A Super Easy Recipe for Hummingbird Food
Why Should I Make Homemade Nectar?
Have you ever seen a hummingbird stop flying? While they do perch and stop, most of their time is spent sourcing nectar to sustain their energy levels. They need to eat once every 10 to 15 minutes and end up visiting between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers each day to get the energy they need. Want to help them get that food more easily?
Hummingbirds consume flower nectar for energy to catch the bugs they consume for protein, fats, and vitamins. Natural nectar is approximately 21-23% sucrose, which is regular table sugar. Making homemade nectar is cheap, simple, environmentally friendly, and healthy for hummingbirds. To create a similar ratio, you simply use one part sugar to four parts water.
If you want to feed hummingbirds but don't want to make nectar, you'd have to keep a little feeder full of bugs. Sound unappetizing? Let's get started with what you'll need for the DIY nectar recipe!
What You'll Need
- Small pot
- Hummingbird feeder
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 cups water
- Add the sugar and water to a small pot. If you would like to make more or less food than the amount this recipe yields, the ratio is one part sugar mixed with four parts water.
- Bring the mixture to a boil. While it's cooking, stir the contents to help dissolve the sugar.
- The mixture is done when all the sugar is dissolved. This can take about 10 minutes depending on the starting temperature of the water and the quantity used. If you've doubled the recipe, the cook times will change.
- Let the mixture cool to room temperature. You can put it in the refrigerator to speed up this process.
- Add the mixture to a clean hummingbird feeder. To clean the feeder, rinse it out with water and wipe off any dirt. Voilà! You've made your own hummingbird nectar. Hang up the feeder and watch your birds enjoy the tasty meal!
- You'll want to replace the food in the feeder regularly to offer a fresh meal to your birds. Regularly rinse and refill your feeder.
What Kind of Sugar Do I Use for Hummingbird Nectar?
Do not feed hummingbirds honey, Jell-O, fruit, molasses, brown sugar, or turbinado sugar. A sugar solution that is too dilute or contains organic matter can ferment or get moldy and can poison hummingbirds. Also, sugar substitutes simply don't offer any nutritional value to hummingbirds. The part they need is the sucrose, the pure sugar.
Molasses, which is present in brown sugar and turbinado sugar, contains iron, other minerals, and moisture that the birds don't need. In fact, hummingbird bodies hoard iron, so even a small excess of the mineral can poison them.
If the sugar package doesn't explicitly say it's cane sugar, it could be beet sugar. There is anecdotal evidence that suggests hummingbirds can taste the difference between the two sugars—some hummingbirds were noticed to reject beet sugar entirely. While this might not be fact, checking to see you're using cane sugar could be a good idea if you notice an absence of hummingbirds at your feeder.
How to Choose the Best Feeder for You
Because hummingbirds will drink from any kind of feeder as long as it contains nectar, the most important thing to consider in choosing a feeder is how easy it is to maintain. To be a responsible hummingbird helper, you need to watch the condition of the nectar and clean the feeder regularly. Pick a feeder that is:
- Easy to Clean. A feeder that comes apart for cleaning will ensure thorough cleaning to keep hummingbirds healthy. Basin-style feeders are likely easier to clean than the inverted-bottle variety.
- Easy to Fill
- Easy for Hummingbirds to Find: Most feeders include the color red because hummingbirds are attracted to the color. If you find a model you like that doesn’t have any red parts, just attach a bright red ribbon or tape to the feeder to help the birds discover your gift.
- Equipped With a Perch (Optional): Hummingbirds don't need to perch on something while feeding, but perching gives them a chance to rest (and also gives you a chance to take photos).
- Made of a Material You Like: Most feeders are made of plastic, glass, or ceramics. Choose a material you like that won’t be an eyesore.
Where Do I Hang a Hummingbird Feeder?
Hummingbirds will find your feeder more quickly if you place it near plants that they like to frequent. You can also place a feeder near a window so you can enjoy the birds’ company when they stop by. Just hang objects near the glass so birds don't think they can fly through the window.
Where to Put the Feeder
- At least five feet above the ground (so the birds are beyond the reach of predators)
- Not close to a nest (so as not to lead predators there)
- In a shady area, if practical
How to Clean a Hummingbird Feeder
- Discard any unconsumed sugar water.
- Flush the feeder with hot tap water. Use a bottle brush if you find it helpful to get into the crevices. Do not use soap, as the birds don't like the taste. Bleach or a strong vinegar can help clean and won't deter your flying guests.
- Inspect the feeder for any black mold. If you find any, a bleach soak is the most effective way to remove it. Use a mixture of 1/4 cup bleach and one gallon of water to leave the feeder in for one hour. Clean it with a bottle brush, rinse it well with running water, and refill the feeder. Even if you don't find black mold, do a bleach soak once a month to keep it clean. If you're concerned about BPA leaching from polycarbonate plastic because of bleach use, feel free to substitute it with a full-strength white vinegar.
- If the sugar in your feeder turns cloudy, it's spoiled and needs to be replaced. This can happen in as little as two days.
How to Maintain a Feeder
Keep a checklist of these tasks so you can best help the hummingbirds get the sustenance they need.
Feeders need to be cleaned between refillings. Don't top off any empty space in the feeder with nectar—clean the whole feeder first!
- Use a mild detergent and water to rinse the feeder thoroughly.
- Do a bleach soak once a month.
- Don't fill up the feeder all the way if it's not being used.
- Clean the feeder and replace the nectar every 3-4 days and 2-3 days in warmer climates.
How to Prevent Pests From Feeding on the Nectar
Ants can be a nuisance and will find your feeder unless you take the proper precautions. Here are a few things you can do or look for to prevent them from stealing the food you set out for hummingbirds:
- Purchase a dripless feeder.
- Choose a feeder with an ant moat you can fill with water. Don't use oil to do this because small birds often like to drink from the moat.
Bees and wasps can also be attracted to the feeder, and they might not be a welcome presence in your yard. They're also attracted to the color yellow, so try to remove any components of your feeder that are that color or repainting them.
- Never use any petroleum-based product—Vaseline, Tanglefoot, Vicks—to keep insects away from your feeders. They are water-insoluble and can mess up the feathers of hummingbirds to the point that they can't fly.
How to Store Surplus Nectar
If you're worried about not having the time to make food on a regular basis, make a giant batch all at once! Sugar keeps for quite a while—it's even used as a preservative. You can store any extra food in an airtight container. Just make sure to wipe it clean so it doesn't attract ants.
What You'll Need
- An old syrup bottle
I like using old maple syrup containers because it's made to hold sugary goodness and repurposing plastic containers is environmentally friendly. You'll want to use a funnel to get the nectar into the container. This could help you avoid a potentially sticky mess. When you want to add the nectar later, just squeeze it into the feeder!
- Keep the excess nectar in the refrigerator to store it for up to two weeks. If you notice any fermentation or mold, discard it.
- Freeze the mix and store it safely for a longer period of time. If you want to use it, let it thaw to room temperature before filling the feeder.
Do remember that sugar water is a rich growth medium. Yeasts like to eat it, causing fermentation that can harm hummingbirds. Mold and bacteria grow in it, and they can also hurt the birds. This is why you need to keep the feeder clean and the nectar fresh.
How to Prevent Sugar Crystallization
Depending on the moisture content, the food may crystallize over time. If this happens, add some water and pop in it the microwave. Remember to let it cool before feeding. If you find that this happens a lot, just increase the amount of water you add the next time you make a new batch of food.
Can I Simply Purchase Hummingbird Food?
If you're short on time and can't make hummingbird food, you can purchase it at any garden supply store. Commercial hummingbird nectar has food dye added because the birds are attracted to the color red. This additive could be a problem, though, because some think red food dye could cause health problems in hummingbirds. Even though there is no concrete evidence supporting this theory, it doesn’t hurt to eliminate something that hummingbirds don’t need in their diet.
Want to Learn More About Hummingbirds?
- How to Attract Hummingbirds With Plants and Flowers
A guide on choosing the right plants and flowers to attract hummingbirds.
- How to Prevent Ants on Hummingbird Feeders
If you've put a hummingbird feeder up only to discover it full of ants the following morning, don't despair. Here is an easy and inexpensive way to keep those unwanted ants off your feeders.
- How to Attract Birds to Your Backyard
Learn to provide for the birds in your yard, how to bring the ones you love and to remove the ones you don't. Living with birds doesn't have to be a hassle.
Questions & Answers
How does a hummingbird eat?
It was once thought that hummingbirds sucked nectar through their beaks, but actually, hummingbirds use their beak to reach deep into a flower. Then the hummingbird uses its long tongue to lick up any nectar.
© 2012 Melanie Palen