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It's cold today is western Washington -- -5°C/23°F and I've noticed that some of the Anna's Hummingbirds in our yard are down on the ground or close to it. They seem to be "fine" -- upright and moving about, but I don't think I've ever seen them perched on the ground before.

In part of the yard, there are a couple of feeders up high (and thus more exposed to the wind) that the birds weren't using, so I tried putting one on the ground a few feet from one of the birds (who had been "buzzing" me when I brought out feeders the feeders that were up high) and after a while it flew over to the feeder, drank for a long time, and then sat by the feeder for a while before feeding again.

I'm wondering if this is a sign of distress or if it is normal energy conserving behavior in cold weather. Also wondering if creating some kind of wind breaks around the feeders would help.

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  • I have been watching a hummingbird all afternoon here in WA, just sitting on a tree branch a few feet from the feeder. He is just bobbing his head back and forth. Haven’t seen him go to the feeder in awhile and I am worried about him Wich there was more I could do. Or maybe this is normal?
    – user26184
    Commented Jan 13 at 23:39
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    @ab2, as a guess (based on the Seattle/Tacoma area where I am) the temperature is probably in the teens or lower east of the mountains.
    – dlu
    Commented Jan 14 at 0:59
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    I'm also in WA and while our birds have been going to our feeders, they are also sitting on nearby branches for long periods. When they go to the feeders, they really tank up -- they are spending much longer at the feeder than they do in warmer weather. One of "our" birds is also bobbing its head, but I suspect that that might actually be looking for any interlopers who might be trying to horn in on the feeder.
    – dlu
    Commented Jan 14 at 1:03
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    Take a look at: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/19248/… This is NOT a duplicate of the question here, but has info that might be helpful to you.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 14 at 1:15
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    Similar behavior in Bend, OR, where yesterday it didn’t get above zero. A hummingbird was burrowed into a snow bank, with a second hummingbird resting on top! The burrowed one was definitely alive! Commented Jan 14 at 16:34

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Hummingbirds enter torpor, a sort of mini-hibernation, when the outside temperature drops. They allow their body temperature to drop down very low (by ~20 deg F or more) and slow their heart rate and metabolism to save energy. When in deep torpor, they are unresponsive and may look dead. Transitioning between torpor, sleep and waking states is slow, I suspect the birds you are seeing are transitioning. As soon as they warm up enough to move, they will want food. Having safe perches for them (their little feet lock closed around a perch when in torpor) near the feeder might help. But they are surprisingly study little birds that are highly adapted to freezing temperatures. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/02/hummingbirds-exert-fine-control-over-body-heat

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  • I don't think these birds were in transition -- as I said they were moving around, just keeping much closer to the ground than I've ever seen them before. They were actively feeding.
    – dlu
    Commented Feb 17 at 23:47

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