Animal Answers: Dirty Feeders are Killing Hummingbirds

Wildlife Officials Recommend Cleaning Hummingbird Feeders Once Every Three Days

DULUTH, Minn. – It’s official! Hummingbirds are back in the Northland making their seasonal homes and searching for the best feeding spots possible.

This often ends up being a feeder near your home, which is why local wildlife experts are urging caution before you take on the responsibility of feeding the tiny creatures this summer.

The staff and volunteers at Wildwoods Rehabilitation Center in Duluth receive a handful of calls annually dealing with dormant hummingbirds.

Northlanders often think the birds are deceased, but that’s not the case. Their metabolism is rapidly slowing due to the cold, and lack of food.

Animal Care Coordinator Tara Smith says this is due to the lack of flowers and other tiny bugs before temperatures remain stable well above freezing.

If you do come across a dormant hummingbird, Smith says you’re best option is not to call for help, but rather place the bird near a feeder or dish filled with sugar water.

This will boost their system.

“Sometimes the time it takes to get them to us, their metabolisms run so fast that they can expire very quickly,” said Smith. “If you can get the hummingbird sugar water as soon as possible just by picking it up and offering it a little dish, sometimes they’re up and flying immediately.”

Smith says already this year, there have been reports of hummingbirds not doing well due to unclean feeders put out by homeowners.

You’re encouraged to purchase a feeder that’s functional with all nooks and crannies able to be cleaned with a bottle brush.

“Getting a bacterial infection from a dirty feeder causes their tongues to swell up and they slowly starve to death. And they can also pass that infection on to their babies,” said Smith.

Experts recommend cleaning your hummingbird feeder once every three days, well before the sugar water becomes cloudy.

Smith says it’s best to use hot water only to clean feeders (no soap or other chemicals should be used).

Bird enthusiasts should avoid using red food coloring as it can actually harm the birds.

Homeowners are encouraged to look twice before cutting down any trees or shrubs this summer.

Hummingbirds build petite nests that can be difficult to locate.

Click here to contact Wildwoods for your wildlife questions or concerns.

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