When the going gets chilly, the chill get crafty

hand-crocheted humingbird feeder cozy

My hand-crocheted hummingbird feeder cozy

After posting a bunch of second-hand/theoretical advice for keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing, I found myself and my clientele (several Anna’s and a Violet-crowned or two) facing a forecast low of 13º F. (-10º C.). My northern friends will smirk (and rightly so), but this is southern Arizona for peeps‘ sake.

Since temperatures this low are such a rare event here, insulating the feeder seemed like the most sensible (and cheapest) approach. Besides, my crochet hooks had been collecting dust since last fall, and this was a good excuse to get back to hooking. So to speak.

After a quick stop to shop for appropriately colored yarn and about two hours of hooking, unraveling, and rehooking, I had a crocheted feeder cozy for an 8-oz. Nature’s Best (my all-time favorite bottle feeder that’s no longer available, sadly).

Before calling it a night, I filled a clean feeder with hot 3:1 solution, slipped on the cozy, and stumbled across the starlit yard to hang it in one of the more popular spots. Another Nature’s Best that had been out all day had frozen beyond the Squishee stage already, with a band of syrup trapped between solid layers of ice.

When I finally got around to checking the feeder this morning (about an hour and a half after sunrise), there was no ice in the bottle at all, but swirls of denser syrup indicated that at least some of the solution had frozen. Interestingly, the HummZinger Mini hanging in front of the poorly insulated living room window showed no signs of having frozen, despite containing a smaller volume of solution with larger surface area and getting very little morning sun to warm it up (it’s on the north side of the house).

I was a little worried about how the hummingbirds would respond to the weird appearance of their feeder. The female Violet-crowned Hummingbird didn’t seem the least bit put off by the bright red “sweater,” but then she didn’t have to wear it.

Related posts:

Keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing

Helping hummingbirds through winter weather

Gotta love those disquisitive, aberrant hummingbirds

Another gem of mangled translation turned up by Google Alerts:

One of the disquisitive,ugg australia fascinating birds not hidden are hummingbirds, and for that, a bird house definitely designed to their species is a expert way to attract that limited, aberrant creature to one’s yard.

Keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing

Two winters ago I posted some suggestions for helping hummingbirds through winter weather, including boosting the sugar content of the feeder solution, taking advantage of heat radiating from windows, creating shelters, and using heat lamps. A lot of people are dealing with frozen feeders already this season, so here are a few more suggestions gleaned from the winter hummingbird community:

  • Make a “feeder cozy” to help fresh solution retain its warmth longer. It can be as fancy as you like—knitted, crocheted, quilted, down-filled—but pipe insulation (fiberglass wrap or foam tube) or a section cut from a discarded blanket or sweater will do the job. If it’s roomy enough, you may even be able to tuck handwarmer packs inside. [A commenter on BirdForum mentioned using stockings; if your feeder bottle is small enough, a heavy wool sock would make a quick and easy cozy.]
  • Wrap your feeder in outdoor-rated incandescent Christmas lights (the old style, not energy-efficient LEDs). The bulbs should produce enough heat to keep the sugar water slightly above air temperature, especially if you add an outer layer of aluminum foil to reflect heat and block wind.
  • Wrap your feeder in pipe heating tape under a layer of insulation. Thermostatically controlled models will save energy by turning on as necessary to keep the solution just above freezing.
  • Invert your sugars. The freezing point of a solution depends on the number of molecules present. More solute (sugar) molecules make it harder for the solvent (water) molecules to link up. Inverting your sugar, which breaks each sucrose molecule into one of fructose and one of glucose, doubles the number of molecules and depresses the freezing point by a few additional degrees without adding additional sugar.

To invert ordinary table sugar, combine 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water, adding 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to speed up the reaction. Heat the solution to a low boil on the stovetop in a heavy saucepan, washing down the sides of the pan with a little additional water to dissolve any stray sugar crystals. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature, which will rise above the boiling point of water as the water in it boils away. Once it reaches 230° F., remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, then pour it into a clean jar, pop on the lid, and store in the refrigerator. Substitute invert syrup for no more than half of the sugar in your feeder solution and reduce the water slightly (by about 2 tablespoons per cup) to compensate for the water in the syrup.

Safety first! Lights and heating tape present fire and electrocution hazards. Use only products that are rated for outdoor use, including extension cords. Do not use electric heating pads outdoors! Don’t enclose Christmas lights inside a cozy or place a cozy-covered feeder too close to a heat lamp—it could start a fire. Heat lamps or Christmas lights may melt the flimsy plastic of discount-store feeders.

Useful links:

Feeding hummingbirds in winter in Indiana

Hummingbird feeder heater using Christmas lights

More on making and using invert sugar from Not So Humble Pie

Related posts:

Helping hummingbirds through winter weather

When the going gets chilly, the chilly get crafty

“Out the Window” preview: March/April 2011

Here’s a teaser from my “Out the Window” column in the March/April 2011 issue of WildBird magazine:

Cactus Wren. Say’s Phoebe. Cassin’s Kingbird. Western Tanager. Killdeer. Curve-billed Thrasher. American Kestrel. Bullock’s Oriole.

Dawn was barely breaking, and it sounded like someone was playing A Field Guide to Western Bird Songs at top volume outside our bedroom window.

Ordinarily I enjoy birding by ear, but after working on a project into the wee hours of the morning I needed a little more face time with my pillow. Rolling over, I pulled back the curtain and squinted up at the slim form silhouetted atop the mesquite tree…

Not a WildBird subscriber yet? This link to Amazon.com will get you six colorful, information-packed issues (a full year), and your purchase will also benefit the conservation and education programs of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. Single copies of Wildbird are also available at newsstands and bookstores.

You’ll find WildBird and other birding magazines plus field guides, feeders and accessories, seeds for hummingbird-friendly plants, and more at SABO’s online shop, The Trogon’s Nest, powered by Amazon.com.

“Out the Window” preview

Here’s a teaser from my “Out the Window” column in the January/February 2011 issue of WildBird magazine:

Hi, my name is Sheri, and I’m a sparrow-phobic. I used to get queasy at the mere thought of identifying those “little brown jobs.” For the first three decades of my birding career, the sparrow section of my life list would have been almost blank if not for towhees, juncos, and the “skunkheads” (White-crowned and White-throated).

I was finally forced to admit that I had a problem when I moved from the relatively sparrow-free Huachuca Mountains to the sparrow-infested desert…

Not a WildBird subscriber yet? This link to Amazon.com will get you six colorful, information-packed issues (a full year), and your purchase will also benefit the conservation and education programs of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. Single copies of Wildbird are also available at newsstands and bookstores.

You’ll find WildBird and other birding magazines plus field guides, feeders and accessories, seeds for hummingbird-friendly plants, and more at SABO’s online shop, The Trogon’s Nest, powered by Amazon.com.

Search of the Week: “care for feral cats”

Two simple steps:

  1. Trap them. Animal control agencies often have cat-sized traps to loan. Canned cat food and sardines make good baits where you’re not likely to catch a skunk or other wild animal; otherwise, try catnip.
  2. Take them to the nearest shelter that will rehome or permanently house them, or euthanize them if all else fails.

Alternatively, have them neutered and vaccinated and confine them to your own property in a predator- and escape-proof enclosure.

Do not leave them out on their own. Cats are domestic animals, and prolonging their homelessness to the detriment of your neighbors, other pets, and wildlife is almost as irresponsible as abandoning them in the first place.

Fawn-breasted Brilliants in combat

Here’s an interesting observation of an unusually prolonged battle between two large tropical hummingbirds, posted by Dennis Arendt, Lelis Navarete, Kit Larsen, Roger Robb, and Leon Esthleman to NEOORN-L, a listserv for ornithologists working in the Neotropics, and cross-posted to HUMNET (reformatted for ease of reading):

A male Fawn-breasted Brilliant photographed on my December 2009 trip to Ecuador

A male Fawn-breasted Brilliant photographed on my December 2009 trip to Ecuador

On 5 October, 2010, at the hummingbird feeding station at Cabañas San Isidro east of Quito, Ecuador, two male Fawn-breasted Brilliants fell to the ground together. They appeared to have their feet intertwined and their bills were jabbing each other. It was 15:31 and a light rain had begun.

They stayed quiet in the wet grass with one bird on top of the other. Both birds had their wings extended fully. The bird on top had its long bill stuck into the neck feathers of the bird underneath. The bird dominating the other would move its bill from the neck to the wing, probing and sometimes grabbing feathers.

After about ten minutes, the bird underneath would fight to release himself from the bird above. They flopped sideways and moved a few centimeters, but the dominating bird stayed on top. They would stay quietly in the grass for several minutes, then the struggle would be repeated with the same results.

The rain grew heavy and this struggle continued for one hour and forty minutes. At 17:11 the dominating bird flew up to a sugar water feeder and sat on top, not on the perch, and drank for half a minute. Then it flew away.

The other hummingbird was picked up from the wet grass. It was thoroughly wet, but alive, and showed no indications that its flesh had been pierced by the other bird’s bill. The defeated bird would surely have died without help. It was taken back to the kitchen at Cabañas San Isidro where it was warmed and fed sugar water. It too flew off after about fifteen minutes.

Emphasis added to highlight additional evidence of the inadequacy of a hummingbird’s bill as a weapon. Poking? Yes. Grabbing? That too. Piercing? Not so much.

Related posts on this topic:

Killer hummingbirds?
Search of the Week: “hummingbird attack eyes”