When talking about pets we generally think of the domesticated animals who live with us. But many of us equally care for — in heart and in action — the critters who, while just visitors, bring a great deal of joy to our daily lives.
When I think of my mother, I think of hummingbirds (and grizzly bears, but that’s another story). Every time I’d visit, hummers swooped and flashed in their jealous dance around the feeders. After she passed, I missed her so — and them. I welcomed them to my world, and now, several seasons later, I’m still learning.
Not all hummingbirds migrate for winter. If you leave your feeder(s) out, you’ll likely see little friends throughout the cold months. If you choose to do this, you’ll want to ensure nectar is fresh, and most importantly, accessible.
While higher sugar content liquid freezes more slowly, when temperatures drop below freezing, it does freeze. Following are ways to ensure you’re providing healthy nectar that will fuel your magical friends throughout winter’s chill.
The recommended formula is 1:4 parts sugar to water (eg, one cup sugar to four cups water). Use white sugar ONLY — no other sweetening agents or dyes, please. Pure sucrose is what they need to survive. Simply mix sugar and water in a pan, bring to a boil, remove from heat and cool. Or place a cup of sugar in a bowl or pan, fire up the kettle, pour over sugar and let cool. Extra nectar will keep up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
Clean feeders when refilling, or at least once a week.
When temps drop near freezing, Nectar there are plenty of options for keeping nectar thawed.
• Rotate feeders outside/inside throughout the day. No need to leave them out at night (although you might catch a bat sipping), but hummers do become active at dawn, and they’re hungry.
• An easy — and pretty! — way to keep nectar from freezing: wrap in twinkle lights. The ambient heat keeps it thawed (unless it gets really cold). Sorry, solar LED strands are not sufficient — go old school with plug-in lights.
• Hang a trouble light nearby, like those used for working under the hood of a vehicle
• Use a small floodlight — like those used to warm baby chicks
• Duct tape hand or foot warming packs to feeders. Only good for about 7 hours
• Attach a plumber’s heat tape. Most have a thermostat, are low wattage and efficient
I’m totally stuck on the fairy lights . . . already shopping.
Anna’s Hummingbirds (the fuchsia-throated variety often seen hereabouts) are very territorial, especially multiple males; keeping several feeders reduces competition.
Also watch for my favorite, the Black-Chinned Hummingbird (green backed, not quite as flashy but with a beautiful plum neck band), and the Rufous (ruddy-colored with white breast).
If you see a hummer hanging upside down from a branch, don’t panic. This is called torpor, a means of conserving energy when it’s very cold. Hummingbird torpor is you without your morning coffee.
Keep nectar available, accessible, and thawed to provide your beloved hummers the fuel they need to survive. And enjoy your morning go-juice together.