The Care and Feeding of Your Hummingbird Feeder

hummingbirds drinking from a feeder

Hummingbirds are nature’s iridescent winged jewels, flitting in your garden, bringing a sweetly exotic touch to your landscape. If you’d like to attract these beauties as regular visitors, you should provide them with nectar, the high energy drink that hummingbird feeders can supply that gives them the strength to catch their main protein source: bugs.

Since hummingbirds use a great deal more energy hovering in place at feeders, it’s good to have a feeder that allows for perching to provide necessary rest.

Cleanliness is essential for a successful hummingbird feeder. Each time you refill the feeder, it should be taken down and flushed with hot tap water and scrubbed with a bottle brush. Hummingbirds do not like the taste of soap residue, so if the feeder needs a more thorough cleaning, such as it would if you notice black mold, then it’s best to soak it for an hour in a mixture of 1/4 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Rinse thoroughly and refill with your nectar mixture. This bleach soaking should be carried out at least once a month. Nectar should be changed at least every 3 to 4 days when temperatures reach above 80 degrees (F), and every 2 days when temperatures rise above 90 degrees (F). In addition, if the nectar mixture becomes cloudy, it means it is spoiled and the feeder must be emptied, cleaned and refilled. It’s been said that hummingbirds would rather starve than drink spoiled nectar.

Providing nectar for the hummingbird feeder is a very simple matter. Simply combine 1 part white cane (not beet) sugar to 4 parts water. This formula best reproduces the amount of sucrose naturally found in flowers that North American hummingbirds prefer. It is sweet enough to fulfill the little birds’ needs but not so sweet that it unduly attracts insects such as wasps, bees, and ants. Unused syrup may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Never put brown sugar, Jell-O, honey or fruit in the feeder. Because honey ferments rapidly when mixed with water, it can be fatal to hummingbirds.

Depending on where you live, you may wish to leave your hummingbird feeder up year-round, as it will not delay migration patterns. In the winter, some western hummers may visit feeders in the southeastern United States and hummingbirds wintering near Mexico will welcome your feeders in that part of the country. Parts of the U.S. Pacific Coast and extreme southwestern Canada are home to a non-migratory variety known as Anna’s Hummingbirds. Feeders will be visited by these hummers year-round.

Taking care of the hummingbird feeder so that it can take care of the hummingbirds’ needs does require a little effort, but it is more than worth it to view these lovely little birds in your own backyard or patio.

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  • Reply
    Terry Hasty
    May 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Can you put any mint from the garden in a hummingbird feeder?


    • Reply
      May 27, 2013 at 7:14 am

      Terry, most folks use mint oil and not the mint itself, to keep the bees away. The easier solution would be to use a hummingbird feeder with bee guards.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2014 at 12:14 am

    I seem to have a humming birds nest in a tree on my patio. It has two eggs in it… Any tips other then leave it alone…
    Thank you for any suggest you may have.

    • Reply
      May 16, 2014 at 8:32 am

      Jerry that is wonderful news! Leaving them alone and making sure no cats can climb the tree is about all you can do. Enjoy your hummers!

  • Reply
    Barbara Serating
    July 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I am enthralled with these beautiful little birds and have just installed two feeders for them. I find it is more economical to make my own nectar. I have also ordered an ant gaurder for one of my new feeders. Since I am retired, I now have the time to maintain the feeders. I am hoping to enjoy many days of watching God’s gracious birds.

  • Reply
    June 20, 2020 at 8:45 am

    I would love some hummingbirds to visit our feeder. We put one out two weeks ago, but no visitors. I am wondering why? Is it too late in the season? Are the robins or other birds keeping them away?
    We change the sugar water and keep the feeder clean. We have plants/flowers that are said to attract hummingbirds.
    What else can be done?

    • Reply
      GrowJoy Plants
      September 7, 2020 at 5:43 pm

      Donna, it does sound like you’ve covered your bases. It may just be a case of waiting for the locals (or migrating hummingbirds) to realize you are set up for feeding. I’ve read that one method that grabs attention is to hang surveyor’s tape (that flourescent coloured tape) to several spots in your yard so that you capture their attention, bringing them in for a closer look. Let us know how it works out!

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