The Best Recipe For Hummingbird Food

Here’s how to make the best hummingbird food for these winged wonders.

Hummingbird Eating from Feeder
Photo: Darwin Brandis/Getty Images

With their jewel-toned plumage and high-energy acrobatics, hummingbirds are some of our most fascinating garden visitors. As they zoom by, you'll hear the distinctive whir of their wings beating up to 90 times per second. Some hummingbirds become bold enough to hover just feet away from you to investigate why you're in their gardens.

Because of their super-fast metabolisms, hummingbirds eat once every 10 to 15 minutes, visiting between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers per day. In addition to planting plenty of hummingbird-friendly plants such as bee balm, hummingbird sage, salvia, and cuphea, you can supplement their diets by putting out a hummingbird feeder filled with nectar. Nectar makes up about 90 percent of a hummingbird's diet. Here's what else you need to know about how to attract and feed these tiny birds.

The Best Recipe For Hummingbird Food

You don't need to purchase hummingbird food. Make it yourself, which is less expensive and more practical because you should clean the feeder and change the nectar regularly. It's super-easy:
Stir ¼ cup white sugar into 1 cup boiling tap water (heated on the stovetop or microwave until boiling). Mix until the sugar is dissolved; let cool to room temperature, and fill your feeder.

Hummingbird Food Ratio For A Bigger Batch

You can make a larger batch of homemade nectar if you have multiple feeders; just maintain the 1:4 ratio of one part sugar with four parts water. You can also save yourself time and make extra to save for later. Homemade nectar can be poured into a sealed storage container and stored in the fridge for about a week; toss it if it grows mold.

Can You Use Other Sweeteners In Hummingbird Food?

One important point: Don't use anything except refined white sugar (table sugar) to make hummingbird nectar. Bacteria and mold thrive in honey or molasses diluted in water, and powdered sugar contains other ingredients such as corn starch. Brown sugar contains molasses products and should also be avoided. Never use artificial sweeteners in your homemade nectar.

Should I Add Red Food Coloring To Hummingbird Food?

There's no reason to add dyes to homemade hummingbird nectar; natural nectar is clear, and birds find it just fine without any coloring. In fact, some experts believe dye is harmful to birds. Most feeders already contain red parts to help attract birds.

What Is The Best Type Of Feeder For Hummingbirds?

The most important thing to look for is a bird feeder that's easy to take apart and clean. If it's a pain to reassemble, you're less likely to do it every few days as recommended. Either bottle or tube feeders made of plastic or glass are fine; it's also okay if they have red parts to attract the attention of hummingbirds. But avoid those with yellow insect guards, which actually may attract bees.

If you have lots of hummingbirds, set up a few feeders because hummingbirds are territorial and will chase away others. Place feeders out of direct sunlight, which will cause the sugar mixture to spoil quickly. Birds also prefer feeders located near trees or shrubs because they like to perch to keep watch and chase interlopers away from their favorite feeding spots. Finally, an ant moat, which you hang above the feeder and fill with water to keep pesky ants from reaching the nectar, is a good idea. Some feeders have built-in ant moats.

How Often Should I Clean And Refill My Feeder?

You don't want your homemade nectar to spoil or microorganisms to grow and contaminate the food. According to the National Audubon Society, cleaning once a week is often enough in cool weather. In hot weather, you should empty and clean your feeder at least twice a week. Don't use dish soap to clean your feeder as it can leave a residue; hot water or a weak vinegar solution will do the job.

Should I Stop Feeding Hummingbirds So They'll Migrate On Time?

Your feeder won't stop a bird from migrating; hummingbirds (like all birds) have an internal clock, and shorter day length is what triggers the urge to head south. Hummingbirds will migrate regardless of whether you keep your feeder up.

In the Upper South or Mid-South, keep your feeder up several weeks after you see your last hummingbird, just in case of any latecomers who are headed further south. In some parts of the Lower South, hummingbirds remain all winter, so keep your feeders clean and full to welcome these tiny visitors.

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