More on the subject of winter feeding of hummers, from Laura Erickson of Cornell Lab.

Susan Eaton
Kirkwood, St. Louis CO., MO
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Laura Erickson <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 2:05 PM
Subject: Re: Winter h'bird topic
To: Susan Eaton <[log in to unmask]>

You're welcome to add this to the discussion:

Lanny is absolutely correct that in only ONE case, of all the people feeding hummingbirds all over the place, has this "hypothermia" been reported. The problem has almost definitely been exaggerated, but I personally follow a "better safe than sorry" method. Most of my hummingbird feeders do not have perches anyway. When my late hummingbird appeared at my feeder, each night the temperature dropped below freezing, so I was setting out fresh, warmer sugar water each morning anyway.

With regard to protein--at the time my individual hummingbird was coming to my northern MInnesota feeder (in late November and early December), I consulted with a lot of experts trying to figure out the best thing to do, and heard as many suggestions as people I consulted. As long as temperatures were above 20 degrees or so, I could clearly observe the hummingbird feeding on insects in the tips of my spruce tree and lilac bush branches. I grew more concerned by Thanksgiving when the afternoon highs were only in the teens and the bird was spending virtually all its non-perching time at my feeder and I was having to change the feeders as they froze up every hour. That's when I started offering one feeder (out of many) with ground up mealworms. This was not a scientific experiment, and I have no way of knowing whether that was a good thing to do in reality rather than in my informed but just gut-feeling. The hummingbird did have many other feeders to choose from, but she chose, most of the time, to feed at the feeder with the mealworms. But again, this could have been extremely harmful if the temperature wasn't so cold--this or Nektar Plus would spoil very quickly in warmer temperatures, and mealworms in particular could harbor dangerous bacteria in their gut that would multiply rapidly in warmer conditions.

Because Nektar Plus does spoil extremely quickly, it is normally only used by rehabbers (I was a licensed rehabber, by the way) and must be changed every few HOURS.

Northern Minnesota is colder in November and December than Cape Girardeau, and most of the hummingbird people who advised me were pretty emphatic about providing protein if we could figure out a way.

Lanny is again absolutely right about how early hummingbird start their day. Mine made her first visits to my feeder each morning about a half hour before sunrise, while it was still twilight.



On Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 2:32 PM, Susan Eaton <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Here's the rest of it.  Lanny runs the website


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Charlene and Jim Malone <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 12:18 PM
Subject: Re: Winter h'bird topic
To: [log in to unmask]

With all due respect to Laura Erickson and Bob Fisher.......
The following is a msg from Lanny Chambers (a certified hummingbird
I am posting for him because he is not signed up to post on Mobirds.
IF anyone has an issue with Mr. Chambers' comments, please send them
directly to his e-mail:    [log in to unmask]
DO NOT send them to me, because they will get dumped immediately.

Bob Fisher summarizes/quotes Ms. Erickson:
1. She knows of one case where a hummer keeled over after an early morning
drink of very cold sugar water. Her hypothesis was that the bird suffered
hypothermia from ingesting a large amount of cold liquid. Her
Take the perches off the feeder. That will insure that the bird keeps itself
warm with the exercise of staying in flight while feeding. She also
recommends putting out fresh, room temperature sugar water mixture at first

Lanny Chambers responds:
1. The "perch hypothermia" theory has zero
evidence to support it. No bander,  researcher, or serious student of
hummingbirds believes it. Plenty of  hummers feed at snow-covered,
half-frozen feeders without incident.  One interesting hypothesis about
hummers hanging upside down or  falling off of feeders: inexperienced
immatures may drink more than  they realize, and weigh too much to fly
and/or shift their centers of  gravity enough to make them lose their
balance. But that, too, is  just a guess.

BF summarizes/quotes LE:
2. She says late hummers need protein as well as carbs. There are apparently
commercial mixtures for sale that include protein. "Nektar Plus" is one. She
regards them as "ideal" but says they are very expensive and spoil quickly.
She tells of having had a Rufous hummer visit her feeder in Minnesota one
She put out six feeders and added ground meal worms to the mixture of one of
them. During several freezing days when temps were below 20 degrees F, that
hummer visited the one with the mealworms 90% of the time.

LC responds:
2. When it's too cold for bugs to fly, hummers get all the
protein  they need from dormant insects, plus their eggs and larvae. They
are  adept at gleaning such tidbits from bark crevices and the undersides
of leaves, just like chickadees. Nektar Plus is NOT appropriate for  wild,
non-captive hummingbirds. The Rufous that recently  overwintered in Cape
Girardeau was provided only the standard sugar- water solution, warmed by
a light bulb as necessary to prevent freezing.

BF summarizes/quotes LE:
3. Apparently USFWS used to issue special permits for folks to trap
out-of-range hummers and move them to warmer climes. No more. Most of those
birds died.

LC responds:
3. This part is true. Like most other attempts to rescue
healthy hummingbirds, sending them to somewhere they don't belong is
usually a death sentence, even for the few that don't die enroute. Not
all animals are supposed to survive no-matter-what; it's called natural
selection, and messing with it is foolish. That said, western hummers
that winter in the Gulf states instead of Mexico are no longer
considered out of range, and some of them pass through Missouri to get

BF summarizes/quotes LE:
4. If you have a late hummer visiting your feeder, and it fails to show the
next morning, it probably died during the night. If it shows in the a.m. and
then disappears, it has probably moved on.

LC responds:
4. This is too pessimistic. Some people don't realize how
early hummingbirds start their days. By the time it's light enough for
a human to avoid tripping over his own feet, a hummer may have finished
its breakfast and left. Notwithstanding the above, like other wild
creatures some hummingbirds die every day, and more during the stress
of migrations. Some no doubt do keel over at feeders, simply because
their number was up. It's a mistake to try to blame every birds' death
on humans.


Charlene Malone responds to the above:
With all due respect, not everything on the internets or written in books
are factual. If I need to find out about any one bird in particular, I TRY
as best as I can to go to websites hosted by the experts in those
If you want to learn about hummingbirds, lurking on Hum-net is a start.
There one can find out the
who's who in the hummingbird world. Nancy Newfield, Bob Sargent are
prominent names... Lanny Chambers (Fenton, MO)is very knowledgeable with an
excellent website. Bill Hilton, Jr. also has a good website with lots of
info called Operation Rubythroat.

PLEASE, this post is not meant to be malicious or down-putting just one to
pass on information from the experts in this field.
ALSO, I will not comment any further about these issues as I have spent too
time on this already. (I DO have more important things on my plate at this
Again, responses can be sent to Mr. Chambers directly.

Good birding,
Charlene Malone
St.Louis co.

The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
ASM Website:

Laura Erickson
Science Editor
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

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