Hummingbirds continuously consume a lot of nectar, visiting 1,000 to 2,000 flowers a day, to conserve an enormous amount of energy. Harsh winter weather is not suitable to fulfill their high metabolism. A few insects are available in colder regions, and nectar-bearing flower plants are not abundant in subfreezing weather.
So, How Do Hummingbirds Survive Winter? Hummingbirds enter an ‘energy-conservation mode’ called torpor on cold nights to survive lower temperatures. In cold weather, nectar flowers are not available like summer months. So, hummingbirds change their dietary preference to eat insects. In other words, hummingbirds evolve an effective way of surviving the cold, which astronauts can mimic when they’re in space.
Apart from that, a few hummingbird species migrate to warmer regions. However, most of them overwinter in the breeding area. In this article, we’re going to talk all about the survival of hummingbirds in colder climates. So, let’s begin!
Handy Hint: To read more about hummingbirds, visit our other article about hummingbirds go in the winter [here]
What Happens When Hummingbirds Enter Torpor?
‘Torpor’ is a decreased physiological state in an animal to conserve energy by reducing metabolic rate and body temperature. First, Alexander Wilson, in 1832, defined hummingbird torpor in American Ornithology, considering the mode as deep as death.
A hummingbird’s heart rate can drop from 1,260 to 50 beats per minute during torpor. Their body temperature can plummet from 105°F (40°C) to 48°F (8.8°C) when they experience a nightly mini-hibernation.
Don’t you get it? Let us explain.
“On a Friday night, it was 18°F around our house. Hummingbirds’ normal body temperature is nearly 105°F. The air temperature is 89°F less than their body temperatures. If they cannot lower their body temperature, they have to expend a lot of energy to cope with the harsh winter while sleeping. If they lower their body temperature to 48°F, the difference will be only 30°F, and they’ll be able to cut two-thirds of their energy demand.”
What is the Difference between Torpor and Hibernation?
Like torpor, hibernation is also an energy-conservation state of animals, helping them survive when food is scarce, especially in cold winter months. This physiological state lowers body temperature, heart rates, and metabolic rate.
The main difference between torpor and hibernation is that hibernation can last for several days, weeks, or months, while torpor lasts for a short period, sometimes just through the day or night. In other words, if torpor takes place for a longer period, it’ll be called hibernation.
Some tropical hummingbirds have a rigid metabolic system that makes them enter into torpor, also called it noctivation, on a daily basis. In this way, these hummingbirds consume energy to survive, whether the current season is summer or winter.
How Do Hummingbirds Return to the Normal State After Torpor?
Typically, hummingbirds wake from torpor 1 to 2 hours before dawn. However, they take around 20 minutes to return to their normal state. When they’re awakening, their heart rates increase, and they vibrate their wing muscles to generate heat for the perfect blood supply.
After awakening from torpor, what do hummingbirds do when they’re warm enough but not active yet? Some birders say that hummingbirds use this time to sleep since torpor is a slow-wave sleep. However, normal sleep requires more body temperatures than torpor needs.
What Else Help Hummingbirds Survive?
Besides entering into torpor mode, hummingbirds eat insects and drink nectar from backyard feeders to survive winter. Climate change is another factor that helps hummingbirds survive, allowing nectar-bearing flower plants to blossom in winter.
#Eating Insects: Hummingbirds survive harsh winter by consuming a lot of insects found under bark and plants. They eat insects, especially when they don’t see enough nectar to drink. These insects help them fulfill their requirements of protein, vitamin, and mineral.
#Drinking Nectar from Feeders: Many backyard birders hang hummingbird feeders all year round, even in the coldest winter months. If you have a hummingbird feeder, you should clean and refill it with sugar water of the perfect ratio so that your little friends can drink nectar from the feeder and survive the harsh weather.
#Changing Climates: In recent times, climates in different states of the United States are dramatically changing. Ecosystems have been altered, and that’s why nectar-bearing flower plants blossom colorful flowers all year. So, hummingbirds can easily survive winter due to climate change.
However, climate change has many threats to hummingbirds. 4 hummingbird species, including Allen’s, Black-chinned, Calliope, and Rufous, will probably be forced to migrate north by 2080 due to warmer temperatures in the south.
How Can I Help Hummingbirds in Winter?
As you know, nectar-bearing flower plants are the main source of hummingbird food. When winter comes, these plants are not so abundant. So, overwintering hummingbirds starve and even die. If you’re a hummingbird lover, you can help them cope with harsh winter weather.
But, how do you help hummingbirds in winter? You can leave hummingbird feeders out all year round, so overwinter hummers consume nectar from your feeders. Make sure your feeders don’t get frozen in subfreezing weather. Always try to keep the feeders clean and filled with enough nectar. Here are a few ways to help your backyard friends in harsh winter weather.
#Leave Your Hummingbird Feeders Out in Winter
Many people think that full-of-nectar hummingbird feeders can discourage hummingbirds from migrating. The fact is that migratory species must head for warmer regions in the fall, even if your feeders are left out all winter.
If you’re a resident of a colder climate, your feeders may not meet plenty of hummingbirds. However, it could be excellent if any stragglers or early arrivals are there in your area. Again, hummingbird feeders in milder winters can be an essential source of nectar for many travelers.
#Keep Your Feeders from Freezing
Your hummingbird feeders with the sugar-water solution might get frozen if you expose them to the wind during winter weather. You should keep your feeders from freezing by placing them in a protected area, like under a tree, next to a wall, or near a shrub.
Apart from that, you can place your feeder near a window so that you can see these vising birds, and the feeder remains warm due to the heat coming from indoors. In this case, you have to make sure that your feeders are window hummingbird feeders with strong suction cups.
We have already written an article on “how to keep hummingbird feeder from freezing, [Details here]” in which we’ve talked about 12 ways of keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing. If you want to read that post, simply click on the link on the article’s title.
#Keep the Feeders Clean and Filled with Fresh Nectar
When it comes to feeding hummingbirds, hygiene is the primary concern that you should consider. Always try to keep your feeders clean before filling them with nectar. If you don’t clean your feeders, bacteria, fungi, and mold can grow inside them.
These harmful things don’t directly make hummingbirds sick, but experts encourage birders to keep their feeders clean to attract more hummingbirds. Despite that, cloudy nectar can clog the feeding ports, which is not good for these tiny birds.
Some Hummingbirds That Survive Harsh Winter
The north’s winter season is typically longer than that of the south and considered from late October to mid-March. Many hummingbird species are available there in the coldest winter. So, let’s dig a little deeper.
- Anna’s Hummingbirds: These are year-round residents on the Pacific coast, especially in southern British Columbia, Vancouver, and northern Baja. You’ll often find them in northwestern Mexico and southwestern Arizona all year round.
- Costa’s Hummingbirds: Like Anna’s hummingbirds, these are year-round residents in the southwestern parts of the United States and some areas of Arizona, western Mexico, California, and Baja.
- Rufous Hummingbirds: Typically, these birds overwinter in central Mexico, but some of them are seen along the Gulf Coast and the southeastern parts of the United States. In recent years, their populations are dramatically increasing day by day.
- Buff-bellied Hummingbirds: Like Rufous hummingbirds, these hummingbird species overwinter in the Gulf Coast. Besides that, these tiny creatures are available in Mississippi and Louisiana in the winter months.
- Broad-billed Hummingbirds: During the summer, these hummingbird species stay in the United States’ southwestern parts. When winter comes, most of them move to southern and central Arizona.
Regardless of these hummingbird species, some common hummingbirds, for example, Ruby-throated, can occasionally be found in colder regions. They might be too young to migrate or be badly injured. Some older hummingbirds may not be willing to migrate anywhere.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Do hummingbirds die in the winter?
Hummingbirds don’t usually die in the winter because they can enter into torpor mode. Torpor is a nightly mini-hibernation in which hummingbirds’ body temperatures can plummet from 105°F to 48°F.
2. Should you leave hummingbird feeders out in winter?
In many regions of North America, several hummingbird species stay in harsh winter weather. If you put your feeders with nectar out, overwinter hummingbirds can consume nectar and gain their energy to survive. So, you should leave the feeders out all year round, especially in winter, when natural nectar is not available.
3. What is a hummingbird’s lifespan?
Typically, a hummingbird’s lifespan is 3 to 5 years, but some ruby-throated hummingbirds are recorded to live for around 7 years.
4. Do other birds experience torpor?
Torpor has been seen in swifts, swallows, and poorwills, but chickadees are birds that depend on the mini-hibernation mode to survive cold winter nights. So, keep in mind that this doesn’t happen only for hummingbirds.
5. Do other animals experience torpor?
Many bats, mice, marsupials, rodents, and other small mammals experience torpor to conserve energy to protect them from hypothermia during harsh winter weather. When these animals are not breeding, they only depend on daily torpor.
Do you know which the world’s smallest bird is? This is the bee hummingbirds of Cuba, which is only 1.9 to 2.3 inches (4.8 to 5.8 centimeters). Although hummingbirds are tiniest, they’re one of the strongest and the most active birds on Earth.
In our opinion, these are the reasons for hummingbirds’ survival in any harsh weather conditions. However, along with eating insects and drinking sugar water from feeders, torpor mainly helps hummingbirds cope with the coldest winter nights.