Emergency Hummingbird Feeder Heater Needed
December 23, 2021 6:24 PM   Subscribe

It is going to freeze hard in Seattle after, if not over, Christmas weekend. We ate talking into the twenties if not teens on the Farenheit scale. What can I do to make an adhoc heater for two Perky Pet feeders over the weekend?

I am going to stock up on extra feeders from Fred Meyer and swap them out by the half hour by day. Which I have done in the past. But I have heard of jury rigged pocket hand warmers, which are supposed to work for hours. Has anyone in the membership tried this? I am open to suggestions.
posted by y2karl to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I use Audubon Park Hummingbird food, which is made of sugar and natural red dye made from cochineal. It mixes up to a 3 oz sugar to 15 oz water. I have plenty, so I can mix it to a more sugar to less water solution if that would help.

Will the sugar solution thereof lower the freezing temperature to any extent? And if so how much?

I see there was a similar Ask back in 2013 on this topic, which I will check out after I post this comment.

By all means let me know if you have practical past experience. No offense but I would prefer that to inexperienced brain storming.
posted by y2karl at 6:44 PM on December 23, 2021

Best answer: I can vouch they can be used for keeping stuff outside (in my case a faucet and a water dish) from freezing and it's worth trying. I have not done it with a hummingbird feeder specifically.

One thing to note is that the hand warmers need oxygen to do their chemical reaction, so they will go out if they're closed up in a ziploc or contained in a confined space with other insulation. So you'll need to account for that in your design. I was worried about mine getting wet so I took what steps I could to shelter them without completely encasing them in anything.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:50 PM on December 23, 2021

Response by poster: Also, running an extension cord out the apartment front door to run a low watt bulb is out of the question.

And please spare me the only white sugar solution advice. I have heard all this on Facebook Pacific NE birding and I don't agree. Natural red food colorings like cochineal, carmine or Annato don't hurt hummingbirds. I have been feeding our hummingbirds for 20 years. They are used to Audubon Park and in this regard I know what I am doing.
posted by y2karl at 6:57 PM on December 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the tip, Lyn -- now that is helpful.
posted by y2karl at 6:59 PM on December 23, 2021

Best answer: The reptile keeping hobby has chemical warming packs for emergencies that are like the hand warmers but last longer and are more reliable (so I’ve read. I don’t have a reptile). Reptile keepers are experts at keeping tiny delicate animals alive outside their ideal habitat. Maybe you could ask a local shop for more ideas.
posted by Comet Bug at 7:28 PM on December 23, 2021

This page has a graph showing the freezing point of sugar water at various solutions. It looks like 20 grams of sugar in 100 grams of water freezes at 30 degrees F.

Do you think that the birds will come to the feeders even if they can't see the liquid in clear bottle section? If so, I wonder if you could rig up something with a rice sock to help hold some heat in. Basically, fill a long sock with rice, tie the end, & then microwave a minute or two until it is hot. They hold heat quite a while & would also provide some insulation against the cold. If you wanted to get crafty, you could probably make a fitted wrap to go around the bottle part with a pocket to hold rice.
posted by belladonna at 7:30 PM on December 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can confirm that once the birds have found your feeder (by the red color on the base if nothing else - they also carefully inspect anything else red they can find) they know to come back. And they will give you deadly stinkeye if it's empty. I don't know at what temperature they just hunker down and don't go out, but I certainly have seen mine in the 30s.

If it ended up being necessary to cover the glass part of the bottle to hold heat in, it wouldn't hinder them as long as the red feeder base is visible.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 PM on December 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have different shaped feeders but I have taped a circle of bubble wrap onto the bottom where the liquid sits to block conduction through the plastic to outside. It doesn't prevent freezing forever obviously but it allows a slower swapping cycle.

BTW this may be common knowledge but I also warm the hummer chow (not hot, well below body temperature) before I put it out and they have no problem with that.
posted by away for regrooving at 8:38 PM on December 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would try hand warmer packs, taped to the liquid reservoir and sheltered from snow. They stay warm for a couple hours.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:28 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I make 1:1 simple syrup (for cocktails, not for birds) it does not freeze solid even in my 0F freezer, so I think you may be OK with just your regular syrup and maybe something along the lines of a tea cozy/beer coozie. Your hummer food is less sugary, but 20F is a lot warmer than a freezer. If you start with, say, 80F hummer food, I would expect you'd get several hours before it froze solid at 20F.

(Do keep an eye on whether the *ports* are freezing - it doesn't help much to have liquid in the jar if the birds can't get their beaks in.)
posted by mskyle at 6:10 AM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If it won't scare the birds, adding some insulation (with the chemical warmers inside, if you use them) will help a lot. Consider wrapping as much of the thing as possible in a couple of layers of packing foam, bubble wrap, or old clothing, with a plastic wrap or plastic shopping bag outer layer to prevent air exchange. Tape around the edges.

I don't know anything about humming birds, but it makes a huge difference when keeping electronics warm in extremely cold environments.
posted by eotvos at 8:05 AM on December 24, 2021

Are you ok waking up early? My hummningbirds come by starting only after 7am, so my plan for the next few days is to take it in over night and hang it back up before 7 the next day.
posted by porpoise at 9:27 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

There are microwaveable heaters used to keep pets warm. Better for the earth and the wallet. They stay warm for up to 10 hours. Rescues often use them and speak highly of them. A pet store may have one locally.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:06 AM on December 24, 2021

Response by poster: No microwave here.
posted by y2karl at 1:48 PM on December 24, 2021

Best answer: During the last big freeze in Seattle, my husband used the hand-warmers taped to the bottom of the feeders solution and it seemed to work. He'd bring the feeders back inside after nightfall and bring them back outside early in the morning. The hummers would kind of hover around him, like "hurry up and bring us our food, man" and as far as I know, they were able to feed sufficiently.
posted by creepygirl at 2:04 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They're out of hand warmers in the local stores but I ordered a box from Amazon which'll be coming in Tuesday. I can tough it out exchanging freezing feeders for warm every whatever until then however often it takes.

I went out and emptied the feeders this morning and refilled them with some industrial strength syrup. I have a family of three that frequent the yard -- a male, female and her female chick.

I call them a family because the male does not attack the females -- which implies he has mated with the mom and is the father of her daughter. All three were on the feeders the moment I rehung them. And found out something new: hummingbirds can get the zoomies.

I mean it's not like hummingbirds aren't in a permanent state of such but they stepped it up by an order of magnitude or two. They were zipping about the courtyard like the Blue Angels at fast forward and corkscrewing up a storm. It was irrational exuberance personified.
posted by y2karl at 5:39 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

industrial strength syrup

Hey, I don't know if this might mean you've upped the sugar to lower the freezing point, but I've always seen not to mess with that. You're also supplying their drinking water needs!
Too little sugar will not provide the necessary calories; too much sugar can harm the liver and kidneys of hummingbirds.
If not, carry on, here we go swapping tomorrow.
posted by away for regrooving at 8:54 PM on December 25, 2021

Response by poster: It was 1 to 3 rather than 1 to 4 in ratio and not exactly Mrs. Butterworth's in vicosity. It was a thin syrup and the proof was in the pudding, if I may mix my metaphors: They usually last 3 days between refills. But this time, after filling my two feeders to 1/4 inch from the top when hanging, one was half empty and the other two thirds full. In just one day.

And they will give you deadly stinkeye if it's empty.

Boy howdy -- as I've noted before, about 20 years ago, I had one feeder hanging from my then back porch's roof. Which I hadn't noticed had been emptied. I was sitting on the back steps when the female nesting in the spruce across the parking lot flew up. She hovered at eye level at arm's length and stared me in the eyes. I mean, she drilled deep. All the while vehemently twittering her displeasure before banking off.

Those two or three seconds raised the hair on my arms -- gave me chicken skin as they say in Hawaii. It was a mystical with a small m experience. I was moved. Seriously. I filled the feeder forthwith.
posted by y2karl at 1:11 AM on December 26, 2021

Response by poster: In other news, I found some handwarmers and folded a couple over on the bottom on each feeder bottom and taped them down with band-aids (improv!) as well as cutting up Amazon bubblewrap and taping it around each of the glass bottles. It's 18° Fahrenheit outside right now, so it was in the proverbial nick of time.
posted by y2karl at 9:01 AM on December 27, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your answers. I so appreciate it.
posted by y2karl at 9:05 AM on December 27, 2021

Response by poster: PS.

(Do keep an eye on whether the *ports* are freezing - it doesn't help much to have liquid in the jar if the birds can't get their beaks in.)

In a word: Word.
posted by y2karl at 1:38 PM on December 27, 2021

Response by poster: This is what things looked like yesterday.

He was waiting for me just before dawn this morning, perched on the hook from which the feeder is hung. On with the day...
posted by y2karl at 8:08 AM on December 29, 2021

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