Published December 05, 2010
Lights can keep feeders from freezingSharon Wootton, Nature's Journal
When it comes to devising ways to keep hummers fed (and sometimes warm) during deep freezes, our readers are clever and persistent. Brown’s Point resident Judi Paulson avoids a freezing feeder during day or night. She wraps tiny Christmas light, the little sparklers, around the feeder and plugs in the line. If your water-sugar mix becomes cloudy quicker than usual, use fewer lights. Occasionally a hummingbird will settle down for the night next to a light. Julie Robinson keeps two feeders so she can swap them during a day with below-freezing temperatures. “I also have a piece of an old wash cloth in which I put a disposable activated hand-warmer. I tie this around the hummingbird feeder and it keeps the sugar water a nice drinkable temperature for most of the day,” Robinson said. Generally speaking, healthy hummingbirds can live through bitter weather, although it helps to provide easily available sugar-water for calories. Sometimes people find perfectly still hummingbirds with that frozen look. It’s called torpor, a short-term hibernation when they reduce their rate of metabolism as well as body temperature to conserve energy. Not all hummingbirds can live after being ‘rescued’ given their agitation and energy expended after a full day in the cold. Taking them inside is, at best, a 50-50 proposition. Keeping one inside can fail, letting them go can succeed. Or the reverse. Cyndie Winkel, who lives near Dash Point State Park, brought an Anna’s hummingbird – and the feeder -- inside when it looked like the bird was frozen to the feeder. She placed a bottomless birdcage over it and a blanket over the cage. Reluctant to just put it back outside, Cyndie put the hummer in the mud room. About 4 a.m., it became agitated so she hung up the feeder in the room and the bird perched on it. It’s at this point that she could have encouraged it to go outside. She left the light on and the door open but at 9 a.m., it was still there. She turned the light off and the hummingbird flew outside. The Stegemans live near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Bill discovered a hummer sitting motionless on the feeder and brought it inside. After his wife, Janice, called me and learned about torpor, they placed the hummingbird in a box to protect it from the wind and set the box outside. The bird died. There’s no way to tell whether that hummer was a healthy bird. Perhaps he was low on the pecking order and didn’t get as much food as he needed. Perhaps having his torpor interrupted played a part. Last year a few readers told me that the birds they brought inside had died On the up side, when Bill put up the feeder, two more hummingbirds were ready to sip. While residents are cooperating with their feeders, some hummingbirds are not. Take the male Anna’s at Marlene Phelps home near University Place. The couple has two hummingbird feeders about 8 feet apart, with winter activity from as many as four hummers. Unfortunately, one is a bully who zips back and forth between the two feeders, driving off the less aggressive birds. “He just sits there and waits for the next one to show up. He’s not even eating, just watching and harassing,” Marlene said. Solutions are few. We have two feeders and to ease the problem, we upped the feeding chances for those less-assertive birds by placing one feeder on one end of the house and the other on the side. That didn’t totally solve the challenge but it bought more feeding time for the majority. Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.