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|To keep liquid feed from freezing and avoid bringing feeders in at night, string Christmas lights around the feeder, or hang a caged "trouble light" (the kind used by car mechanics) nearby so the ambient heat can keep things thawed. Photo: Marilyn of View Ridge, Seattle Audubon Society
Early February is only the halfway mark through winter, and the cold snaps this year, even in western Washington, have had backyard bird watchers concerned about their feathered friends.
Keeping seed and suet feeders full and clean is the easy part.
Keeping water sources open is a little more challenging. A non-metal pan of warm water that is refreshed periodically, or has a heater under it, can help. A birdbath equipped with an in-water heater (available at many wild bird feeding supply outlets) is best.
But in western Washington, where Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) are year-round residents, keeping that liquid feed available can be tougher.
Seattle Audubon Society addresses this problem on their website at http://www.seattleaudubon.org/sas/Learn/SeasonalFacts/Hummingbirds.aspx .
Here's the essence of their advice:
- Don't try to increase the sugar content of the hummingbird nectar to prevent it from freezing. Keep the mix at the standard ratio of one part white sugar (no brown sugar or honey) to four parts boiling water, then cool it (and never add red food coloring.) Higher sugar content may damage the birds' kidneys and liver.
- Have multiple feeders and rotate them. The mix will begin to freeze around 29 degrees, so rotating the feeders throughout the day will keep the fluid open and available to the birds. Bring the feeders indoors at night, when hummingbirds don't feed, but get them back out again at dawn.
- To avoid bringing feeders in at night, string Christmas lights around the feeder, or hang a caged "trouble light" (the kind used by car mechanics) nearby so the ambient heat can keep things thawed.
- Tape a chemical hand or foot warmer to the feeder. These commonly available warmers emit heat for about seven hours and will keep the liquid feed from freezing.
- Wrap plumber's heat tape around the feeder to keep it from freezing. These flexible electric tapes are similar to a flat extension cord and most are equipped with a built-in thermostat in the cord. The wattage of these tapes is very low and does not draw a lot of energy.
Earlier this winter WDFW habitat biologist Jamie Bails discovered another tip -- don't use feeders or bird baths with any kind of metal on them. She recalls how she found an Anna's hummingbird stuck to a frozen metal edge.
"It was furiously trying to free its tiny foot, its powerful wings creating a soft wind as it hung by its toes," she said. "Gently I used two fingers to warm and slide the toes free of the ice, and it zoomed off, hopefully none the worse for the wear. It reminded me of kids who try to lick metal objects and get their tongues stuck!"
The good news is that this winter of all winters IS winding down, and all birds, including Anna's hummingbirds, are usually capable of weathering it. They reduce their body temperature at night to conserve energy and roost in those dense shrubs and evergreen trees you include in your landscape. They don't just depend on the nectar and seeds you provide, but even in the winter they also eat insects found under that tree bark and other plants.