Attracting and feeding hummingbirds in your own yard can be simple and fun. You can make your own hummingbird nectar without boiling the water in just a few minutes.
These tiny birds beat their wings an average of 70 times a second, and their heart rate can reach as high as 1,260 beats per minute. In order to fuel their incredibly high metabolisms, they must consume half their body weight in sugar daily.
This means feeding every 10-15 minutes! By having a hummingbird feeder in your yard, you can help provide these sweet little birds with the quality fuel they need.
DIY Hummingbird Nectar Recipe
This DIY hummingbird food ratio is a 4:1 with four parts water to one part sugar. This concentration is the closest to the sucrose content of most natural flower nectar.
1 cup of white table sugar*
4 cups water
*Use refined white sugar only. DO NOT use confectioners / powdered sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, organic sugar or artificial sweeteners. While these sugars may be healthier alternatives for people, this is not the case for hummingbirds. Natural / organic and raw sugars often do not undergo sufficient purification to remove molasses which is rich in iron, and iron is toxic to hummingbirds. Avoid sugars that appear even slightly brown in color or are labeled “organic”, “raw” or “natural”. You want to make sure you are always using pure white table sugar. Artificial sweeteners (Sweet&Low, Splenda, etc) do not contain real sugar that is usable by the hummingbirds body. Honey can easily promote fungal overgrowth.
- Optional: Heat your water. We have stated that you can make this hummingbird nectar without boiling the water, however warm water helps the sugar dissolve more easily. The water does not need to be boiling hot, simply warm. You can microwave the water for a minute or just use the hottest tap water your faucet can produce. It is best to avoid using a coffee machine to heat water as caffeine is toxic to birds.
- Using a clean container (I recommend a pitcher for easy pouring) mix the sugar and the water. Slowly add the sugar to the water while stirring with a large spoon.
- Once all the grains of sugar are fully dissolved, allow the solution to cool and then it is ready to be poured into the feeder.
- You can store any extra sugar water in the refrigerator for up to one week. Storing extra nectar will make refilling the feeder quick and easy.
Note: never add red dye to your nectar. Red coloring is not necessary to attract the hummingbirds to the feeder, and may be unhealthy for the birds. I wrote a more detailed article about why to never add red dye to hummingbird nectar if you want to know more!
Do I need to boil the water to make hummingbird nectar?
As we’ve stated in this recipe, no. It will help the sugar dissolve quicker but it really doesn’t take long for sugar to dissolve in room temperature or cold water.
You may also hear people boiling water to remove impurities. It is true that boiling the water first will kill bacteria and mold spores present in the water, and this might mean the nectar can last outside a little longer before spoiling. However even if you boil the water the nectar is going to spoil quickly, there is no getting around that, and you won’t be saving more than a day most likely.
That being said, water quality does have some importance here. If you are not drinking the water straight from your tap, why would you want your hummers to? If you only drink filtered or spring water due to impurity issues with your own tap water, please use the same type of water you drink to make the nectar. Also if you know your water is high in iron, use filtered or spring water as iron can build up in their system and be harmful.
Why the 4:1 ratio is important
You might think that by increasing the amount of sugar in your nectar you will attract even more hummingbirds. Or maybe that it will help them “fatten up” in the late summer for their fall migration. However it is very important not to over sugar the nectar. Hummingbirds naturally supplement their diet with insects as well.
Too much sugar in their diet can lead to dehydration, calcium deficiencies, muscular weakness and bone malformation. Their eggs may be too soft-shelled due to the lack of calcium. All the reading I’ve done suggests that 4:1 is safest and provides enough energy for their day-to-day. If there is a cold snap or you want to beef up the energy in late summer before their migration or for over-wintering, you can go up to a 3:1 ratio. However 2:1 or 1:1 is too high and should be avoided.
How often to change the nectar in your hummingbird feeder
Homemade hummingbird nectar should be changed between 1 – 6 days, according to average outside high temperatures. The hotter it is outside, the more frequently the nectar will need to be replaced. Not only will bacteria grow more rapidly in the hot weather, but sugar water ferments quickly in the heat to produce toxic alcohol.
High temperatures – Change nectar after:
92+ degrees F – change daily
If the liquid appears cloudy, stringy or you see mold, wash the feeder and replace the nectar right away. Most importantly, feeders must be cleaned between refillings. The nectar should never just be “topped off”. Always fully empty out old nectar, wash the feeder, and refill with fresh nectar.
How to clean your hummingbird feeder
Hummingbird feeders must be cleaned often in order to prevent bacteria growth. For this reason, it is important when choosing a hummingbird feeder that you consider how easy it will be to take apart and wash. Very decorative feeders may look attractive, but too many crevices or hard to reach places will make more work for you and more potential spots for unhealthy bacteria to hide.
- Use a mild detergent and water and hand wash, rinsing thoroughly
- You can put some hummingbird feeders in the dishwasher but be sure to check the manufacturers recommendations first. Many hummingbird feeders are not dishwasher safe and the hot temperatures can warp the plastic
- Every 4-6 weeks soak the feeder in a solution of bleach and water (1 tablespoon bleach per quart of water). Be sure to rinse thoroughly!
- If your feeder is attracting ants try using an “ant moat”, this is a great one: Copper Skinny Ant Moat
Recommended hummingbird feeders for easy cleaning and maintenance
I personally recommend the Aspects Hummzinger Hummingbird Feeder. The top comes off the base with minimal effort and the saucer shape makes it incredibly quick and easy to wash. I have used this for many years myself and gifted it to others.
If you live in a “high traffic” area and are feeding 20+ hummingbirds a day and need more capacity, the More Birds Big Gulp Hummingbird Feeder would be a great choice. This can hold a whopping 40 ounces of nectar, and the wide mouth design will make cleaning much easier than a thin-necked bottle. I highly recommend a wide-mouth design for any bottle style feeder for ease of cleaning.
Making your own hummingbird nectar without boiling the water is a simple and effective way to attract these fun birds to your yard. Hummingbirds are excellent at remembering exactly where they have found food before. They are equally as good at recognizing physical landmarks. Consequently, once a hummingbird finds your feeder they will return again and again, providing you with hours of entertainment watching their aerial acrobatics and quirky personalities.
Here’s a good video for making no-boil hummingbird nectar, refer to our chart above though when it comes to cleaning and changing out your nectar.
To learn more about hummingbirds feeding habits, check out our articles:
- What Time of Day do Hummingbirds Feed Most Frequently?
- When to put out hummingbird feeders in each state
- How to feed insects to hummingbirds (5 easy tips)