I didn’t have much time yesterday to monitor the heated hummingbird feeder with the 75 watt bulb pointing up at the bottom, about 2” away. When I saw the little guy towards the end of the day around 6 pm, I noticed he was not sitting and feeding, but flitting from one port to another, feeding briefly. This was a new behavior. As soon as he left, I went outside with my handy dandy infrared thermometer to check the feeder temperature. 150º! No wonder he was upset! I just about had cooked hummingbird tongue! Boy, did I feel bad!
I also noticed a drop of sugar solution leaking out and after removing the two insulating sock “cozies”, saw that the fluid level had dropped considerably. Had the heat melted the feeder too? Panicked, I raced to the nearby hardware store and bought a second Audubon feeder with the glass reservoir just before they closed. Lucky for me that they still had one.
While I tested the original one filled with plain water, I installed the new outdoor timer so I don’t have to get up and turn it on in my PJs again. After tightening the base a little more, it seemed to be OK.
I made a fresh batch of 4:1 sugar water and filled it about halfway, replaced the sock cozies, and put it back outside. I also lowered the clamp lamp and replaced the bulb with a 60 watt bulb to help prevent further overheating.
I worried all night that I had killed this innocent hummer in my bumbling care. Rising early, I decided to make a new, low wattage hummingbird feeder heater based off a commercial model. I pilfered a cylindrical outdoor faucet cover insulated with Styrofoam and lined it with aluminum foil. After dumping out the miscellaneous drywall screws from a recycled tuna fish can, I placed it in the bottom of the faucet cover, a perfect fit.
I scrounged around and found a non-photosensitive nightlight with a working 4- watt bulb, and a 6’ extension cord. I placed the nightlight in the tuna can and taped the cord in place. Then I covered the top with a double layer of aluminum foil to keep it dry. I decided to put the whole thing into a recycled plastic tub for stability.
After filling the new feeder with 1 cup of warmed (75º) sugar solution I covered it with its own recycled sock cozy featuring alluring red trim, and carried them outside. Using a red shoelace that I have had for possibly decades, I tied this new contraption to the board holding the first feeder’s clamp lamp. If it works, it will save me a lot of watts and worry.
I no sooner had it installed when it heard a scolding “chip, chip, chip!” First bird! Even before the VARIED THRUSHES, PACIFIC WREN, or GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS that I heard a short time later. The hummer zoomed in, earlier than ever at 8:50 am, probably very hungry after the previous day’s ordeal.
Yea!!! I didn’t kill him! He grabbed a sip and then perched on the gutter above the feeders. That was interesting. He sat there for a little while, and then zoomed off. I don’t know what he thought of the new arrangement or temperature.
At 10:00 am, I took a temperature reading and found the first feeder to once again be too hot. I replaced the 75 watt bulb with a 60 watt bulb and set the timer to be off for a few hours during the afternoon.
Unfortunately, I was away most of the day and did not get to monitor the feeders. I have learned that the clamp lamp intensity varies a great deal depending on the ambient temperature and proximity to the feeder. The 4-watt heater may chug along giving a more consistent heat but at a lower temperature. It will not warm the bird like the clamp lamp, but maybe, given yesterday’s shocking overheating trauma, that is a very good idea. At least he has a choice now.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning, and hope that I may greet the tiny green miracle enjoying his breakfast, a survivor of yet another chilly Alaskan night.
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter