Keeping hummingbirds safe in winter - BC SPCA
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Keeping hummingbirds safe in winter

October 26, 2021

Nectar feeders provide a food source for hummingbirds in winter, but they’re a big commitment. If you commit to winter feeding, you must commit fully. Non-migratory hummingbirds may come to rely on this food source and will suffer if it is interrupted. Don’t put hummingbird feeders out if you’re not prepared to clean them regularly and keep them fresh and thawed.

Learn more below for tips to keep hummingbirds safe this winter.

Keep feeders clean

Feeders often attract unusually large numbers of hummingbirds to one area – this can be a joy to watch, but also means any fungus or bacteria in the feeder will affect many birds. These infections can cause their tongues to swell and often result in death, a sad outcome for birds and bird lovers. Clean feeders regularly to prevent fungal or bacterial growth.

Clean feeders with a solution of one part white vinegar to four parts water about once a week. Change the nectar solution every few days.

Anna's hummingbird on snowy branch
Photo credit: Mary-Jean Payeur

Don’t let your feeder freeze

Feeders that are left empty or left to freeze can lead to starvation for the birds that have come to rely on them. Make sure your nectar never freezes, and can be provided through the whole winter. Have a friend or neighbour check your feeder if you’re away. In harsh temperatures, you may need to bring your feeder in at night to prevent freezing – this won’t disrupt the hummingbirds if the feeder is put back out first thing in the morning.

Make nectar the right way

While there are many different recipes available online, this is the only one we can recommend, and the one we use at our own Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre.

To make nectar:

  • boil water for two minutes
  • mix one part white sugar to four parts water
  • allow the mixture to cool before filling feeder
  • never use honey, sweeteners, molasses, brown or raw sugar
  • don’t add red food colouring or other products

White sugar is closest to the sugars they find in nature, other types of sugars or recipes could make them sick and die. Even in winter, do not change the ratio of sugar to water. Adding more sugar may help prevent freezing, but it’s not healthy for these sensitive little birds.

hummingbirds at feeder by Michael Hammond
Use a bright red feeder instead of food colouring to attract hummingbirds. Photo credit: Michael Hammond

Make your feeder visible

Hummingbirds are naturally attracted to red and other bright colours. To them, these colours signal nectar-rich flowers. This is why you see so many hummingbird feeders that come with a red base or red container. Even if your feeder isn’t red, you can make it more attractive by adding a bright red ribbon. Over time, the birds will learn and remember where to find nectar.

Don’t add red food colouring, or buy pre-made nectar dyed red. These additives simply aren’t designed or tested for tiny hummingbirds and their lightning-fast metabolism. Stick to basics, and use our simple white sugar recipe to make sure you’re keeping hummingbirds safe.

Read more about feeding birds and other wildlife (PDF).