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How to Make Hummingbird Food

You really don’t need an expensive or fancy feeder to attract hummingbirds to your backyard. If they spend the warmer months in your area, a few flowers they might like and a feeder or two should be all you need. The most important part is keeping your feeder clean and keeping it full.

Your local home and garden store really hopes that you’ll buy their instant hummingbird nectar. It’s red. It’s sweet and it sure looks pretty in the feeders. They truly hope you don’t learn how to make hummingbird food. But, unless you are trying to attract new birds to your yard, you don’t need red-colored hummingbird food. In fact, you don’t need anything that’s probably not already in your kitchen.

What they don’t want you to know is that they are really just packaging sugar and red dye and calling it hummingbird food. You can make it yourself. This article will teach you how to make hummingbird food. It’s quick, easy and fairly cheap too – it’s just sugar and water.

How to Make Hummingbird Food, It’s All About Ratios

feeding hummingbirdsIt’s all about the ratios. Hummingbirds like it sweet. The recipe amount should be based on what your birds consume in a day, not how big your feeder is…unless you like throwing your money away.

Just mix one part sugar with four parts water. You don’t need to boil it. You don’t need to microwave it. Just mix until the sugar dissolves and you’re good to go.

There are a number of people in our neighborhood who put out feeders each year. We all seem to only have one to three ruby throated hummingbird families in our yards as a result. I don’t think anyone has had more than 2 or 3 birds at their feeders at any given time.

Pay attention to how many birds you seem to have and how many frequent your feeder. If you have a big crowd, you might need to get several feeders and restock them several times a day. If, you only have a handful of birds, you may only need one or two smaller feeders.

In our house, we generally run a small feeder out front and another out back. We use a shot glass to measure the water and sugar. As, I said, you don’t need anything fancy, just keep the proportions.

How to Make Hummingbird Food for Fall Migration

As the weather gets colder, you’ll see your hummers eating more frequently – almost to the point of panic. They’re bulking up for their annual migration to Mexico. Some birds will actually double their weight for their 500-mile migratory flight across the Gulf of Mexico. During this time, you can help your feathered friends by making the sugar water sweeter by using a ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part sugar.

You’ll also need to watch the feeders more closely as they will be emptied out faster.

Hummingbird Food Can Go Sour

If you’re not careful, the sugar water can ferment. Living in the southeastern United States, it’s not uncommon to have 90-100 degree days. After sitting in the broiling sun all day, sugar water can ferment. The birds won’t eat it when that happens. We’ve found the easiest way to prevent fermentation and to keep the feeder clean is to fill them every day. Again, pay attention to how much they consume and make an amount they will generally consume in only a day’s time.

Hey, You! My Feeder’s Empty

Just as the hummers visit our windows to announce their arrival each spring, they let us know when their feeders are empty, sour or somehow inaccessible. It took us a while to figure out why they would suddenly appear at our windows. Who know like our furry pets, hummingbirds can beg for their supper?

Beautiful close-up of a hummingbird at a feeder courtesy of Cheryl Empey.

Droll Yankees PLB Perfect Little Brush

If you have hummingbird feeders, you have to get these! Nothing else cleans out the hummingbird feeder portals as good as these little brushes. They’re worth their weight in gold if you want to keep your feeders in tip-top condition and keep your little birdies happy.

They have also been added to Amazon’s Add-On program which means the price has come way down but you will have to spend at least $35 to purchase this item.

Sounds like the perfect excuse to buy a new book or bird feeder while you are there.

Perky-Pet Pinch-Waist Glass Hummingbird Feeder

hummingbird feeder

Buy the Perky-Pet Pinch-Waist Glass Hummingbird Feeder from someone you know – Amazon.

This seems to be the gold standard of hummingbird feeders. The one you’ll find most often in the stores. It’s also the number one-selling bird feeder, of any type, on Amazon.

It’s great if you get a number of resident hummingbirds in your yard but if you only attract a few territorial birds a season, you shouldn’t fill it each day, otherwise the sugar water might go rancid before the birds can eat it all. Try making a smaller amount and through trial and error you can figure out how much sugar water your hummingbirds will consume each day.

Do you feed hummingbirds?

I thought it would be fun to run a little, highly unscientific survey to find out how many people have backyard hummingbird feeders and if they do, how many and how many birds do you generally attract?

So far, the results are that 14 families put out feeders and 15 families do not. But of those that don’t, 3 live in apartments and 4 live in countries which don’t have hummingbirds. One person, who does not put out feeders, preferred to supply her birds with plenty of natural nectar sources instead.

Yes, we always put out hummingbird feeders. No, we don’t put out feeders.
I have a lot of feeders in my garden! But, where I live you will not find a hummingbird.

Sure do, and they get pretty upset if the nectar runs out. They will stalk me in the back garden. I have one feeder which holds about 16 ounces. I use organic sugar for the nectar, so it only lasts about a week.

I usually put one right outside my kitchen window. They are enjoyable to watch/

Yes, I have two at least, but this year (2013), I’m slow in getting them out and ready, hopefully they won’t have passed me by just yet!

I am waiting for the first visitor to my feeder. I love to watch them feed and has become a great time of interacting with wildlife right outside my door. Last year I sat between the feeders at my computer and listened to the frenzy. I live in NE PA. I have a lens with a video from last summer at feeding time.

OurHerbGarden replied:
We generally only get one at a time at our feeders as well. We opted to purchase smaller feeders. There’s less waste that way and we can set up more of them. Plus, They’re easier to clean which is always a plus.

Based on where they go when they leave the feeders, I think our birds are probably nesting in a neighbor’s yard. Ungrateful brats. lol

We had three main hummingbirds that fed from our feeder last year – they were lovely to watch and now, my son has given me a gorgeous hummingbird tattoo!

For the past two years, we have been putting out two feeders. This year, I bought one more feeder to place in a different area to see if we can attract a few more hummers to our yard. We see two or three around a feeder occasionally, but most of the time only one hummer at a time. That is why I am trying to put another feeder out, and plant a few more flowers that hummingbirds like. I hope to eventually attract a lot of hummers, and I would love to see a nest in our yard!

In summer we can get up to 20 or so of them. They are so pretty to watch flying around! I love to put out the feeders for them 🙂

OurHerbGarden replied:
Wow, I’m jealous. We’ve never had that many – at least that we could tell, they do tend to disappear from sight quickly. I don’t think I’ve ever saw more than 3 at one time at our feeders. Must be something to see a bunch of them all at once.

Heck yeah! I have a feeder right outside of my kitchen window and I get the same hummingbird only every.single.time!

We have several feeders in our yard.

We have three feeders and I make my own sugar water.

Yes I put them out all year long, we have many varieties since it stays warm in the winter here.

I Love this [article]. (had to keep that one, everyone loves those sorts of comments. :D)

On the front porch, actually, not the back yard. They’ve come around for years. I’ve even had them come to the windows and ask when their feeder had gotten empty.

OurHerbGarden replied:
I knew coming to the windows couldn’t be unique to our birds. It just amazes me that these teeny little guys are so clever to ask us humans for help.

Thanks for stopping by and your comment.

I do not have hummingbirds here, but I have other birds and plenty of feeders.

I live in an apartment in south Florida and haven’t seen a hummingbird here since I moved in 2004 from Pennsylvania. Up home, on the other hand, my family and my grandparents always had multiple feeders out and enjoyed the hummingbirds frequently. I’ll be relocating soon, and plan to put my sugar water back out 😀

OurHerbGarden replied:
We used to live in the eastern part of North Carolina. While living in an apartment, I didn’t see a lot of hummingbirds either. But, I did enjoy seeing the far bigger cousins – herons and pelicans. It was always exciting to be driving along and spot a great blue in a drainage ditch, creek or pond.

I’ve been looking forward to our friends’ return this year. Writing this lens has me really anxious to see them at the windows.

Thanks for visiting and the positive feedback.

I would love to put out feeders, but in my case, I don’t think it’s practical. There are other people who do, and I go to their houses to enjoy their birds.

We live in an apartment, difficult to put it here.

I would love to have one, but I’m in an apartment 🙁

I don’t have any hummingbird feeders because I live in an apartment, but my grandparents have one at their place.

In Cuba, we have the smallest one (I believe). It’s called “zunzun” or “colibri”. Great article, by the way.

OurHerbGarden replied:
Thank you for the visit. I looked up the Zunzuncito hummingbird on Wikipedia. They are so beautiful. How lucky you are to have them. I can’t imagine a bird that’s only 2 inches long. Must be hard to spot them.

humming bird is very rare in my country. Even if there are usually to be maintained, and even then they were very expensive.

OurHerbGarden replied:
People keep them as pets? Oh how sad. These birds are meant to fly and be free.

Nope, I never tried it yet.

Don’t have hummingbirds in Scotland, but would love to see one. Some day I will see a wee hummingbird, I hope, as I have wanted to for over 30 years. lol

OurHerbGarden replied:
Hummingbirds are the coolest birds. Too bad they don’t visit Scotland. Based on the comments I’ve been seeing, I guess they are primarily in Central America, Mexico and the United States. I didn’t research much beyond the ones we have locally in North Carolina.

Scotland looks like such a beautiful place full of so much history. It’s on my Bucket List to visit there but it looks doubtful it will get checked off anytime soon. 🙁

No I don’t, even though I have a feeder. I have wasps and am afraid I will just feed them like your problem with the hornets.

OurHerbGarden replied:
That’s a shame. Maybe you could research about the wasps that you have and see if you could provide them an alternative to the hummingbird feeders. While I hate the idea of feeding nasty insects, I like the idea of providing a safe feeding station for the hummers better.

There are no humming birds here in the UK. If there were, I would love to feed them. I’ve seen them in my time in Jamaica and they are lovely.

we don’t have hummingbirds over here but we do have birds that stay for winter and need food to survive

We used to!

We also look at the return of our hummingbird family to know spring is truly here in Northern Arizona. Lovely article!

OurHerbGarden replied:
Thank you for visiting and the positive feedback. Arizona must have a lot of hummingbirds visit each year. Several folks from there have mentioned that they enjoy the birds’ annual visits.

I don’t have a feeder. Would love to, but the ants invade them.

OurHerbGarden replied:
They make all sorts of things to fight off the ants. Greasing up the post with Vaseline seems to work fairly good.

It seems for us that if the feeders drip at all, that’s when the ants find them. Ours is on our back deck. If any dripped on the railing, usually when we hung out a new one, we would throw some water on it to wash it away. Seems to help keep them from finding it in the first place.

Yes, I feed them by planting the flowers they love. They love fushias, montbretia (especially “Lucifer”), paul’s scarlet hawthorn, the Trumpet vine, and basically anything with red or orange tubular flowers.

You are welcome to leave your comments, join the survey or just say hi.

About this post…

This article is the second of a three-part series of articles on our backyard ruby throated hummingbirds. This one covers How to Make Hummingbird Food. The other articles are ruby throated hummingbirds in North Carolina and How to Keep Bees Away From Hummingbird Feeders. They were originally published as a single, comprehensive piece on a community-driven website in the spring of 2013. Like much of the web, things change and we have to adapt. So, I’ve moved the information to along with many of the wonderful comments and conversation that occurred on the other website.

11 thoughts on “How to Make Hummingbird Food”

  1. Nice article! Our hummingbirds are just now returning to the feeders in numbers… sometimes there are 8-10 of them crowding around, especially near dusk. And yes, they definitely DO let us know when a feeder is empty… circling the house and sometimes hovering outside my office window, which is downstairs near their favorite place.

    1. 8-10 at a time? Must be a sight to see. We’ve never had that many, even when living in a warmer part of North Carolina. Don’t they fight? Maybe with so many they realize the futility of trying to claim the feeder for themselves. lol Ours seem more intent on chasing each other than actually getting a drink.

      I can imagine with such a large brood, your feeders get emptied fairly quickly. You must spend quite a bit of time tending to your feeders and making sugar water.

      It’s been so cool to hear from so many other folks who enjoy hummingbirds and communicate with them too. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments!

  2. Ours seem to be kind of shy, but we have a feeder hanging on our porch that they will visit even if we are sitting outside on the porch. They have never come really close to us though. I hope to attract more this year, and I would love to see a nest up close.

  3. Ours come to feed from the flowers on our succulents. They are very shy but it is wonderful to be able to watch them. Lovely article btw 🙂

    1. Ours don’t seem to be shy at all. They’ll often buzz around our heads if we are standing anywhere near the feeders. I’ve even had one fly right and to my face and just hover there looking at me – way cool experience.

  4. What perfect timing, I just moved a feeder under the trees as it’s very hot in my area. I didn’t know however that the food would go bad, so thank you. Now, I will wait to see how to keep the bees away, and how about ants. I can’t believe they find their way to any feeder I put out.

  5. The return of the hummingbirds every May is cause for celebration in my house. At the first buzz we hear, we put out the feeders, pour a glass of wine on the porch and enjoy the show!

  6. my hummingbirds used to leave before winter and retrurn in summer. 2016 they stopped leaving and stay here all year around every year. when weather freezes i have to take the feeders down at dark and put them back up at sunrise to precvent the necter from fereezing. anyone know what that is about?

  7. I’m in Bear Valley Springs California at 5,550 feet. I put out two 24oz feeders with a 4:1 water sugar mix. We have dozens of birds. Have to refill every other day. They are not afraid. Had to fight one the other day for my cup of tea.

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