Feeding hummingbirds

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Feeding hummingbirds in your yard or on your balcony is a wonderful way to welcome and support local wildlife. Fortunately there are a few things you can do to attract hummingbirds and keep them coming back for food on a regular basis. Read on to learn all about feeding hummingbirds.

Feeding hummingbirds

1. Place your feeders correctly

To attract hummingbirds, it’s important to place your feeders wisely around your yard. Hummingbirds like unobstructed views while feeding to see approaching predators, but they also do like some nearby cover to retreat to if threatened.

Look for open areas with nearby shelter and perches for the birds. Take a moment to learn about the flowers that hummingbirds are attracted to, and consider locating your feeder in the nearby vicinity if you have some already.

Another tip is to get your feeders out early. Local birdwatchers and online birding forums are a great source of information for the annual hummingbird migration. Aim to have your feeders up and full of homemade nectar about a week or two before the first “scout” birds arrive to scope out the best feeding areas.

Further Reading: Check out this post on hummingbird garden ideas to take it one step further and build a whole garden for these magical birds!

2. Make the correct nectar

When it comes to what to feed hummingbirds, it’s simple: plain old sugar water. A ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water will satisfy hummingbirds and keep them coming back for more. Here are all the details about making your own hummingbird nectar.

“To sustain their high metabolic rate, hummingbirds must eat an enormous amount, sometimes consuming several times their body weight in nectar a day. A reliable supply of nectar, ingested every few minutes, is crucial, and it must be digested quickly to make room for more.

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species, by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson

3. Add some red to your yard

Hummingbirds love the color red, it’s no secret. These beautiful little birds are naturally attracted to red flowers (rather than yellow flowers), which is why most high-quality hummingbird feeders have red somewhere on them. Here is a list of flowers that attract hummingbirds:

Look for a feeder with red features, or hang a red ribbon close to the feeder itself. Most birders don’t use red dye in the nectar itself though, choosing to keep it as natural as possible for the wild birds. Buy a red feeder, plant red flowers, or hang a red ribbon instead!

Ingredients for diy hummingbird nectar recipe

4. Don’t use honey or artificial sweeteners

Speaking of natural, there are some questions about using alternatives to refined white sugar in the nectar recipe. Unfortunately, placing anything other than sugar in your nectar may be harmful to hummingbirds.

Artificial sweeteners are not natural and shouldn’t be consumed by wild animals. Honey can contain harmful pathogens and may also end up hurting them in the long run. Choose plain, refined sugar (the type with molasses removed) for this job!

5. Keep feeders out of the sun at first

Feeding hummingbirds comes with the frequent task of refilling the feeders. If hummingbirds are just starting to discover your yard, they may take many days to empty a single feeder. Keeping the feeders out of direct sunlight helps to keep the nectar fresh for longer, reducing fermentation of the sugar and minimizing feeder maintenance for you. Once your feeder is a popular spot, the birds will likely empty the feeder long before the nectar spoils!

6. Don’t let feeders run out of food

Your feeders should never run out of food. This is because hummingbirds are habit-forming creatures, and will take note of the reliability of your feeder. Once they have realized that your feeders are a stable and plentiful source of food they will keep coming back for more. If you let your feeders run dry then the hummingbirds may leave and never return. Not good!

Feeding hummingbirds

7. Make sure to replace nectar before it goes bad

Nectar can easily become stale and moldy depending on the conditions in your yard such as heat and direct sunlight. We don’t like eating old, stale, and moldy food and neither do hummingbirds.

You shouldn’t wait for the nectar to go bad to replace it, in fact, you should be replacing the nectar before it goes bad. If you have feeders in your yard it’s your responsibility to do so.

You may be asking yourself when it’s time to know when the nectar should be discarded. A good rule of thumb is to observe the nectar in each feeder every day. The moment it turns cloudy is when it must be discarded and refilled. During hot spells, the nectar may need replacing every day or two.

8. Remember to clean your feeders

Cleaning feeders can be a hassle within itself. They become sticky, clogged, and filled with crystallized sugar. This can be an issue for a few reasons. The first being that when the feeders become clogged the hummingbirds won’t be able to receive food. This may result in them leaving and not coming back.

Another issue you will find is that they can be nearly impossible to clean. To save yourself frustration (and not risk losing hummingbirds), buy a feeder that’s easy to clean. When shopping in person, open the feeder and take a look at what you’ll need to clean. If you’re shopping online, make sure to check reviews and ask questions. You’ll be cleaning your feeder every time you refill it. 

9. Rinse feeders of any cleaning residue

It is very important to rinse feeders of any cleaning residue following cleaning. Whatever you use to clean and disinfect your feeders, take care to make double-sure that all of the residue is washed off, as it can be harmful to hummingbirds or simply deter them from using your feeder. Vinegar solutions are commonly used to minimize problems with cleaning residue interfering with feeding hummingbirds.

Close up of ant moat - red - for hummingbird feeder

10. Select a feeder that prevents pests

When placing a sugar solution out in your yard you’re bound to attract unwanted pests such as bees and ants. The good thing about this is that you can buy feeders that prevent these pests from coming around and taking your hummingbirds’ food supply.

Most high-quality hummingbird feeders are designed so that bees can’t get access to the nectar. To make sure of this you should select a feeder that has small feeding ports that are only big enough for a hummingbird to access.

To prevent ants you should select a feeder that has a dish to collect them, known as an ant moat. If your feeder doesn’t come with one you can easily buy one (or make one with a little plastic container from the recycling bin).

Simple tips for feeding hummingbirds

Try these top 10 tips for feeding hummingbirds with your own hummingbird feeding area. From feeding them the correct nectar to knowing how to properly clean your feeders, you will hopefully have flocks of hummingbirds in your yard in no time.

For more gardening tips and information be sure to check out the rest of our website, including native plants to grow for local bird populations.

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Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a Master Gardener and founder of the gardening website Home for the Harvest. She has been featured by Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Mother Earth News, and the National Garden Bureau. Mary Jane lives with her family in the Okanagan Valley.