheryl! LOL. Keep up the good work Noelle and Jill.

    http://www.facebook.com/groups/261865437168

  5. Cheery Chickadee says

    Glad to hear about Rufie coming back! I had wondered. And that’s fine about the misprint, “Cheery” isn’t really my name.

  6. JOYCE ANNA says

    WE HAVE A ‘MUD BIRD’ THAT IS STILL HERE AT THE HOUSE, BUT ALL THE OTHERS HAVE MIGRATED. I AM KEEPING FOOD AND WATER AVAILABLE BUT I WONDER WHY HE’S HANGING AROUND BY HIMSELF?

    • says

      Hello Joyce,
      Sorry for the late reply but there is no good mechanism for me to know that comments have come in long after I posted this article. You don’t indicate where you are located so it is difficult to respond. Those hummers that stay for the winter in colder areas are mostly single birds. In more northern areas there is insufficient food for more than 1 hummer in most areas.

  7. Donna says

    We string the old wee Christmas lights around the feeder and use foil as an insulator when it get really really cold here. So far the feeder hasn’t frozen.

  8. Donna says

    And please, if you find an unconcious (sp) hummer.. bring it in and drop sugar water into it’s beak. It may just be cold and too weary to feed. Nothing has died until it’s warm and dead.

    • says

      Donna,
      Indeed, what you describe is the state of ‘torpor’ that I note in my article. Actually they will come out of torpor naturally when the temperatures warm. If the temperatures do not warm up, then it would be necessary to the hummer inside to warm up.

  9. Nicki says

    Hello, I have 3 (at least) Anna’s in my back yard and currently it’s snowing here in Washington. I have two feeders to cut down on the competition in the yard and at night I bring one inside. That way they have a full feeder that will take longer to freeze out with them all night, and then a fresh one I put out just before the sin comes out. When the other feeder thaws out I have them both out. Seems to be working out well.

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