Feeding hummingbirds is an easy, inexpensive and
rewarding pastime. All you need is a feeder, table sugar, some water and you
are all set. Here are some easy guidelines to get you started.
The most important criteria when selecting a feeder are that it be easy
to clean and easy to fill. In order to be a responsible host, you must keep your
feeder very clean and full of fresh nectar. We all lead busy lives, so choosing a
feeder which makes these tasks easy will help to ensure that you do them. Feeders
should come apart so that all parts are open and available for cleaning. Please do
not underestimate the importance of this. It will be explained more in the section
Hummingbirds will eat from anything with nectar in it, but they must be
able to find it. Most hummingbird feeders have red on them because the birds seem to
be more attracted to red than to other colors. If you look at the feeder in the
photo at the top of this page, you will see that it is practically a beacon for
hummingbirds saying "EAT HERE!" If your feeder does not have red on it,
don't worry. Just tie a piece of bright red ribbon or nursery tape on it to attract
them. They will explore around and find the nectar once they discover the feeder.
Some feeders have perches and some do not. Hummingbirds do not
need perches on feeders, but they will use them if they exist and you will get to see a
special treat: a hummingbird sitting still. It is also fun to watch them
learning how to do it.
We have some excellent hummingbird feeders available at the Wild Bird
Shop. If you stop by we will be happy to demonstrate them. Or
you can select and order one from our online catalog.
In nature, hummingbirds eat flower nectar for energy and bugs for
protein. Flower nectar is 21% to 23% sucrose - regular table sugar - so it is very
easy and inexpensive to make. Here is the recipe for making hummingbird nectar:
- Mix 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar in a pan.
For example, use 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. Do not use honey,
Jell-O or brown sugar.
Especially do not use artificial sweeteners. Putting hummingbirds on a diet
will kill them. They burn prodigious amounts of energy for their size and need real
sugar. Do not use red food coloring. It is unnecessary and can harm the little
hummers even in low concentrations because they eat so much nectar. If your feeder isn't red, tie a red ribbon
on it as described in the Feeders section, above. Do not add anything else that you might think of. Just sugar and water, that's
- Bring to a boil then remove from the heat. Stir it while it is heating until all
of the sugar is dissolved. Don't boil it for long because that will change the ratio
as water is boiled off. The reason for boiling is not to make syrup, but to drive
out the chlorine in the water and to kill mold and yeast spores that might be in the
sugar. This will help make the nectar last longer both in the feeder and in your
- Cover and allow to cool before using or pouring into the storage bottle. We
recommend making a large batch of nectar and storing it in the refrigerator in a 2 liter
soda bottle (washed thoroughly first.) This makes refilling the feeder so easy that
you won't mind doing it every few days.
Sugar water is a very rich growth medium. Yeasts like to eat it
causing fermentation which can harm hummingbirds. Mold and bacteria grow in it and
can also harm the birds. That is why it is important to keep the feeder clean and
the nectar fresh. You must change the nectar frequently to avoid these contaminants.
In cooler temperatures we recommend changing it every seven days. If
the temperatures are getting above 70 degrees, follow this chart:
||Change nectar after
Remember: these are
guidelines, not absolutes. If you notice that the nectar is turning milky or
that white strings or black spots are growing in it, change it more often. Clean the
feeder with very hot water each time you refill it.
Most good feeders, and all of of the ones that we sell, come apart for easier
cleaning. Be sure and take them apart every time. It is usually
the work of a couple of seconds. If contamination occurs, use a mild bleach solution to sterilize it, but if you use bleach, rinse
thoroughly afterwards. Even a tiny amount of bleach could be harmful to birds
weighing only a quarter of an ounce! Glass or metal
pieces can be boiled, but you should probably not boil plastic pieces.
The black mold may leave a very faint stain, but this will not affect the
safe operation of the feeder.
It is best if the feeder can be kept in the shade because the nectar
will remain fresh longer. If you are willing to change it more often, it is fine to
hang it in the sun. The feeder should be placed out of the reach of cats. We recommend hanging it near a window so you can watch the birds eat.
Hummingbirds are so quick and agile that they quickly lose their fear of us slow-motion
animals. After just a few days or a week of feeding outside of a window, most
hummingbirds will let you come right up to the window and watch them eat.
Ants and bees can become pests at
your nectar feeder. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of
cure. If you can keep them from finding the nectar source in the
first place, they will not become a problem. Hummingbirds will not
drink from a feeder with ants crawling on it or with dead ants floating in
it. An ant guard will prevent ants from finding your feeder by
blocking their path as they crawl down the hanger. Most ant guards
are small moats that surround the hanger. Some
feeders come with built-in ant guards or you can purchase them
I have heard of using Tanglefoot on the hanger, but I
would recommend against it. Tanglefoot is so sticky that the
hummingbirds themselves can get stuck in it. If they don't die
before you rescue them, then their feathers will probably be too messed up
to be able to fly. Others have recommended Vaseline, but I haven't
tried that, either. I would be worried about it oozing down onto the
feeder and contaminating the nectar.
Bees, especially wasps and yellow jackets, will fight
off the hummingbirds who come to drink. Bees cannot be blocked by a
moat because they fly. The way to keep bees from your feeder is by
making sure that no nectar leaks or splashes out to where they can eat
it. Feeders with tubes hanging down are the worst offenders.
They literally pump out nectar as the air trapped in top of the feeder
expands and contracts with changes in the air temperature. Bees love
the drips. Other feeders might not drip in this manner, but will
allow the nectar to splash out if the feeder is buffeted by the
wind. We sell hummingbird feeders which prevent these
problems. Click here to see them: REALLY
GOOD Hummingbird Feeders
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