Watching hummingbirds play in the garden is one of the most pure and simple pleasures in life, IMHO! We are fortunate to have dozens of these quirky beautiful birds in our garden, and I absolutely adore them. Hummingbirds are drawn to our yard because of the vast array of flowering plants we grow – some just for them! They are also attracted to the hanging feeder full of homemade hummingbird food that we provide. Homemade hummingbird food is very easy and inexpensive to make. It is also better for the birds than pre-made hummingbird food that often contains chemical dyes and preservatives!
If you’re interested in helping to support your local hummingbird population (and making new tiny friends while you’re at it) then you’ve come to the right place. Read along to learn how to make simple homemade hummingbird feeder nectar – the right way! We all have the best intentions to do more good than harm, right? Of course. So let’s also talk about important hummingbird feeder best practices, including feeder location, cleaning, and maintenance.
But first, please enjoy these quick facts about hummers. The more you know about them, the more you’ll appreciate what truly marvelous little creatures they are!
10 Fascinating Facts About Hummingbirds
- With over 350 different species of hummingbirds, this group is the second largest family of birds in the world. The most common species in our Coastal California garden is the Anna hummingbird, along with a short visit from the extra-feisty Rufous hummers during their impressive annual migration between Mexico and Alaska. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are very common in the mid to eastern United States.
- A hummingbird’s heart beats over 1200 times per minute!
- Hummingbirds can flap their wings at a rate of up to 200 times per second, depending on the species. On average, they fly at 25 to 30 mph – but can hit speeds of 50 mph during a dive!
- Hummingbirds have an amazing memory. They can remember every flower they have ever visited, and also know how long it takes for the flower to refill with nectar.
- In addition to flowers, hummingbirds also have the ability to remember and recognize people. They will pay special attention to the person who changes out their hummingbird feeder, and will even get sassy with you as a reminder that the feeder needs a refill! Hummingbirds also remember where the good feeders and gardens are, and will return to them year-after-year!
- Hummingbirds do not mate for life. The female hummingbird does the work of building a nest, tending to eggs, and raising the young. A hummingbird nest is about the size of a walnut shell, the eggs the size of a large jelly bean, and a newborn hummingbird is around the size of a penny!
- While hummingbirds do not have a sense of smell, they are attracted to bright colors. Red is their favorite.
- A very specialized tongue lives within that long beak! Hummingbirds long narrow beak and tongue are perfectly designed to access nectar deep within flowers. They use their slender straw-like tongue to suck up nectar at over 20 laps per second. Hundreds of plant species rely on pollination by hummingbirds to produce or survive.
- Hummingbirds’ feet are tiny and weak. They cannot walk or hop, but they do perch and rest!
- In fact, rather than traditional sleep, hummingbirds can enter a deep resting period called “torpor”. In this state, their metabolism will slow down to ⅕ of normal, conserving energy in cold weather and when food is more scarce.
Hummingbird Feeders & Flowers
As you can see, hummingbirds are essentially tiny balls of pure energy. Given their incredible metabolism, hummingbirds need to consume a significant amount of food each day to maintain their body weight and health – and we can help with that!
Adding a hummingbird feeder to your garden, balcony, or other outdoor space is one excellent way to provide hummingbirds with a steady supply of food. Made of only sugar and water, our simple homemade hummingbird food recipe closely mimics natural flower nectar. Nectar provides hummingbirds with essential carbohydrates, but is not all they eat. Hummingbirds also eat tiny insects and spiders for protein and other nutrients, and are also known to eat tree sap! The small amounts of pollen they inadvertently consume while sipping on nectar also provides a little protein to their diet as well.
While I clearly support your interest in hanging a hummingbird feeder, I also highly encourage you to plant nectar-producing flowers! Hummingbird feeders are a great way to better observe hummingbirds, augment their natural food supply, or provide an off-season source of nectar when flowers are not in bloom. However, nothing beats the real stuff! Our hummingbirds love to eat a variety of salvia, lavender, nasturtium, agastache, bee balm, and penstemon flowers in the garden. Truth be told, they visit the flowers more than the feeder. For more ideas of hummingbird-friendly flowers, see this article: “The Top 23 Plants for Pollinators: Attract Bees, Butterflies, and Hummingbirds”
Want to take it a step further? Beyond homemade hummingbird food and flowers, think about other ways you can help support a healthy native wildlife population. If you are able to provide food, shelter, water, and places for wildlife to raise young, your yard could be considered a certifiable wildlife habitat! Our garden is. And always, avoid the use of pesticides and keep your yard organic! Learn more about turning your yard, patio garden, or even schoolyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat here.
What is the best hummingbird feeder to use?
Most hummingbird feeders are created fairly equal. As long as they can hang, hold your homemade hummingbird food, and attract the birds with brightly-colored flowers, it should get the job done! However, be sure to read product reviews to avoid feeders with frequently-noted problems such as leaking, peeling, difficulty cleaning, or other quality issues. We love and use this green glass hummingbird feeder in our garden. Some have additional features, like this one with a built-in ant moat on top. Most feeders hold about 32 ounces of nectar, though there are some more petite options as well – like this compact 10-ounce feeder.
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE HUMMINGBIRD FOOD
Hummingbird Food Ingredients
- Pure white cane sugar. This is perhaps the only time I would suggest to avoid using organic sugar, unless it is pure white in color. If the sugar is not 100% white refined sugar, it may contain a small amount of molasses. Molasses is rich in iron, and iron can be toxic to hummingbirds in even small doses. Therefore, avoid brown sugar or unrefined “raw” cane sugar. For example, the organic raw sugar we usually use at home has a brown tint to it, so we don’t use it in this homemade hummingbird food recipe. Do not use honey, agave syrup, or artificial sweeteners. Beet sugar is the only other suitable replacement for white cane sugar.
- Clean Water. Un-chlorinated water, filtered water, well water, or spring water is ideal, but most city tap water is okay as well.
- NO red food dye or preservatives! The colorful fake flowers that adorn most hummingbird feeders is what attracts birds to the feeder. Therefore, you do not need to add red dye or other coloring to the nectar liquid itself! On the contrary, those unnatural substances can be harmful to hummingbirds.
Hummingbird Food Sugar-Water Ratios
The standard sugar-to-water ratio for homemade hummingbird food is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.
That could mean combining 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water, ½ cup sugar and 2 cups water, or what we often make – just a ¼ cup sugar to 1 cup water. We like to make smaller amounts to reduce waste, since homemade hummingbird food does need to be changed often. You’ll find the right amount for your feeder, depending on how numerous and active the hummingbirds are in your garden.
It is important to get the right balance because too much or too little sugar can be unhealthy, dehydrating, or otherwise harmful to the hummingbirds. The one caveat is during wintertime or cold weather, when it is okay to to increase the sugar-to-water ratio to 1 part sugar to only 3 parts water (but no more). This gives them an added boost of much-needed energy. The slightly sweeter nectar also has a lower freezing point, preventing it from freezing as easily.
Instructions to Make Hummingbird Food
- Combine 1 part sugar with 4 parts water in a pot on the stove.
- Heat lightly and thoroughly stir until the sugar completely dissolves. There is no need to boil the sugar water combination.
- Allow the sugar water to cool to lukewarm or room temperature. Then, add the homemade hummingbird food to your feeder of choice.
- Hang the feeder outside, and have fun watching your hummer friends enjoy their food!
- If you make extra, store any unused sugar water in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER MAINTENANCE
How often should I change my hummingbird feeder?
To maintain a healthy and safe level of freshness, change out the hummingbird food at least once per week. Every 4 to 5 days is ideal. In hot weather (over 90 degrees) plan to change it even more frequently. If the hummingbird food in the feeder becomes cloudy, goopy-looking, or moldy, take it down, thoroughly clean the feeder, and then add fresh nectar. Always empty and clean it before adding more. Meaning, do not “top off” your hummingbird feeder with new nectar on top of the old.
Moldy, contaminated hummingbird food can be detrimental to their health.
How to Clean a Hummingbird Feeder
- Routinely rinse your hummingbird feeder with very hot water between nectar refills. You can also use a mild detergent or soap if needed, but be sure to thoroughly rinse it afterwards to remove any leftover soap residue. Some hummingbird feeders are also dishwasher-safe.
- You may want to keep a designated hummingbird bottle-brush handy for a more detailed and effective cleaning. If build-up appears in the feeders’ fake flowers (or other tight areas) use a toothbrush or similar small brush to scrub them clean.
- At least once per month, soak the feeder in a slightly stronger disinfectant, such as in hydrogen peroxide or vinegar. Some people like to soak their hummingbird feeders in dilute bleach water, yet I have read on several reputable hummingbird websites that the use of bleach is not necessary under normal circumstances. If and when gnarly black mold is growing inside, then maybe consider reaching for the bleach. Otherwise, more gentle and natural disinfectants work just fine.
- To use vinegar, combine 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water in a bucket or large bowl, and allow the disassembled feeder to soak in it for an hour or so. A nice long contact time of 1 to 2 hours is important when using vinegar. On the other hand, a shorter 15-minute soak in a dilute chlorine bleach water (1 part bleach in 10 or more parts water) is sufficient. To use peroxide, soak the feeder in undiluted 3% household strength hydrogen peroxide for 10 to 15 minutes. A more frugal approach is to use a spray bottle to thoroughly coat the feeder with peroxide inside and out. However, you’ll need to swish it around occasionally or spray more to achieve the desired contact time. Remember, never combine bleach and vinegar!
Where should I hang the hummingbird feeder?
I imagine you’ll want to hang your hummingbird feeder somewhere that you can easily see it. That way, you can thoroughly enjoy watching the visiting hummingbirds feed! Also, it will remind you to clean it. A highly visible and accessible feeder is far less likely to be forgotten and neglected. However, this whole hummingbird feeder pursuit isn’t just about human enjoyment and convenience! We need to make sure we’re choosing a location that is best for the hummers too.
- If possible, choose a shady location such as under a tree, house overhang or other canopy. Homemade hummingbird food spoils more quickly in the sun and heat, and they also appreciate the sense of protection.
- Hang hummingbird feeders at least 4 to 5 feet above the ground. This ensures they’re out of easy reach from cats and other predators. If you don’t have a suitable tree or structure to hang the feeder from, use a tall sturdy shepherd hook like this one.
- Keep feeders away from any known nests, as this may draw attention and predators to the nest.
When to Hang a Hummingbird Feeder, and When to Take it Down
The best time to bring your hummingbird feeder out and then bring it down for the year depends on where you live.
There are 17 different species of hummingbirds found in North America, and each has a unique range and migration pattern! In general, hummingbirds arrive in spring as the weather begins to warm. It is recommended to try to put out feeders before you see the first hummingbird in your garden, so there is food ready and waiting for the first early arrivals. In the southern states, this means putting out feeders in March. For more northern states, early May is a good target. Other states are somewhere in between.
Come late fall to wintertime, leave your hummingbird feeder hung up for at least three weeks after you see the last hummingbird in your yard. You never know if a late migratory straggler will come through and need a snack on his or her way!
Here in California, we have hummingbirds in our garden year-round so we keep a feeder hung most of the year. Sometimes we take it down when all of our salvia flowers are in full bloom since they have plenty to eat in the garden. Other states with known year-round hummingbird populations include Florida, Arizona, and parts of Texas.
For more information, check out this detailed article by Bird Feeder Hub. It includes a breakdown of “hang by” dates for each state!
Tips for Hummingbird Feeders in Winter
There a number of ways to help prevent your homemade hummingbird food from freezing in the winter time.
- One obvious and easy answer is to simply bring then hummingbird feeder inside overnight. However, hummingbirds need to feed very early in the morning (before sunrise) so it is essential that the feeder is returned outdoors in the early morning hours.
- As I mentioned in the recipe section above, making a sweeter homemade hummingbird food of 1 part sugar to 3 parts water also delays freezing by a few degrees than a 1 to 4 recipe.
- Try wrapping your hummingbird feeder in small holiday lights (non-LED). The heat emitted from classic incandescent holiday string lights is often enough to prevent the nectar from freezing. You could even use pink or red lights to create a warm and welcoming glow for the hummers. The warmth from a nearby flood lamp or shop light may also prevent freezing.
- A hummingbird feeder that is tucked near a house, window, under porch eaves, or in another sheltered location away from wind will be less prone to freezing than one out in the open.
- You could also try wrapping your hummingbird feeder in insulating material (e.g. bubble wrap) to keep it warm. Just be sure not to block the feeding ports, or allow any material to dangle that may endanger the birds!
- Some hummingbird enthusiasts maintain two feeders, so they can swap them back and forth to prevent freezing and/or allow time to defrost.
And that is how you make homemade hummingbird food, and properly maintain your feeder!
In closing, I hope that this article was as interesting as it was useful. I also hope that you’ll have plenty of magnificent little friends chirping at your doorstep in no time. One of my friends never had hummingbirds in her yard, recently hung a feeder, and the birds were eating from it the very next day! She is now a proud fellow member of the crazy-hummingbird-ladies (and gentlemen) club. Please, join us!
Feel free to ask questions or simply say hi in the comments below, and spread the love for hummingbirds by sharing this article.
Don’t miss these related articles:
- All About Monarchs: How to Attract, Raise & Release Monarch Butterflies
- Top 23 Plants for Pollinators: Attract Bees, Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Garden
- How to Turn Your Yard or Garden Into a Certified Wildlife Habitat
- The Top 7 Easy Annual Companion Flowers to Grow From Seed
Homemade Hummingbird Food (Nectar) Recipe
- Sauce pan or pot for the stove
- Hummingbird feeder
- 1 cup water, un-chlorinated and filtered if possible
- 1/4 cup refined white sugar* (do not substitute with other sugars or sweeteners, see notes below)
- Combine 1 part sugar with 4 parts water in a pot on the stove. Scale up or down as needed for your feeder. For example, use 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 cups water, or 1/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water. (During winter: Increase the sweetness to 1 part sugar to only 3 parts water, but no more sweet than that!)
- Heat lightly and thoroughly stir until the sugar completely dissolves. There is no need to boil the sugar water combination!
- Allow the sugar water to cool to lukewarm or room temperature before adding it to your hummingbird feeder.
- Hang the feeder outside in a shady location at least 4 feet above the ground, and have fun watching your hummer friends enjoy their food!
- If you make extra, store any unused sugar water in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- Replace the homemade hummingbird and thoroughly clean the feeder at least weekly. Every 4 to 5 days is ideal, and more frequently in hot weather. If the food becomes moldy, cloudy, or otherwise grimy, immediately take it down and clean out the feeder. See cleaning instructions in the main body of this article.