Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Best ways to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing!

In some areas of the United States and Canada hummingbirds live year-round. Yes, even in some areas that occasionally freeze or have snow in winter.

For instance, Anna's Hummingbirds are resident from British Columbia, Canada, south through Washington State, Oregon, California and Arizona. While winters are generally mild, freezing weather (and snow in the northern parts) may occur in winter, or as a surprise in spring.

A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may winter in the Southeast, on either on the Atlantic or Gulf coast lines. Winter may have some freezing weather and snow, especially northward and inland.

Other hummingbirds may live in winter in desert lands from southern California, across Arizona, to Texas. Overnight lows may reach to freezing. Rarely, a few days of freezing weather may occur.

It is important that during these times that hummingbird feeders be kept clean, full, and liquid!

But how can you keep the sugar water of your hummingbird nectar from freezing?

The simplest and best way to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing is by bringing them indoors at night. Other ideas for keeping your hummingbird feeders warm include heating with incandescent light or wrapping with a pipe heating cable. 

More ideas follow.

Photo of a frozen hummingbird feeder on a frosty day
Oh no! My hummingbirds woke up to a frozen feeder!

Dealing with frozen hummingbird feeders

There are a few ways to deal with frozen feeders. You can let them thaw out on their own. You can thaw them yourself. Or you can prevent them from freezing in the first place.

Ignore frozen hummingbird feeders

Perhaps the most common way to deal with frozen feeders is to ignore them.

If nighttime temperatures drop below freezing, but daytime temperatures rise to above freezing, then frozen hummingbird feeders will thaw out on their own during the day.

In fact, hummingbird nectar, with a ratio of one part sugar to 4 parts water, will remain liquid down to 27F (-2.8C).

Despite their diminutive size, hummingbirds are quite hardy and can handle freezing weather for a day or two. If your hummingbird feeder freezes overnight, your hummingbirds are likely to be just fine. 

Prolonged freezing weather, though, requires some action on your part.

Thaw frozen hummingbird feeders

Recently, several days of snowy weather meant that my hummingbird feeders would freeze in a couple of hours. 

What did I do? I brought the feeder in at night. Then I put it out first thing in the morning. The hummingbirds would have liked me to put it out sooner--they were buzzing and snapping around me as I hung it.

The feeder froze again before noon. So I brought it in and let it thaw, before putting it out again for the afternoon feeding time (dusk).

Hummingbirds feed most actively at sunrise and again just before dark. Make sure they have liquid hummingbird nectar at these two critical times.


A warning about microwaving frozen hummingbird feeders

It might seem easy to stick smaller hummingbird feeders in the microwave. And it is--I tried it. But be careful. I microwaved for only 15 seconds at a time, for 45 seconds total, checking temperature between.

First, I removed the metal hanging hook. No metal should be placed in a microwave!

Second, I knew that the air trapped in the feeder would expand greatly when heated, pushing out the liquid. Fortunately, even though I had an inverted feeder style, it has a saucer at the bottom. Thus, the expanded air didn't cause the nectar to be forced out and spill. I set an 8x8 inch Tupperware container under it, just in case.

Third, make sure it isn't hot! You may burn yourself. Don't microwave until the ice is completely gone. Leave some and it will cool any hot spots. Let the feeder water reach room temperature before putting it out for the hummingbirds again.

Don't microwave your hummingbird feeder. Microwaving cold glass could cause it to crack, shatter or expel hot sugary steam. You may melt the plastic feeder parts. There, that's my safety warning.


Switch out frozen feeders

This is probably the most common and safe way to keep hummingbird feeders thawed.

Purchase two feeders and switch them out every couple of hours during freezing weather.

Having two feeders in spring and summer will often bring far more hummingbirds to your backyard than just one feeder. So having two hummingbird feeders is reasonable. They aren't expensive.

I really like the small 10 ounce More Birds Ruby hummingbird feeder, available on Amazon. It is easy to clean and doesn't leak or drip. Mine has lasted several years. It has endured baking San Diego summers and freezing Washington State winters (see opening photo).

Partially fill two hummingbird feeders with nectar. Put out one feeder at a time. When the first freezes, switch it out with one that has warm liquid from inside your home. Check back a few hours later. If necessary, switch them out again. Keep this up during the cold snap.

Remember, though, keep the hummingbird nectar fresh. Just as in summer, regularly empty and clean your feeders. Don't top off feeders. Always clean when refilling.


Hang your hummingbird feeder near the porch light

You know, this used to work quite well. 

Hang your feeder on a hook near (but not touching!) a porch light. 

It was a little easier when the light was in the porch ceiling. Then you could suspend the feeder from a ceiling hook or even just a nail.

For a wall mounted porch light, use a shelf bracket to suspend your feeder from the wall above the light.

But that was when everyone used incandescent bulbs that put off a significant amount of heat.

Most lights these days are cooler fluorescent or LED. So this trick no longer works!


Novelty incandescent light strings

The strings of lights used for holiday or just decoration are often still incandescent. They glow when electricity is forced through a thin wire. The wires get so hot they give off light. 

These strings of novelty lights can be wrapped safely around the hummingbird feeder and keep them warm in freezing weather.

Here are ads for a couple of examples from Amazon. I earn a small commission if you purchase. Thank you.







A utility light

You need a utility light anyway, don't you? They are handy for working under the sink, under the house, or in the garage or shed. They are good for outside emergencies at night.

Utility lights are also good for keeping a hummingbird feeder warm during freezing weather. Hang the utility light near (but not touching!) the hummingbird feeder.

Again, though, some lights are going to cool LED. So if you can't get a hot incandescent bulb try this:

Click on this link for 75 Watt infrared bulbs (will take you to Amazon) to use with hanging utility light. These bulbs cast more heat than light, that they give off in a warm orange glow.



Wrap your hummingbird feeder with pipe heating cable

This one might require some ingenuity, experimentation and duct tape!

The pipe heating cable below is a 3 foot length. It has a thermostat to automatically turn on and off when temperatures cool and warm around the freezing point.

You may even find some other uses for it around your home this winter!






When do your hummingbirds arrive and depart? 

I wrote this popular article that gives the hummingbird season for each state. It tells you when to put up your hummingbird feeders in spring and when to take your hummingbird feeders down again in fall.




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As an Amazon Associate I earn commissions from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support.

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