(Usually) Unlikely

Hummingbird in Snow

It is unlikely, in any given year, for us to receive appreciable amounts of snow.

At an elevation of about 800 feet in the lower Willamette Valley of Oregon, we can count on a lot of liquid sunshine (others refer to it as rain, but we need all the sunshine we can get so liquid will have to do).

Not that it doesn’t get cold enough to snow.  Plenty of times our winter temps will drop into the teens or twenties, sometimes even single digits.  But those cold days and nights are typically the result of a lack of cloud cover which lets all the heat escape into the stratosphere.

Occasionally, though, Canada will send us a blast of cold arctic air which will mix with moisture coming in on the jet stream.  If we’re unlucky the precipitation will fall as freezing rain or sleet.  We prefer the snow.

Snow does create a few obstacles and challenges for us.

Our home is on the end of a street, and the street is on a pretty steep hill.  It doesn’t take much for us to get snowed or iced in.

And snow creates a few obstacles and challenges for some of the wildlife we share our neighborhood with, like the hummingbirds (and robins and crows and all the rest).  It has to be cold to snow, yet our avian friends still need water in liquid form — with or without sweetener.

Snow on Deck

Anna’s hummingbirds live here year round, and during the winter they stake out their favorite feeders to get nourishment throughout the day.  But when the temps drop to 15F or 20F, the nectar freezes (as does water in the bird baths, street gutters, and pretty much everywhere else).

At night we bring the hummingbird feeder inside the house.  In the morning we hang it back outside where the little birds anxiously await its return, claiming their territory a bit before dawn.  To them it’s their eternal flower, and they can be very protective of it.

We pour boiling water in the bird baths to thaw them out as well.  I never knew robins stayed around this area during the winter until a few years ago.  We had an extended period of frigid temperatures (no snow), and one day shortly after I thawed the bird baths about two dozen robins stopped by for baths and drinks.  It looked like they were having a party.

Of course, pouring boiling water on a glass hummingbird feeder isn’t a good idea, but some method was needed to keep the feeder from freezing solid again after an hour or two outdoors.

So a little wood box was constructed and placed atop our slatted-wood plant stand.  Standing it on end resulted in a nice platform, perfect for a small personal-sized propane heater — the catalytic kind with no flame you can place under a chair or inside a tent to take the chill off your chilled and weary bones.  (Being out in the open, the minimal amount of carbon monoxide produced wasn’t a concern.)

Hummingbird Feeder Heater

On its lowest setting, the propane cartridge would last the entire day.  Positioned about 12 inches below the feeder, enough heat rose to keep the nectar from freezing (but not so much as to make the feeder overly warm) — and the hummingbirds were very content to split their time between the feeder and a nearby branch.

Hummingbird with Heater

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