Who doesn’t love watching hummingbirds? Their teeny tiny size, iridescent colors, curiosity and incredibly fast movements make them quite mesmerizing. Thankfully, it is pretty simple to attract them to your yard by offering food. For hummingbirds, food is sugar rich nectar, and you can make it with two simple ingredients. Let’s talk about how to make hummingbird food, some do’s and don’ts, and answer some frequently asked questions.
How to Make Hummingbird Food
Sure, you can find pre-made hummingbird nectar at the store. But it is so cheap, quick and easy to make it yourself. You won’t be saving any time or money with the pre-made stuff, and your nectar will be fresher, and without potentially harmful dyes or preservatives.
In fact, you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen. Sugar and water, that’s it!
Notes & Tips
- Use plain white table sugar only: don’t be tempted to use “fancier” sugar such as organic, brown sugar, powdered sugar, honey, agave syrup, raw cane sugar, or zero calorie sweeteners. Raw, organic and brown sugars can contain too much iron for hummingbirds. Honey and syrups grow bacteria and fungus very quickly. Zero calorie sweeteners have, well, zero calories. You WANT your hummingbird to be getting calories, that’s how they maintain their energy.
- Which Water To Use: avoid mineral water or carbonated water. Tap water (boiled or unboiled), spring water, well water, and bottled water are all fine. Boiling your tap water first it may help your nectar last a little bit longer, but it typically isn’t necessary. If you drink from your tap, the birds can too.
- Mixing Tip: Warm or hot water will help the sugar dissolve faster. If you use boiling or very hot water, make sure you let the nectar solution cool to room temperature before putting it in the feeder. You don’t want to burn any hummingbird’s tongue!
How important is the sugar to water ratio?
The ratio that is proven safe for hummingbird food is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, which equals about a 20% sugar concentration. This mimics the amount of sugar found in the flower nectar that hummingbirds visit in the wild. It’s their Goldilocks “just right” amount of sugar.
A 1:3 ratio for sugar content is sometimes okay, but typically only used for feeding hummingbirds in the winter, in areas where there may not be many natural flowers in bloom and they need some extra calories.
Going above a 1:3 ratio is controversial. Some claim it can lead to liver and kidney damage, and dehydration, but there isn’t a lot of science to back that up. In most cases just stick with the 1:4 to be on the safe side. Plus, the more sugar in your nectar, the faster it is going to spoil.
Should you add red dye?
Don’t add red dyes. Some companies still insist on selling red nectar, but it really hasn’t been proven safe. In fact many hummingbird rehabbers will tell you they have seen it cause long term damage. So why make an extra step for yourself that may hurt the hummers? Not worth it.
Plus, it won’t help you attract them. Nearly every feeder available today has red coloring and/or flower designs on it, and that is what will alert the hummingbirds it is a potential food source.
If you want to know more about the red-dye debate, we did an in-depth article here.
Should I add vitamins or other supplements?
You may be thinking just drinking sugar water isn’t going to get hummingbirds all the vitamins, minerals and proteins they need. And you’d be right! However, I would not advise adding anything to your nectar recipe. There is simply no research into which vitamins would be beneficial and what quantities would be safe. Besides, hummingbirds have their own solution for this.
They eat insects! Spiders, fruit flies, gnats and other small soft bodied insects are part of a hummingbirds diet, and provide them all the nutrients that nectar can’t. If you want to help out, we have an article here about how you can feed insects to hummingbirds.
How can I store extra hummingbird food?
Hummingbird nectar can be stored for up to one week as long as it is refrigerated. Make sure the container you put it in is clean (glass works best), and periodically check for signs of mold.
How often should I change the food in the feeders?
Sugar ferments quickly (turning into alcohol) and is a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. These issues tend to increase the warmer it is outside. A very general baseline would be to change the nectar once per week in cool weather and twice per week in warm weather. Once it gets over 80 degrees, I would recommend every 1-2 days.
You can make frequent refilling easier on yourself by making a large batch of hummingbird food once a week and refrigerating the leftovers. Check here for more tips on keeping your nectar fresh.
How do I clean my feeder?
To make sure your food stays fresh, you should wash your feeder every time you refill it. A good scrubbing with soap and water is fine, or even using the dishwasher if your feeder is dishwasher safe. You can occasionally do a deeper clean with a dilute bleach or vinegar solution. The most important thing is to reach all the corners, nooks and crannies when cleaning your hummingbird feeder, so you may want a few different sized brushes.
Which hummingbird feeders are best?
A feeder you find easy to clean is the best one for you! Saucer shaped feeders and reservoir feeders with a wide mouth are typically the easiest to clean and refill. We have some recommendations here for our favorites.