How to Feed Hummingbirds

Three Parts:Setting Up Your FeederKeeping Your Birds FedAttracting More Hummingbirds

Hummingbird feeders bring these jewel-like creatures up close where you can observe and enjoy them while providing them with a reliable source of energy. A well-designed commercial feeder plus a homemade solution of sugar and water can either complement or substitute for the sugar-rich flower nectar that fuels hummingbirds' fast-paced lifestyle.

Part 1
Setting Up Your Feeder

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    Select a bottle or saucer-style feeder. You want to choose a style that can be disassembled for easy cleaning and one that will hold two to three days' worth of nectar, or about 6 to 12 ounces. In general, the saucer-styles drip less, create less mess, and attract fewer bugs.[1]
    • Or you could make your own.
    • Whichever style you choose, just make sure it's red (most are). Red naturally attracts hummingbirds.[2]
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    Make your own hummingbird nectar. While you could buy store-bought hummingbird nectar, it's ridiculously easy to make your own and much cheaper – it's just sugar water. And you can make it in bulk if your little birdies go through quite a lot – it'll keep for around a week.[3]
    • Most experts suggest a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. You simply bring it to a boil and let the sugar dissolve (see the linked wikiHow guide in the bolded step). However, some sources do suggest adding just a bit more sugar during colder months to give the birds more energy. But not too much – too much more and it gets syrupy and spoils quickly.[4]
    • Do not use anything besides plain sugar (can be toxic for the birds) and do not use red food coloring.[5]
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    Fill it halfway full if this is your first feeder. If your yard is a first-time hummingbird stop, just start with filling your feeder halfway. Why? Sugar water can spoil and you'll need to change it in a few days anyway. Filling it halfway full creates waste (you could've stored it instead of throwing it down the drain, too).
    • Once the birds start coming, you'll get a good idea of how much they're eating, how often you need to fill it, and how full you should fill it when you do.
    • If it's always hot where you live, you may want to fill it halfway full at all times. Hot weather leads to faster spoiling rates.
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    Hang it in a shady area near a window. Sugar water goes bad quickly in the sunlight, so hang your feeder under a tree in some shade if at all possible. What's more, this is respite for the birds – give them a cool, relaxing spot to take a drink and they'll surely come back.
    • Late spring is the general time hummingbirds start migrating and you'll see them through your area. That being said, some experts suggest setting out your feeder a couple of weeks early for the first-arrivers. Aim to set your feeder out sometime around late March.[6]

Part 2
Keeping Your Birds Fed

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    Change your nectar every couple of days, depending on the weather. Once you fill your feeder, keep an eye on it. You'll obviously need to refill it if it's empty, but you'll also need to change out the nectar if it gets cloudy, has black spots, or white strings. These three are all signs that it's gone bad, and your birds will not come back to a feeder that isn't safe or tasty. When will it go bad? That depends on the weather:
    • Temperature: 71-75 (21.5-24°C); change every 6 days
    • Temperature: 76-80 (24-26.5°C); change every 5 days
    • Temperature: 81-84 (26.5-29°C); change every 4 days
    • Temperature: 85-88 (29-31°C); change every 3 days
    • Temperature: 89-92 (31-33°C); change every 2 days
    • Temperature: 93+ (33°C+); change daily
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    Use an ant guard. Hummingbirds will not come to a feeder that is covered in ants or that has dead ants swimming in the saucer. To prevent ants from spoiling all your efforts, use an ant guard – it's a little tray that's full of water (a moat, really) that you attract the the cord on top of your feeder. The ants can't pass the water without drowning.
    • Some feeders come with this while others do not. In certain home and gardening stores (or online) you can purchase an ant guard individually.
    • Some people suggest putting putting petroleum jelly on top of the feeder to create a sticky goo the ants get through. This may work, but in hot weather, you run the risk of the jelly melting and getting into the birds' food.[7]
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    Keep away the bees. Bees are another unwanted animal that you'll have to keep away from your feeder – they'll even be territorial with the birds. They're harder to get away than ants. In general, there are three things you can do:
    • Keep the feeder clean at all times. Residue from splashing and dripping will attract the bees.
    • Place a saucer of sugar water (a 1:1 ratio, much stronger) elsewhere in your yard.
    • Buy a feeder that has tubes. Only the hummingbirds will be able to get into the tubes to the sugar water and the bees won't sense the delicacy.
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    Clean out the feeder regularly. In general, you want to clean out your feeder every time you go to refill it (hence why an easy-to-clean feeder is important). Use a scrub brush and mild soap and water and just take a minute to get it fresh. And get the soap off too – you don't want soap ruining the birds' dinner.
    • This is especially important if the sugar water has gone bad – again, if there are white strings, black spots, or if it's cloudy. If you don't clean it well, your next batch will spoil faster.

Part 3
Attracting More Hummingbirds

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    Put more red around your feeder. Hummingbirds love, love, love the color red. You might say it even hypnotizes them a bit. If you're not getting any birds in your area, put more red up in your garden. Tie a ribbon around your feeder or even put red tape near the area. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be red.
    • Red paint and even red nail polish to touch up certain pieces in your garden can go a long ways, too.
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    Plant red, orange, and yellow flowers in your garden. Another way to get hummingbirds to your garden is to plant a garden full of brightly-colored flowers. The more eye-catching your garden, the better. Here are some flowers you can plant:[8]
    • Geraniums
    • Fuchsia
    • Trumpet vines
    • Columbine
    • Petunias
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    Place several different feeders in different areas. Hummingbirds tend to be very territorial. If you only have one feeder, you may find that one alpha hummingbird drives away the smaller birds from the nectar. To get around this, invest in a few different feeders and put them in different areas of your yard.
    • If they're out of sight, that's even better. Have one in your front and back yards if possible, or at least in faraway trees.
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    Place a perch on your feeder. If you're looking for a rare sight, buy a perch for your feeder or construct one. You'll see your speedy little birds actually stop for a rest – a gem of a sight.
    • If you can't find a feeder with a perch, try making your own. Get your camera ready!


  • To help the sugar dissolve, the solution can be microwaved for 1 to 2 minutes. This may also help if the solution starts to spoil within three days.
  • Saucer-shaped feeders are usually the easiest to clean, but bottle feeders are more convenient when hummingbird traffic is high.
  • Leftover solution can be refrigerated for up to a week.
  • Even a single pot of the right kind of flowers (red salvias, for example) will help hummingbirds find your feeder and keep them coming back to your yard.
  • If you live in a major hummingbird flyway, you may wish to buy several small feeders or one or two larger ones to use during spring and/or fall migration.
  • Leaving hummingbird feeders out in fall will not prevent the birds from migrating.
  • Wild bird retailers sell special brushes designed to clean hummingbird feeders.
  • "Caster" sugar or superfine white baking sugar dissolves more quickly in cold water. The proportion of sugar to water can be made slightly higher (no stronger than 3:1) from fall through spring to give an energy boost to migrating and overwintering birds.
  • Be sure to not feed wild animals such as birds. Even though they are perfectly innocent, it could result in a medical bill if the animal, or in this case, the bird has any medical issues itself.


  • Do not substitute powdered sugar, brown sugar, "raw" sugar, honey, or artificial sweeteners for white sugar.
  • Feeders that cannot be completely disassembled for cleaning require much more thorough cleaning and rinsing than better designed models. especially if dishwashing detergent is used to clean them.
  • Do not make the sugar water with either mineral-free water purified by distilling or reverse-osmosis or tap water that produces iron stains in sinks and toilets.
  • Hot tap water can contain dangerous amounts of lead, so use only cold water or water heated on the stove or in the microwave to make the feeder solution.

Things You'll Need

  • Hummingbird feeder
  • Measuring cups
  • Nectar (make your own)
  • Plastic or metal spoon
  • Scrubber
  • Glass or plastic container for refrigerating leftovers

Article Info

Categories: Feeding Birds