hummingbird tongue fungal infection

In case you need further motivation to keep your hummingbird feeders clean, here is a photo of a male Anna’s Hummingbird with a swollen tongue. The condition is caused by a fungal infection, usually acquired at hummingbird feeders. The condition is often, if not always, fatal.

sick hummer
If you feed hummingbirds, please use a mixture of one part WHITE sugar to four parts water, and clean the feeder at least once a week in cool weather, more often when temperatures are warmer. Using any other ingredients, or allowing the nectar to spoil, can be deadly.

This post has received a lot of comments over the years, mostly questions about veterinary care of individual birds and other topics that I am not qualified to answer. If you are a veterinarian or wildlife rehabber, and have insight or advice regarding this condition, please leave a comment. If you are seeking advice about this condition, please contact a vet or a wildlife rehabilitation center.

32 thoughts on “hummingbird tongue fungal infection

  1. Fungal infections can be treated by a wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator with anti-fungal medications and any birds suffering from this should be caught and to a wildlife rehabilitator. They are unlikely to recover from this without medication and getting them help will also prevent further spread of infection from the individual to others! Most small animal vets will not be prepared to care for hummingbirds by the way, but may be able to direct you to a rehabilitator in your area. Whether the bird will respond to treatment or not will depend on a lot of things, but without intervention there is little hope for recovery once the tongue is sticking out. It is not wise to add anything to the feeder. Keeping feeders clean is the best thing you can do for prevention. (I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and I specialize in hummingbirds and songbirds.)

  2. This photo looks like it could simply be of a feeding hummer that was snapped in-between sips while its tongue happened to be extended. How do we identify and differentiate between healthy and diseased birds? Is it that the tongue is visible sticking out to some degree all of the time instead of flicking momentarily? Thanks

    1. The tongue is extended all the time, since it swells with the infection and can’t be retracted. The plumage is fluffed up and there is discharge coming from the eye. There is nothing healthy-looking about this bird.

      1. Exactly–that is one sick bird. This happens often at UW and it makes me crazy. I have a window feeder I keep scrupulously clean, but get sick hummies at my feeder at least twice a year. Clearly someone nearby is not maintaining a clean feeder and it is heartbreaking to see these little beauties suffer. If you can’t properly maintain a feeder, then please don’t have one at all!

      2. I have one at my feeder tonight. I was nearly able to catch him. It makes me wonder if his end is near, since he didn’t fly away when I walked up to the clean feeder. I’ve had feeders for 24 years, and never seen this before. I have neighbors that feed nectar. I am not sure how often they clean the feeders.

  3. Sounds like exactly what happened to one of ours. He would sit still with his beak up in the air and tongue sticking out. Several times for a brief period, he would retract the tongue, but it was mostly out. The day he died, he was sitting on the rail on the feeder, and would shake and appear as if he was going to wobble more and more and almost fall off, then regroup and almost sit still for a bit, then begin to shiver, and finally wobble again, then catch himself again. This went on for about an hour before he left the feeder and we lost track of him, just to find him about 10 feet from the feeder, on the ground dead.

    1. Honey water ferments very quickly and nurtures bacteria, both of which are deadly to hummers. Hummingbirds do not have access to honey in the wild (and remember that honeybees are not native to the Americas), so there is no reason to think that it would be good for them. White sugar (sucrose) on the other hand, is the main component of flower nectar.

  4. I have a hummingbird at my feeder looking just as described. I took down all feeders and cleaned them. This one bird is all that has been here for a week. I don’t want any other bird getting sick. Should I leave the feeders down until the poor baby dies? I use a homemade 1:4 sugar solution. Is commercial solution less likely to have fungal growth?

    1. I would leave your feeders up, just clean them often. A homemade solution of white sugar and water is superior to any commercial solution.

  5. Don’t know if any are still following this but the principle culprits are filthy feeders and large reservoir feeders with multi-ports. Lazy if well-meaning humans who have these multi-port feeders are doing the birds no favors if they aren’t cleaned daily. The two main infectious diseases of hummers ( a fungal infection and a pox virus) are both transmissible through dirty feeders and the more ports there are and the larger the reservoir the less frequent the human is inclined to clean them thoroughly. Buy the single-port 4 oz. capacity feeders with the screw-off bottoms and clean and replace them no less often than every couple days, daily if possible. You do the same for your dog or cat. Why treat hummingbirds any differently?
    Seriously! Do you eat off the same plate and use the same dishes without washing them after every use?

  6. One of the things I do to make the job of cleaning waaay easier is to remove the plastic flower and the yellow flower center from the feeder. The Hummingbirds like being able to see better if other birds are nearby and it makes a world of difference for ease of maintenance. I find I don’t get black mold at all. Maybe because the air can circulate better as well.

  7. How do you suggest cleaning the feeders? I’ve read not to use the standard soap and water since it can taint the nectar. Should I scrub the feeder with just water or use soap? Sounds like a dumb question, but I want to make sure I’m properly taking care of these little guys. Thanks

    1. I usually just scrub it with hot water. If you are cleaning the feeder often enough, that is usually all you need. I will occasionally use a little dish soap and then rinse the feeder well.

    2. I use vinegar and hot water. I typically let them soak for a few minutes so the vinegar can kill anything I can’t see.

  8. So here’s a slightly different question. We have one his tongue looks similar but his beak is also broken. I’m presuming he can’t retract his tongue because it’s actually as long as his beak. He has been eating just fine and is honestly a feisty little guy who’s pinfeathers are coming in all over his head! We clean our feeders every other day if not every day because we have up to 18 hummingbirds at a time. I am presuming it is just because his beak is broken. Is there anything at all that can be done? Someone suggested rehab but he seems “happy“ if I can describe a bird that way, and I’m wondering if because he is eating it is just best to let him alone. We have plenty of flowers that will be blooming soon for them to eat from.

    1. If the bird is eating OK and is active, I would leave them alone. If the bill is broken (which happens sometimes), I doubt there is anything a rehabber could do, and capturing the bird would be traumatic for all involved.

      1. Hi John – Thank you for the advice! He made it! A rehabber suggested a solution of colloidal silver in the sugar water. (I don’t recall the exact ratio). We did that for a week and eventually the part of the tongue sticking out just turned white and fell off. His beak is a little crooked (looks like an underbite) but he is the life of the yard and courts the females everyday!

  9. Dena, can you please look up what ratio of colloidal silver you used in your feeder?? I just noticed a sick hummingbird on our feeder and want to help him if possible. Thank you!

  10. So I have a hummer like this who looks fairly healthy (he has been this way for a few weeks and is chasing all the other birds away energetically). I clean my feeders very frequently so he picked this up elsewhere. I cannot catch him(to bring to rehabber) due to energy level, but I cannot seem to get him to stop guarding my feeders either. I am afraid he will make all of the rest of my hummers sick with whatever he has. Anyone have any ideas on what to do? Looks like beak also has a little nub/bump at the end of it so I wonder if this could have come from an injury and maybe that is why he cannot retract and not fungus? Will try to get a pic if I can

    1. If your bird is active and feeding regularly for weeks, he does not have the fungal infection. The infection would have killed him off a long time ago. I am guessing his bill was injured, resulting in his tongue being visible. It sounds like he is doing OK.

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