Keeping visiting birds warm and fed during freezing weather

Heated bird bath. (Photos by Chris Walton)

Finding ways to keep bird baths and feeders from freezing can be challenging, but Edmonds resident and retired biomedical engineer Chris Walton has some suggestions.

“The bird bath is relatively simple,” he said. “They sell waterproof heaters online that are quite effective. Quite a few birds have been visiting my bird bath for a drink.”

When it comes to preventing frozen bird feeders, hummingbird feeders — which commonly deliver a sugar water mixture — are a particular challenge, Walton said, because they come in so many shapes and sizes.

Chris Walton’s heated hummingbird feeder.

Because he designed medical equipment during his career, Walton said he felt comfortable designing his own heated hummingbird feeder years ago. But he has some words of caution for those who may want to make their own feeder. especially related to safety.

“I don’t recommend anyone making one using 120 volts unless they know what they are doing,” he advised. “You also have to be very careful to not get the water too warm. I used a nightlight bulb that is only 7 watts! As you can see in this picture (below), I did a lot of testing to ensure the water temperature never got above about 70 degrees.”

In addition, he added that “warm water breeds bacteria. People should also clean the feeders (without using chemicals).”

“I have seen devices online that are battery operated but suspect they won’t work very well in extremely cold weather,” he continued. “My recommendation is for people to buy two or three feeders and rotate them to keep them from freezing. You can also put a beer can cozy on the glass to help insulate it.”

He invites others to share their tips, too. (Leave them in the comments below.)

“Years ago when I designed this heater, a local bird store owner wanted me to manufacture them,” Walton said  “But my challenge was finding a company to make the plastic base, which would be a large initial investment. I was also worried about the safety issues of using 120 volts. Remember, it rains on those feeders! ”

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