Tips for feeding birds in cold weather

A hummingbird at a feeder. (File photo by Bill Anderson)

A reader asked us to share information about maintaining bird feeders — and especially hummingbird feeders — in cold weather. We posed the questions to our experts, and received this column from Candy Brown, a member of the Pilchuck Audubon Society.

Songbirds

  • Provide plenty of dry, nutritious seed. I only feed black oil sunflower seed as it is high in fat and protein and appeals to the many songbirds visiting my yard.
  • Suet cakes in the winter are popular with several species.
  • Water in birdbaths or dishes on the ground will be appreciated and is necessary for birds in freezing weather. There are devices available at bird feeding stores that will gently heat water to keep birdbaths liquid in freezing weather.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds eat from dawn to dusk and become dependent on feeders in freezing weather.

  • Continue to only feed sugar water that is 4 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar to your hummers. Increasing the amount of sugar can lead to kidney failure and death.
  • Bring feeders in at dark, take them back out at dawn. Keep a spare in the house and fill and take out to replace your feeder if the sugar water freezes during the day.
  • To keep the sugar water liquid, equip your feeder with a “Heater Hearth” (I bought mine at Wild Birds Unlimited), which includes a light in the bottom of it and keeps the water thawed even overnight. Some people have luck taping non-LED Christmas lights to the bottom of their feeder. You will need, of course, a power outlet outdoors.
  • We moved one of our feeders from out in the open to an overhang by our front porch (on the same side of our house) where the water stayed liquid all day and night and the hummers could still find it.

— By Candy Brown.

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