If you keep a hummingbird feeder in your yard or garden, you’re probably familiar with the process of filling and refilling it. Hummingbirds have voracious appetites, especially in warm weather, and you may find yourself washing and refilling the feeder multiple times a week. A common question many backyard birders have is this: generally, how often should the nectar in the feeder be changed?
There’s a lot of conflicting advice about how often to change the nectar in your feeder. This article covers a few of the most pressing questions hummingbird lovers may have.
- In hot summer weather, change out your hummingbird nectar at least twice a week, preferably every other day. In milder spring and fall weather, change it at least once a week.
- Every time you change out nectar, clean your hummingbird feeder.
- Keeping your feeder out of direct sunlight slows the spoiling process and helps prevent mold growth.
How often should you change your hummingbird feeder?
How often you change out the nectar in your hummingbird feeder depends on the season and climate in which you live. The Smithsonian National Zoo says to change sugar water in feeders at least two times per week in hot weather and one time per week in cooler weather.
Other sources, like various local Audubon Societies, suggest you change your nectar on a similar schedule. Cornell says:
at least every couple of days in hot weather or if feeders are in direct sunlight, and every 2-4 days when it’s cooler and feeders are shaded
These places recommend changing and cleaning feeders every other day as a baseline of care. The things you have to remember here is, there’s no exact schedule that everyone can follow.
It’s up to you to use the guide to check your feeder often and change the nectar when it needs to be changed. There are many factors that dictate how often you should change your hummingbird feeder nectar.
A general guide to go by is:
- Below 70 degrees: once per week
- 70-80 degrees: at least twice per week
- Above 80 degrees: change every 1-2 days or more and check often
Some people can get overly specific with how often you should change your nectar based on the temperature outside, but this isn’t as helpful as it may seem. There isn’t a specific amount of times to change your nectar between 71 degrees and 74 degrees, give me a break.
In the end you must check the nectar on your own, and check it often when it starts getting warm outside. Look for the following signs that it needs to be changed, and if it does then change it. When in doubt, change it.
How can you tell hummingbird nectar is bad?
The first sign that nectar has gone bad is that your feeder is rejected and not visited by hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are good judges of quality nectar. They will probably know the nectar is bad before you do!
Upon visual inspection of your feeder, look for a cloudy appearance to the liquid, contamination of the feeding ports with dead insects, sticky residue, or sugar crystals. Check for mold growing inside and outside the feeder. If anything looks stringy or like there are specks floating in the nectar, it’s bad. Spoiled nectar may smell bad too.
Once discovering that your nectar has spoiled, discard the liquid and clean your feeder. Be sure to examine all of the feeding ports for mold or spoiled nectar residue. Hummingbird nectar is also more likely to go bad during heat waves and hot weather. Be on the lookout for signs of spoilage during these times.
Is clear or red hummingbird nectar better?
Clear hummingbird nectar is much better for hummingbirds than colored nectar. According to Audubon, using red food coloring in your nectar may actually harm hummingbirds, since the food colorings used for human consumption have never been tested on wild birds. Furthermore, flower nectar is clear in the wild, so it’s best to imitate natural conditions as much as possible.
Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, which is present in many ways in natural environments. You can add the color red to your hummingbird feeder in several ways other than dying the water. Consider purchasing a feeder made of red plastic or glass. Or, plant flowering plants that have tubular red or orange flowers in the area around the feeder.
Can hummingbird food get too hot in the sun?
Hummingbird nectar can definitely get too hot when it’s in a feeder that is placed in a sunny spot. This poses a burn issue to hummingbirds since they aren’t naturally exposed to high-temperature nectar.
It can even be risky for people who set out feeders if they accidentally spill hot nectar on themselves while removing the feeder for cleaning. Always check if the feeder reservoir is hot to the touch – if it is, it’s too hot for hummingbirds to drink.
Hot nectar is also a prime breeding ground for mold and bacteria, which can hurt and even kill hummingbirds. Hummingbirds avoid spoiled nectar and nectar that is too hot to drink.
Avoid overheating your hummingbird nectar by placing your hummingbird feeder in an area that receives indirect sunlight. If you live in the northern hemisphere, hanging a feeder on the east or north side of a structure will reduce the feeder’s exposure to afternoon sun. You will still need to change your nectar regularly, but it may help reduce the rate of spoilage from a few hours to nearly a day.
Can hummingbirds get drunk off of sugar water?
This may seem like a trivial question, but hummingbirds can, in fact, get drunk off of spoiled sugar water. In direct sunlight or hot environments, the sugar in the nectar ferments, creating alcohol. An unwitting hummingbird that drinks this boozy nectar may experience alcohol intoxication and will be more vulnerable to predators.
Preventing injuries to your neighborhood hummingbirds is one reason why it’s so important to regularly change out your hummingbird nectar, especially if it’s warm outside.
Should hummingbird feeders be in sun or shade?
Hummingbird feeders should be in a location that optimizes hummingbird access while reducing the chances that nectar will overheat in the sun. The Smithsonian National Zoo recommends placing feeders near trees and away from windows and high-traffic areas.
Tree foliage, a regular source of shade, can protect hummingbirds from being seen by predators. They’re also a great stakeout for territorial hummingbirds that want to protect their favorite feeder.
Areas that receive sunlight in mid-afternoon are not recommended, since that’s when the sun’s rays are strongest. Try hanging hummingbird feeders in a section of your yard that gets dappled sunlight intermittently throughout the day.
Hummingbird feeders require a regular commitment to maintenance and changing out fresh nectar. Especially in hot weather, it’s important to change and clean feeders at least every other day to ensure nectar doesn’t spoil. Even if you have just one feeder, keeping the nectar fresh keeps your neighborhood hummingbirds happy, healthy, and visiting your yard.
Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys feeding, studying, and taking photos of wild birds and hummingbirds. She once worked as the hummingbird department manager at a Wild Birds Unlimited store.