Anna’s Hummingbird / Mitch Walters / Audubon Photography Awards
Hummingbirds of Washington State
Hummingbirds are the smallest migrating bird, with over 330 species found in North and South America. Four of these hummingbird species can be found in Washington State – the Anna’s, Rufous, Colliope (more rare), and Black-chinned (more rare). The best time to observe all species is the summer, as only the Anna’s Hummingbird can be found in the winter. The other species migrate south or east to their winter territories. Unlike many other migratory birds that travel in flocks, hummingbirds migrate solo, traveling as far as 500 miles per day. Hummingbirds feed on nectar, like that found in honeysuckle flowers. They get their name from the “hum” their wings create with a very rapid wing beat.
Click on each hummingbird below to learn more about that species’ behavior, migration pattern, and conservation status.
OldFulica / Canva
M L Haring / Canva
LAP / Canva
Through My Lense / Canva
The Anna’s Hummingbird:
The Anna’s Hummingbird is a medium-sized hummingbird with a relatively short, straight bill and a long sloping forehead. Both males and females are bronze-green above, and gray below. Males are easy to distinguish from other hummingbirds as their entire heads and throats are bright iridescent red. Female have green heads, with a small amount of red on their throats. Females have black tails with white tips, while the males’ tails are solid blackish-gray.
Historically limited to western California, in recent years Anna’s Hummingbirds have dramatically expanded their range northward as far as British Columbia. This expansion has been attributed to hummingbird feeders and gardens with exotic flowers that provide the birds with a year-round food source. Climate change may also play a role. They are currently very common across much of their range, and because they adapt well to suburban areas, should continue to thrive in the future.
Not Just Powered by Sugar: The Energetic Strategies of Hummingbirds
On April 14, 2021, Seattle Audubon and West Coast Birders teamed up to host a conversation with three hummingbird researchers.
At Risk for Window Collisions
Did you know the Anna’s Hummingbird is in the top 10 bird species (ranked #3 after the American Robin and Varied Thrush) most at risk for a window collision in our area? Window-bird collisions are preventable with simple and cost effective solutions!
For more on bird-window collisions and what Seattle Audubon is doing to make our area safer for birds, including hummingbirds, see our Bird-Safe Cities Program, launched in 2020.
Feeding Hummingbirds in Winter
Keep the mix at 1:4 ratio sugar to water
Keep your mixture the same in winter. Nectar concentrations vary greatly among a variety of plants hummingbirds visit, but they are typically low in sugar. Recipes with a higher concentration of sugar do not necessarily benefit hummingbirds because it cannot travel up the grooves of their tongue easily and may also damage kidneys and liver. Though increasing the sugar may help to prevent freezing, our experts recommend staying consistent with a 1:4 mix. White sugar and water only! No honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, etc. Pure sucrose is what they need to survive. We do NOT recommend red dye. A simple recipe of 1 part sugar and 4 parts water, mixed in a pan, bring to a boil, and then remove from heat and cool. You may store extra in the fridge up to two weeks. Clean the feeder once a week during cold weather and more often (2x a week or more) during warmer weather. Always discard unused nectar with each cleaning.
Rotate between two feeders.
The mix will begin to freeze around 29 degrees. Rotating the feeders throughout the day will keep the fluid moving and available to the birds. Hummingbirds do not feed at night so you can bring the feeders indoor however they start at dawn so get a feeder back out as early as possible. Anna’s can be very territorial, and may not share a feeder (especially multiple males), so having multiple feeders can help break up the fighting and competition for a single feeder.
Warm your feeder
There are a few simple solutions to keep your feeder warm and prevent freezing.
1. String incandescent Christmas lights around the feeder or hang a low-watt bulb below the feeder. The light needs to be just warm enough to keep the nectar from freezing. (Note: LED lights do not give off enough heat and will not work.)
2. Attach a hand warmer to your feeder. These hand warmers (or feet warmers) are pouches with chemicals in them that get activated once out of their packaging. They emit heat for approximately 7 hours. They are commonly available at hardware and sporting goods stores.
3. Attach plumbers heat tape to your feeder. These flexible electric tapes are similar to a flat extension cord and can easily be wrapped around and taped to many types of feeders. Most heat tapes are equipped with a built-in thermostat in the cord. The wattage of these tapes is very low and does not draw a lot of energy. Try home supply stores and hardware stores for this product.
Don't stress too much about the welfare of the hummingbirds
Generally, our winters are mild and the cold snaps are usually not that long. Hummingbirds are capable of reducing their body temperature at night and conserving their energy. They roost in trees and shrubs and do not use nest boxes or bird houses. They need a lot of sucrose (nectar) during the day to keep them going especially in the cold. In addition to nectar for fuel, hummingbirds will consume any insects they encounter which help them meet their protein, vitamin, and mineral requirements. Insects can be found under bark and plants even during winter cold periods.
Offer fresh water in winter, and all year long
Also consider a water source for the birds in general. Birds need water and when everything is frozen water can be hard to find. A pan of water that is refreshed with hot water periodically or has a heater or sprout pad under it can be a big help. A birdbath with a birdbath heater is great. The Nature Shop has these, too.
Provide food and shelter with native plants
Add wildlife-friendly plants to your space. Whether you have a balcony, backyard, or garden in a public right-of way, you can attract and support hummingbirds and other birds through your plant choices and garden maintenance techniques.
Get started with Seattle Audubon’s Gardening for Life.
Ants and Wasps on Feeders
Ants and wasps are certainly a problem for your hummingbird feeders. They are very happy to partake in the sugary syrup and will bother the birds you actually want to visit. Though you’ll likely have some competition here and there, it’s fairly simple to deter these unwanted insects.
To remove ant problems, you’ll simply need a moat to buffer between your feeder and whatever it hangs on. Some feeders have moats built into them, so that ants climbing down the hanger will be met with water, which they can’t cross. For feeders without this, you can create your own or buy a moat which the feeder hangs from.
Wasp at Hummingbird Feeder | Nichole Castle Brookus | Canva