Is It Safe to Freeze Hummingbird Nectar?

Birding experts reveal whether it's OK to freeze and thaw hummingbird sugar water for feeders, and how to care for hummingbird feeders in cold weather.

Is Frozen Sugar Water Safe for Hummingbirds?

hummingbird nectarCourtesy Marion Chard

Question: I’ve heard that when sugar water freezes and then thaws, the sugar settles to the bottom of the feeder. Is this true? Does it cause a problem for the birds? –John Taylor of Grants Pass, Oregon

Kenn and Kimberly: Opinions vary on whether it’s OK to freeze surplus sugar water, so we advise erring on the side of caution. We’ve been feeding hummingbirds for decades, and we’ve never frozen our spare food. However, we do refrigerate it for up to a week.

247511949 1 Janusz Hankiewicz Bnbhc20Courtesy Janusz Hankiewicz
Hummingbird in a spring snowstorm in Colorado

If you have hummingbird feeders up in weather so cold that the sugar water freezes, we suggest thawing and cleaning out the feeders, then add a fresh batch—just to be sure you’re keeping those flying jewels safe and healthy. You can also bring your feeders indoors at night to prevent freezing, but it’s important to put them back out first thing in the morning.

Follow these expert tips to attract hummingbirds in winter and learn where hummingbirds migrate in winter.

How Do I Stop Hummingbird Nectar From Freezing in Winter?

248418012 1 James Leonard Bnbhc20Courtesy James Leonard
Anna’s hummingbird during winter in Oregon

Question: Do you have tips for keeping hummingbird nectar from freezing? We have several birds that stay all winter. —Laurie Black of Salem, Oregon

Kenn and Kimberly: In your area of Oregon, Anna’s hummingbirds appear year-round. They seem to be among the toughest members of the family, surviving very cold weather if they get enough to eat. To keep feeders from freezing, we have experimented with hanging them next to the house and putting a heat lamp above them. It worked well when we had a winter rufous hummingbird in Ohio. You can also bring feeders inside at night, but it’s important to put them back out first thing in the morning, because the hummingbirds need a shot of energy after a cold night.

Psst—this birder had more than 75 hummingbirds visit her yard in winter.

Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their burning questions to birding experts, Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, who are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world.

Got a bird question for Kenn and Kimberly? Submit your questions here! They may appear here or in a future issue of the magazine.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.