With climate change causing increasingly dramatic shifts in temperature during the winter season, the natural ebb and flow of our environment is, at times, thrown for a loop. With that said, many migratory bird species and their preferred conditions are being disrupted. Many hummingbird species, specifically, are feeling the effects of this more than most.

Because of their small size, hummingbirds have the fastest metabolism of any vertebrate. They must eat on a consistent basis, with plant nectar being one of their most popular food sources, followed by insects, sap, and even ashes or sand. During the colder months, these meals are even more scarce, so humans often lend a hand when they can. Here are a few ways you can help out our feathered friends this winter.

Hummingbird Feeders

It may be tempting to take down bird feeders during this time of year when you assume that migratory birds have left the area and fled south for warmer weather. However, some hummingbird species tend to stick around longer in cooler climates, some even staying year round. Even so, many people may unknowingly live along migration routes, making their homes a perfect rest stop for birds passing through.

Feeders do not disturb the natural migration patterns of birds, contrary to this common misconception. If anything, they simply provide a snack for the road. While one may notice a decrease in visitors during colder months, there are still many birds in the area that could benefit from this resource, especially hummingbirds living in regions with milder winters. Leave a feeder out this time of year for any stragglers or passersby.

Feeder Maintenance

With colder temperatures comes the potential of freezing, and what good would ice be to a bird that survives mostly on liquids? Many experts recommend mixing a sugar-water solution to prevent freezing – 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Anything more creates the possibility of this liquid freezing.

Where you place the feeder around your home also plays a role in whether or not your homemade solution freezes. For example, placing this behind a tree or on the side of your house so as to protect it from freezing winds is ideal. The closer to your home, the warmer it may get thanks to indoor heating. Similarly, setting feeders up underneath outdoor lighting or heating fixtures is another way to prevent freezing.

Keeping feeders clean is just as important for a hummingbird’s health as replacing the water filter in a Brita is for humans. Even if the feeder is full, be sure to replace your sugar-water solution regularly. This prevents the growth of bacteria, mold, and fungi.

Research your local hummingbird species to see how you can best help in keeping them safe and healthy this winter!