Last updated on May 18th, 2022 at 01:32 am
How to Make Hummingbird Food from Sugar and Water
by Jane Lake
Bee balm, hollyhock, hibiscus, trumpet honeysuckle, clematis, impatiens, phlox, purple coneflower, roses, cosmos and fuchsias are some of the common flowers that will attract hummingbirds to your garden. But hanging a hummingbird feeder where you can easily see it is probably the best way to observe the hummingbirds in action.
There’s no need to buy expensive nectar – feed the hummingbirds by making your own syrup from the recipe shown here.
Homemade Hummingbird Food
1 part sugar/4 parts water
Boil the water first, then measure and add sugar, at the rate of 1/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water.
Let cool and store excess in refrigerator until ready to use.
Do not add food coloring, honey (which ferments), or artificial sweetener, which has no nutritional value.
You should clean your feeder at least once a week, more often if the water gets cloudy.
According to the National Audubon Society, cleaning should be done by rinsing with one part white vinegar to four parts water. If the feeder is dirty, try adding a few grains of dry rice to the vinegar solution to help scrub it clean. Follow the vinegar wash by rinsing three times with clear, warm water before refilling with sugar solution.
If mold develops, you will need to soak the feeder in a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) until the mold is gone. A small bottle brush can be handy to scrub crevices. Once the feeder is clean again, rinse it thoroughly, multiple times, removing all traces of bleach.
How to Make Hummingbird Food – Video
For visual instructions, watch a one-minute video on making homemade nectar.
Keep it Cool
One interesting tip: freeze leftover nectar in ice cube trays; just melt the cubes and bring the nectar close to room temperature for use.
During a heat wave, try popping a few nectar ice cubes directly into your usual feeder; like you, the hummers will appreciate a refreshing cool drink on a hot summer day.
How to Make an Ant Moat
If ants are a problem at your feeder, make a homemade ant moat to keep them away.
You’ll need a spray can cap, wire, and silicone caulking or hot glue. Simply drill or pierce a tiny hole in the middle of the cap, just large enough for the wire. Bend a hook on both ends of the wire and caulk around the hole to seal.
Hang the moat, filled with water, right over the feeder; this prevents ants from getting into your hummingbird food. Top up water as needed to keep the ants away.
Placement of Hummingbird Feeders
Since hummingbirds are territorial, consider hanging two, or more, feeders – at least one in the back yard and one in the front, thus accommodating as many hummingbirds as you can. Juvenile hummingbirds will fight incessantly over territory, a fascinating battle royal to watch, but you can encourage a more friendly hummingbird community by increasing the number of feeders.
Hanging the feeders in a shady spot discourages fermentation and nectar spoilage. I hang mine under the house eaves because of the shade but also because I can more easily enjoy a close-up view of the hummers as they come to visit.
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Make Your Own Hummingbird Feeders
Don’t buy a feeder – serve your homemade nectar in a feeder made from recycled plastic food tubs and plastic bottles.
This is creative recycling project for adults or kids to try.
Children will be especially thrilled when the hummingbirds arrive to use a feeder that they made themselves.
Make a Bottle Feeder
Recycle narrow-necked glass bottles to make your own hummingbird feeders with handy feeder tubes like those shown above from Amazon.
These make great recycling nature projects for scouts, guides or youth groups.
I’ve seen pretty wine bottles, painted with flowers, then made into feeders with these tubes.
Simply wind wire, embellished with beads if you like, around the bottles, creating a wire hanger at the bottom of the bottle. Fill with hummingbird food then insert a feeding tube into the bottle neck to complete the feeder.
Heart-warming story of the author’s adoption of Squeak, a hummingbird rescued from killer frost. Squeak lives in her sun room until spring, while the author photographs and records what it’s like to interact with “a living jewel among the flowers”.
Bookmarks: For the hummingbird fan: free printable Hummingbird Bookmarks with sketched pictures.
Hummingbird Migration Map
Track the migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds in North America; add your own first sighting of the season.
World Of Hummingbirds Map
Tracking hummingbirds around the world.
Avian Flu – Are Hummingbirds Affected?
Avian flu is taking a heavy toll throughout North America, with many municipalities advising the removal of backyard bird feeders. Avian flu is highly contagious and has killed millions of wild birds, as well as infecting backyard chicken flocks and poultry farms. While waterfowl, raptors and scavenging birds such as gulls seem particularly vulnerable, song birds aren’t as widely affected. Follow advice for your location from local birding experts and government agencies. For British Columbia, Canada, see this article on “removing bird feeders and baths during avian flu.”
“Sick birds may appear lethargic, unusually ‘fluffed up,’ have nasal discharge, or have excessively watery eyes or swelling of the head and eyelids,” according to the SPCA.
Humminbirds are at lowest risk for Avian flu because their feeders are species-specific. If you offer a feeder, however, please be vigilant about changing the nectar and cleaning the feeder regularly (as described above) to eliminate fungal infections.
Wing Beat and Senses
The wing beat rate of hummingbirds varies by species, with the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird averaging a wing beat of about 53 per second, seen by the human eye as a blur. The wings move in a figure eight pattern to produce the gravity-defying hover effect for which hummers are famous.
Hummingbirds cannot smell and depend on eyesight to find flowers and food. Inexpensive red hummingbird feeders are readily available and attract the busy little birds without the need for coloring the food; this easy food source will keep them coming throughout the day.
Attract Orioles and Butterflies to Your Garden
Using a similar sugar and water solution, you can easily attract orioles to your backyard as well as hummingbirds. Orioles also like an offering of oranges and nesting materials.
Butterflies appreciate homemade nectar as well as offerings of over-ripe fruit and watering spaces; they’re also attracted to many of the flowers so loved by hummingbirds. See Butterfly Gardening for more information.
MaryLou Andersen says
What can I do to attract hummingbirds in a clear feeder. How can I tint the food without hurting the birds?
Jane Lake says
It’s best not to add food coloring or other dye as that may be harmful to the birds. You don’t mention if the clear feeder is glass or plastic, but I currently have two glass feeders that were colored red on the outside with glass paint, so that’s one possibility.
I’ve also had success in the past by attaching a red silk flower to a plain recycled feeder.
And you could also try placing a hanging basket or planter of red flowers somewhere close to the feeder to attract the little hummers.
I’m having trouble keeping my feeders from freezing.
Jane Lake says
I’ve had that issue in the fall as well. I moved one feeder out from under the eaves of the house into a sunny spot and that helped a lot.
Other than that, I’d suggest making fresh nectar with warm water and setting it out in late morning. It might still freeze but the hummers will at least have some opportunity to feed from it for a few hours.
I usually have 4 feeders, two on the front porch and two on the back deck and they all get a lot of traffic. I can see both front and back, from my recliner chair, depending on which way I turn my head. I love the little birds and love watching them enjoy my feeders!
Jane Lake says
Your recliner would be my favorite chair in the house! I have two feeders on the front porch, and two on the back deck as well. But I can only see one area at a time. One feeder is right outside my kitchen window though, so I do get a close-up view of the hummingbirds there!
mary crouse says
I moved this year, and was concerned that I may not get any hummingbirds this year since they like to return to the same location each year. I made the nectar 1:4 ratio, and hung up my feeders anyway. Put a red geranium plant under it and was rewarded by a visit shortly afterwards. Few and far between at first, but I saw five visitors today! Hopefully, some will nest close by, and make our yard their home.
Jane Lake says
That is so sweet. I had the same concern after a move several years ago. By the second year, I had more hummers than ever and was feeding some every day by hand.
I do hope the same for you!
Lisa Hayes says
I place flowers below my feeder also.
Michael E Moir says
Does anyone know of any thing else we can do for HBs in the extreme cold? We are in the teens here and the temp dropped out of no where! We still have HBs coming to our feeders but I don’t know if they will survive this cold.
Jane Lake says
Where are you located? Are the hummers migrating through your area or are they expected to stay around? They can survive some cold temperatures, especially if they have food available, so please don’t take it away.
I put up a feeder and have 3 hummingbirds that love it. Its 100 degrees today and although it hangs under the eves of my house in the shade can the liquid get to hot for them? I took it down to put new food in it but I’m afraid it will heat back up and again and get to hot!
In very hot weather change the ratio of water to sugar to 5 to 1, rather than 4, to help the birds keep hydrated. I’ve heard of people experimenting with feeders, putting refrigerated nectar out in one and leaving another just out in the shade to see which the birds prefer. Results vary, and I tend to think the birds know best. You may notice more activity in early morning or late evening when the temperature is cooler. Lots of people have tried ice chips made from nectar, but this is a short lived solution too. Just take care to changer the nectar at least three times a week in hot weather to disourage mold. Offering the hummers a nearby fountain or mister also helps these busy little birds cool down.
Okay, thank you. I buy the pre-made liquid food. And when its hot outside I have been changing it every other day as I also don’t fill it full, this way I have to change it often. I have noticed that are out more in the morning and evening when its hot.
How late can you fill the feeder in the Nebraska area? Don’t want to tempt them to stay too long!
Jane Lake says
Actually, Myrna, you may keep the feeders up until you see the very last hummingbird, and I often keep it up a little past that and am rewarded by yet another sighting. The feeders are quite busy now, as the hummers fly south for the winter, and all the feeders along the way are helpful in renewing the energy needs of these busy little travellers. So enjoy your feeder as long as you can!