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 Anna's Hummingbirds
The hummingbirds of winter.

Glug, glug, glug, glug...   Aaaahhhhhh!

    Anna's Hummingbirds live along the West Coast of North America.  They are unusual in the US because they do not migrate very far.  They may move up into the hills during the summer, then back down to lower elevations during the winter.  Many of them remain in their home territory the year-round.  Their range has been expanding northward in the last decade or so and now they can even be found up into British Columbia.

    It is thought that Anna's Hummingbirds are able to winter so far north because their diets contain a larger proportion of insects and arachnids than most hummingbirds.  Not only do these bugs provide nutrients during the winter when there are few flowers blooming, but they also provide a slower metabolizing source of food which may help them survive the long nights.  Anna's Hummingbirds also have a fairly large body weight for a hummingbird which may also help them.  But they do live a precarious existence in the winter and the presence of hummingbird feeders has probably also helped to encourage their northward expansion.

Anna's Hummingbird at the feeder at our store in December.  Click to see a larger image.

This photo of an Anna's Hummingbird was taken through the back window of our store on December 23rd, 2002. 
 (It's not in a cage! The wires are inside the safety glass window, the feeder is on the other side of the window.)

    The shiny feathers on a hummingbird's throat is called their gorget.  The gorget on a male Anna's Hummingbird is a beautiful bright red and also extends onto the top of its head.  These feathers are iridescent and the birds are able to aim a beam of light from them.  That's why the gorget looks black until they notice you and then you see the color.  Interestingly, the female Anna's hummer often has a small gorget, often diamond-shaped.  The females of most other species have no gorget at all.

    Feeding hummingbirds is a very easy and enjoyable pastime.  Hummingbirds readily find and use feeders and their food is very easy and cheap to make.  Anna's Hummingbirds, unlike the Rufous Hummingbirds that we get in the summertime, will share a feeder.  We recently put out a feeder at the store and one at home.  Within hours we had Anna's Hummingbirds using both feeders!  The photo, above, was taken of the one at the store.  (Sorry about the diamonds in the image - the photo was taken through the safety-glass window at the back of the store.)
    If you do choose to feed hummingbirds in the wintertime, please do it responsibly.  A hummingbird searches far and wide and selects a feeding territory based on the available food supplies it finds.  Your feeder will be an important part of its feeding territory.  If the feeder runs empty or freezes up, there might not be sufficient food elsewhere in their territory to enable the bird to survive.  So you must keep it filled with fresh nectar and thawed out all winter.  Here are some suggestions to make that easier:

  1. Make up some nectar and keep a stock of it in the refrigerator so it will be easy to fill the feeder.  You can find the nectar recipe on the hummingbird feeding page.  If it is really cold out, it is fine to strengthen the nectar to a 1:3 ratio instead of 1:4.  The higher concentration will lower the freezing temperature of the nectar, helping to keep it thawed longer.  It will also help pack a bit more energy into their crop when they take that last drink before bedtime.  (Janet calls it "topping off".)

  2. One backyard researcher has reported to me that her Best-1 feeders will remain thawed in 25 degree weather with a 1:3 ratio of sugar to water in them.  This may also be due to the larger volume of nectar in the feeder or to the more cylindrical shape of the IV bottle: she has found that the wide, shallow HummZingers freeze up more quickly.  She does say that it works best if the feeder is filled at least half way, since nearly empty feeders loose the benefit of the thermal mass that the large feeder provides.  (Thanks for the tip, Denise!)

  3. Or you can use the quick-change method: use two or more polycarbonate feeders such as the HummZingers which can be run through the dishwasher.  That way you can fill one, take it out, replace the stale or frozen one, bring that one in, and throw it in the dishwasher.  This makes feeder changes much quicker and easier, though these feeders will freeze more quickly than the Best-1 in the winter.  (We do sell Best-1 and HummZinger feeders if you need one.)

  4. Put a hook above your porch light if feasible or hang the feeder under an eave with a waterproof light hanging next to it.  Some back porch light fixtures actually have a flat top where you can set a HummZinger type feeder.  However you have to do it on your house, make sure you can get the nectar close to a heat source so it doesn't freeze, and a light bulb makes a good heat source.  I know of one guy who lives in the very cold Columbia Gorge who actually moved his feeder into a shed, hung a droplight next to it, and left the door open.  The Anna's Hummingbird which had been used to using his feeder came right in after it and visited it all winter.

  5. If your feeder does freeze up, bring it in as early in the morning as possible and change it for a fresh one or thaw it out.  If you have a feeder which can go in the microwave, be careful not to overdo it or you may burn their little tongues.  Overheating may also caramelize some of the sugars which is not good for them.  They enjoy a little warm nectar in the morning, just don't make it too hot. 

    Here's a note that I got from Carolyn in Victoria, BC:

Here's a hint with regard to the freezing problem: I listen to the weather forecast, and if it will be freezing during the night (not very often here up in Victoria, BC.) I bring the feeders in at bedtime, and am sure to get up at first light in the morning to put the feeders back out - I time it for when I know all the birds are rousing. That way, the hummers can have their first feed with room temperature nectar to help them warm up.

    I would only add this: be sure you don't forget to put the feeders out at the first glimmer of daylight, because that's when they will need it the most - after a long night of torpor.

    I hope this has been enjoyable and informative.

     Read about feeding hummingbirds

     Then order a REALLY GOOD feeder.


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