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Here’s how you can help hummingbirds survive the cold winter months

Hummingbird feeders are the primary food source for the species during the winter months.

SEATTLE — Many western Washington residents may have seen one or two Anna’s Hummingbirds, a species of hummingbird, out and about searching for feeders amid the recent cold snap that brought temperatures well below freezing.

That’s because during the winter months hummingbird feeders are their primary food source, according to Suzanne West of Sarvey Wildlife.

“In the wintertime, the primary food source for these Anna's Hummingbirds is the nectar that people are putting out in their feeders,” she explained. “There aren't flowers and things like that that they would normally be feeding from in the spring in the summer."

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Similar to some mammals, hummingbirds go into a type of hibernation during the winter called a torpor. In this state, hummingbirds have a decreased body temperature and slow their metabolism so as not to burn as much energy.

That’s why, when they do come out of their torpor intermittently, it’s important that they have enough food in order to last through the season.

For those interested in keeping a hummingbird feeder, here are some tips:

  • Use a 1:4 ratio mixture of white sugar and water. The Seattle Audubon Society advises against using any other sweeteners or liquids. Simply mix the sugar and water in a pan, bring to a boil and then remove from the heat and cool.
  • Keep the feeder warm by hanging a low-watt lightbulb near the feeder, putting a sock over the feeder or attaching a hand warmer. Be sure to bring in the feeder at night as hummingbirds are less active during that time and the nectar is more likely to freeze.
  • Clean the feeder once a week during the cold weather.

West also said residents should be on the lookout for birds that may be stuck to metal surfaces or that have fallen in the snow.

“We’re getting a lot of calls where hummingbirds are actually in the snow. They’ve fallen off a feeder or maybe something else has happened and they’ve hit a window,” West said.

Since any injury to a hummingbird during the freezing temperatures puts it at risk, West said residents can act if they see a struggling bird by getting it into a box with a towel and keeping it in a quiet and dark place.

“They don't really want to be handled a whole lot. They're [a] very high-stress species. And if it can warm up and fly away, releasing it right away is the best idea,” she said.

Anyone who comes across a fallen hummingbird can also call Sarvey Wildlife at 360-435-4817.

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