Ask the Bird Experts: How Do I Stop Sugar-Water From Freezing in Winter?

Our bird experts share how to keep sugar-water from freezing, identify a mystery bird, and more!

How do I stop hummingbird nectar from freezing in winter? Do different species of birds travel together? What is this weird bird in my backyard?!

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.

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. (Read more: Attracting Hummingbirds in Winter)

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photo credit: Charis Adkins (B&B reader)
photo credit: Charis Adkins (B&B reader)

Question: I’ve struggled to find this bird in my guidebooks. What is it? —Charis Adkins of Houston, Texas

Kenn and Kimberly: What a unique individual! It’s a male house finch that’s having strange issues with his coloration. The amount of red on the head, throat, and chest varies a lot when it comes to male house finches. On the one in your photo, the color extends far down on the underparts, but much of the red has been replaced by yellow. The bird may have been stressed or eating a poor diet the last time he molted his feathers, which made some grow in yellow instead of red. But that doesn’t mean he’s unhealthy; he’s just one of a kind.

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photo credit: Janine Martin (B&B reader)
photo credit: Janine Martin (B&B reader)

Question: Several birds show up at my feeders and bath at the same time. A chickadee arrives, followed by a titmouse, nuthatch, woodpecker and then sparrows. Do they travel like that all the time? —Jim Campbell of Lincoln, Rhode Islands

Kenn and Kimberly: You have fine powers of observation! That’s a good behavior description of these mixed flocks throughout the northeastern states. From late summer to early spring, when they’re not actively nesting and raising young, chickadees travel in flocks of up to a dozen or more. Other small birds, such as nuthatches, tufted titmice, and downy woodpeckers, follow along with them. They keep moving during the day, making regular circuits of bird feeders and nature food sources within the range of the chickadee flock, often coming around several times per day to visit feeders again. (Read more: 3 Types of Seed Birds Love Best)

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.