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.

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.

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37 thoughts on “hummingbird tongue fungal infection

  1. Thank you for the information on sick Hummingbirds. I saw two Hummers in my backyard with their heads held high, and tongue sticking out, then a few days later found one hanging upside down on my climatis bush. It made me very sad, but gave him a little funeral. I have never used anything but sugar and purified water. But I am not the only one feeding the little Hummingbirds. At least now I know why they got sick.

    • Laura, If the bird could be taken immediately to a wildlife rehab facility, they might be able to help him. Sadly, if the bird is so sick that you can catch him, it is probably too late.

  2. I live in western Illinois, it’s November 13, and there is one hummer STILL coming to our feeder several times a day and we’re certain he has a this fungus. His tongue is sticking out all the time. We’re desperately trying to find information on how to help this little bird. Help, please!!

  3. I am wondering if this is contagious to the other hummers using the same feeder.
    It is so heartbreaking to watch.

    • Theoretically, if the bird has the fungus spores on his tongue, he could spread it to the feeder. Another reason to keep up with feeder hygiene.

      • I appreciate your reply & all the posted info. My poor little guy died this afternoon. I first noticed him in panting in distress 2 days ago, with his swollen tongue. Today I saw another male attack him, leaving him lying dead afterwards on my patio near his perch. I decided to use your posted photo & info to pass around the neighborhood: people don’t realize the responsibility in putting up a feeder.
        Thanks for everything!

  4. Sorry to say I too just lost one of my girl humming birds :( I also know I am not the only one in my neighborhood feeding them. I am going to pass on how to be a responsible bird feeder!! I saw my girl suffering and did not know what was wrong and also found her on the ground near the feeder!
    sad day!! I did bury her too! thanks for the info.

    • Sorry to hear you lost one too, Patti, they are so precious. Like you, I buried mine too, in the garden. I live in So Ca, where do you live?

  5. I found a hummer on the ground with his tongue sticking out. He’s still alive but so weak! I’ve fed him every 30 minuets with sugar solution but know they also need protein. Can’t find anyone in my county that will take the little bird for rehab. It’s heartbreaking to watch him further deteriorate. And it’s very hard to leave him where he was found. I really want to scoop him up and take care of him. There are so many feeders in my neighborhood and I’ve spread the word about the fungal infection. Wish they would include that info on bird feeders when you buy them!

    • What county are you in? In my Orange county, Ca there is Wild Birds Unlimited ( which rescues many birds; they are located in many counties….good luck to you,

  6. Oooh I found this after a quick search due to my annual Rufus visit (because) he is sitting atop the feeder perch trying to drive away the Anna’s but getting pretty weak. His tongue is almost always extended and he pants heavily.
    I’m pretty good about cleaning the feeders weekly but I had no idea about this. There needs to be more awareness!!

  7. What about pure cane sugar? I’ve used it for years, as white sugar has been processed with chemicals which have their own consequences, let alone a set up for fungal infections to thrive.

    • Processed white cane sugar is the best. “Raw” sugar or any other variety that is not pure white will quickly mold.

  8. What about cleaning the feeder with a little vinegar and then rinsing extremely well? I got several different feeders and found some much easier to clean than others so now I only use the ones that can be thoroughly and easily cleaned. I also got a package of tiny bottle brushes (available on Amazon) to use to clean the little holes the birds feed through. I love my hummingbirds and they next in my yard and there are 15 or so about at the moment. I would be heartbroken if they got sick!

  9. Soap is fine, too. Just rinse the feeder well. If you are cleaning often enough, just rinsing the feeder with hot water is enough.

  10. We just today are witnessing our first sick hummer. One of our precious rufous has been hanging around with his swollen tongue, which is what led me here to your blog. He is trying to feed, but my fear is that he can spread this trying to get nectar from flowers in our yard and from our feeders. I scrub them and make fresh syrup regularly. Is there more I can or need to do?

      • I see this morning my rufous is still here and still with dangling tongue. It so breaks my heart! Should I clean the feeders daily? I am concerned with contamination. We have also set out a small red cup of just syrup to see if he could take that . . . but haven’t observed any success yet.

  11. If it makes you feel any better, I too found it heartbreaking. One the 3rd day, wondering what I could do, I saw my little Allen’s attacked by another male & his suffering was ended. Mother Nature is amazing. Good luck & take care.

  12. Thanks for great advice…….. had a female Anna show up this morning with swollen tongue syndrome…. just sittin there getting picked on and harassed I immediately retired the feeder and I am now soaking it in vinegar/water……. feel so sorry for that little gal…. she looked so feeble.. and the local gang was pretty upset about removing the feeder……. wondering if I should wait a few days before restoring … or until this lady passes ??

    • I think it is a good idea to wait a while. That will reduce the risk of fungus being passed from bird to bird at the feeder.

  13. Hi John. THere is a fledgling still being fed by its mother in my garden. Mother appears in perfect health, but fledgling usually has tongue slightly protruding & seems to be breathing rather heavy‚Ķ.but I’m thinking the young often breathe this way? Wondering if young ever show tongue symptom without actual infection.
    Mother is feeding everywhere, including feeders.
    Thanks for your help & experience.

    • I don’t feel qualified to answer your question about the young hummer. You might call a local wildlife rehab facility if you have access to one. About all we can do is keep our feeders clean and encourage others to do the same.

  14. I am so thankful to read this post. I keep my feeders cleaned out every two days and put out 1 part cane sugar to 4 parts water, but i had one show up breathing heavy today by tonight he was dead, its terrible, didnt know if i should help him or leave him alone. I know I have neighbors that put out feeders in the neighborhood not sure how often they clean them. Yes, they should put warnings on the feeders. At least I know what was wrong with him, thank you.

  15. I have a hummingbird with its tongue out, I have ants that get into it sometimes but I Keep the mixture and bottle very clean. Would I be best to not feed them because of the ants. I don’t want them sick at all and am feeling sick about this bird. One bird did not winter over he was at the window of my red furniture so I decided I had better feed him. Otherwise they don’t bother with my feeder so I don’t usuall feed them for several years as I think they are best left to nature. I clean my feeder more often than once a week because of the ants. Can the sick bird give it to the ones that are not sick? From what I read here it seems I can’t get the little bird well. Is this correct? That mixture is 1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of water, correct. I boil my water in the microwave and add sugar to dissolve and refill after I HAVE cleaned and rinsed it out but I do not use soap as I’m afraid to poison them, I have a very good feeder that allows me to keep it very clean. I have very pure water from our well, our well water is rated the best as we have it tested frequently as my husband is on dialysis. Is there any suggestions you have for me. Also should I stop feeding them? I live in the woods, could it be a tree fungus?

    • Shirley, It sounds like you are doing everything right (1 to 4 mixture, keeping the feeder clean). If it seems like it is too hard to maintain a feeder, I would just take it down and provide flowers for the hummingbirds. That is probably much better for them in the long run, and much easier on you.

      • the deer eat all the flowers even the dandelion tops so flowers are not really an option unless they find some natural ones. When I don’t have a feeder they are flying around my windows as I have red furniture that attracts them. Will I now putting out 1/2 c. every day and using vinegar to clean as well as hot water. Will this swollen tongue spread in the feeder to other birds? The only thing I have here is I’m in the woods so it much be why there is so many. Am I risking spreading this by cleaning and replacing daily? They seem to really feed for the first half day. Half cup is gone by 8 am.

        Thank you so much for answering my questions. I so much appreciate your beautiful site.

      • I would think that vinegar would be enough. Bleach should be a last resort.

  16. I have a young hummer with his tongue stuck out for the past 3 days,panting heavily, but still managing to get nutrition and is flying okay..I’ve never seen this before. Thank you for all the info. Does anyone know if there is something I could put in the feeder that might cure the problem? For years I have been using 2 cups of white sugar to 4 cups of water, in the spring then changing it to 1 to 4 when the weather gets warmer. I have had some coming back for 10 years or more. Usually my feeders are emptied within 2 I scald them out and refill. Right now I only have about 8 hummers.

    • Peggy, the recommended ratio for sugar to water is 1:4. If there isn’t enough liquid in the food, it can damage the birds’ kidneys. I have heard that a little apple cider vinegar in the hummingbird feeder can help treat fungal infections, but I don’t have first-hand knowledge of its efficacy.

      • Thanks John..I will switch to 1:4 ratio at all times then..I did not know it could hurt them. I was thinking that when it is so cold and wet they could use the extra energy. We had a storm last night and I have not seen him at the feeder this morning, so suspect he may have perished. If I see any more exhibiting the symptoms I will try a few drops of cider vinegar.

  17. We’ve had a ruby-throat with her tongue badly distended at one of our three feeders all summer here in the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. Her tongue curls around her head. She continues to eat despite her handicap and she defends the one feeder like a male. We keep all of our feeders clean and clean her’s often. From everything I’ve read about hummingbird tongue fungus I figured she’d be dead by now. It appears this female hummer may be alive when it’s time to depart for parts South.

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