Tiny Warrior Hummingbirds

The Anna’s Hummingbird is Vancouver’s Official Bird, elected to the post in 2017.
I imagine they won by simply staring at the competition like this  . . .

. . . until they withdrew their applications.

All of that avian attitude is certainly in play this week as temperatures plunge far below seasonal norms and snow blankets the Vancouver landscape.

Every morning when I open the back door, I hear a loud and indignant tutting.

I would not be surprised to hear an accompanying request to speak to the manager.

You can see why the Anna’s Hummingbirds might be a bit exasperated. Over the past 70 years, milder winters, flowery gardens and well-tended hummingbird feeders have convinced them to expand their range from southern California to southern BC.

Some time in the 90’s they started to forgo the southern migration and stay here all winter. This week, however, I think they’re wondering if it’s too late to book that package holiday to the sun. They are not alone in that.

Luckily, they’re remarkably tough little birds. Delicate as they look, they have a few winter survival tricks up their iridescently-feathered sleeves.

Unlike other hummingbirds, the Anna’s isn’t solely reliant on nectar for sustenance. Insects, spiders and tree sap broaden their dietary options.

During the cold nights they enter an “energy save” mode, called torpor. During this mini-hibernation, their heart rate slows from a daytime rate of 21 beats per second to a mediative one beat per two seconds. At the same time their body temperature lowers from a toasty 107 degrees to 48.

In spite of their toughness, they could use our help this week.

While temperatures are below freezing for days on end, the insect and tree sap supply is out of commission. Waking up from their night-time torpor, they need breakfast ASAP to top up the energy banks and, right now, hummingbird feeders are their only option. Equipped with formidable memories, these little birds can remember the location of each food source in their territory, and if they get to the feeder in your garden and it’s empty or frozen, they will be very, very disappointed in you . . .

. . . and you certainly don’t want that!

Some tips for keeping your hummingbird feeder thawed and snow-free:

  • Keep at least two feeders so you can keep one in the house thawed and ready to replace the frozen one outside
  • Hang the feeder under cover if possible, or with a bird feeder dome over it to stop the nectar ports from getting snow-covered
  • External heat sources will help to keep the nectar thawed. Ideas include: a trouble light hung nearby, incandescent (the old-style heat-producing) Christmas lights hung around the feeder, hand warmers, mug warmer or aquarium mat (for lizards) taped to bottom of feeder
  • Insulating the feeder with old socks or bubble wrap can help

A 2022 update on hummingbird feeder heaters …

I have the one shown in the video below, available at some Wild Birds Unlimited shops or online.


There are various models available and here’s a review of some of them — most seem to use the same basic method of holding a bulb under the feeder to raise the temperature just a bit. I found mine kept the nectar from freezing unless temperatures get down to about minus ten, in which case it’s back to getting up early and putting out fresh nectar before dawn.


If the worst happens and you find a hummingbird in distress and too cold or tired to fly, contact your local wildlife rescue. More information here from Wildlife Rescue BC.

If you’d like to read more about these amazing birds, this well-headlined Tyee article by Kerry Banks is full of fun facts:
The Amazingly Cool Anna’s Hummingbird Scoffs at Winter|
Vancouver’s official bird is a sex-crazed, smart, supercharged recent arrival.




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15 thoughts on “Tiny Warrior Hummingbirds

  1. Boy o boy, are they tough! No worries, we have a community taking care of two hummers. They keep us in our toes and alive. All of our feeders are under the balcony ceiling and we have wires for them to perch to shield them from the elements. I pray to god that they will sustain this weather. Thanks for all the info. And on top of that, we placed feeders/suet for other birds.

  2. I am highly recommending Hummers Heated Delight feeders to everyone,just google it they are from Oregon. They are the best! 32.00 US, 6.50 shipping to Canada and free shipping within the US. I have 2 out,one is 3 years old and like new. Very high quality. I have been feeding hummingbirds for 3 decades in my backyard and have tried many other methods to keep the feeders unfrozen and this is the best option by far.Your photography is stunning!!!

  3. So gratefull for your suggestions, I, too working to keep feeders ice-free, bringing them at night, out at day break, a warm up at noon, tried the ‘trouble light’,,,not all that successful..’will try the ‘Heated Delight’ Also delighted to have a pair of Stellers, who come by for their peanuts (in shell-unsalted)..why is it so difficult to find these? Also so many little strangers, I can’t identify. I have a pagoda some 5 feet from my kitchen window, a natural bird blind, so I can have seed & suet under the eaves of both my summer retreat & my regular home. I can view these feathers so intimately, perhaps a tourist attraction if so inclined! Always delighted to read June Hunter’s notes & view her wonderful photo’s. So June, when will you put a book together? Kerri

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  6. Thanks for your information on how to help these feisty and beautiful birds to survive the cold. We recently got a heated hummer feeder. It has not frozen at all in this cold snap. It’s made in Oregon and they ship to Canada. Ours arrived very quickly. The feeder is called Hummers Heated Delight. The website is:
    About bubble wrap, we tried that, but the feeder froze solid anyway.

  7. I’ve christened my resident hummingbird Karen (with the approval of a friend named Karen) following the barrage of avian insults that are hurled at me every time I pull the feeder down to bring it in for a thaw. Or don’t get it out early enough in the morning.

  8. Thank you so much for this informative blog, June! A couple of Winters ago, my father in-law made himself a gadget to keep the hummingbird feeder from freezing. He used a light bulb to radiate heat. He tested to see the safest wattage as to not melt the plastic parts of the feeder. So smart!

  9. This is such an incredibly interesting article. We are in Kelowna and don’t have hummingbirds in the winter. Our son, however, is on the island and I’ll forward your article for him as he has hummingbird feeders. Thanks for all your crow and other bird writings. Merry Christmas

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