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How to Start Feeding Hummingbirds
How to Start Feeding Hummingbirds

Maintaining a hummingbird feeder is easier and less expensive than maintaining a typical feeder for seed-eating birds. Once you've made the initial investment in a quality hummingbird feeder, all you have to do is learn how to make hummingbird food.

Lively, jewel-colored hummingbirds naturally fascinate and delight us. Luckily, it's easy to attract these tiny birds to your garden with a simple hummingbird feeder.

01

What Kind of Hummingbirds Live in My Region?

Roufus hummingbird flower OBXbchcmbr / Getty Images

Before you can start attracting hummingbirds to your garden, you need to find out when hummingbirds migrate to your area.

In the United States, most hummingbirds arrive in the spring migration to breed. Ruby-throated hummingbirds will spend the summer on the east coast and in the mid-Atlantic states, while black-chinned hummingbirds summer in western states. Roufus hummingbirds can be seen during the summer months in the Pacific Northwest. Broad-tailed hummingbirds are occasionally spotted in the Great Plains states, as well as the Rocky Mountains.

Some regions of the United States enjoy hummingbirds year-round. Anna's hummingbirds are permanent residents along the Pacific coast, while Allen's and Costa's hummingbirds live year-round in southern California.

02

What Kind of Hummingbird Feeder Should I Buy?

black-chinned hummingbird feeder jgareri / Getty Images

Making hummingbird food is inexpensive, but don't skimp on your hummingbird feeder. The best feeder will include:

  • Sturdy construction
  • The right number of ports
  • An ant moat

Some hummingbird feeders on the market are made from flimsy plastic, metal, or glass. These materials aren't the best choice for hummingbird feeders. Instead, look for a feeder made with hard plastic.

The size of the feeder is also important to consider. Bigger isn't necessarily better. Keep it simple and pick one with no more than four or six feeding ports.

One of the big challenges people face when they begin feeding hummingbirds is insect invasions. A built-in ant moat will keep crawling insects from accessing the nectar.

03

What Ingredients Do I Need to Make Hummingbird Food?

sugar measuring cup MichellePatrickPhotographyLLC / Getty Images

Hummingbird food can be made at home with regular, white sugar and tap water. That's it! These are the ingredients you don't need:

  • Red dye
  • Honey, brown sugar, or sugar substitute

Some people believe that red dye will attract more hummingbirds. However, the dye is unnecessary, and the chemicals in it can harm the birds.

In addition to skipping the red dye, remember that you must never use any alternative sweetener in your nectar. Always use simple, plain sugar: the same type you use when baking.

Honey can encourage fungal growth and kill the birds. Brown sugar has molasses, which is not a natural part of a hummingbird's diet. Finally, sugar substitute provides no nutrition for the birds, and its chemical content can seriously harm them.

Some people prefer using distilled or filtered water over tap water. Either is fine. Other than water, white sugar is all you need!

04

What Recipe Should I Follow to Make Hummingbird Food?

spoon pouring sugar sframephoto / Getty Images

The basic hummingbird food recipe is simple: one part sugar to four parts water. This combination will create the same balance of calories and hydration found in natural flower nectar.

One cup of nectar will fill most four-port hummingbird feeders. Since the nectar will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, it's a good idea to make more than one cup at a time.

To make a week's worth of hummingbird food, fill a 2 cup glass measuring cup with water. Microwave it for approximately six minutes, or just to boiling. Remove the water and slowly pour in 1/2 cup of sugar. Stir and allow the sugar to dissolve. When the nectar has cooled completely, you can refill the feeder or set the nectar aside in the fridge.

05

How Often Should I Refill My Hummingbird Feeder?

hummingbird nectar feeder rkhphoto / Getty Images

On average, try to refill your feeder twice a week. Keeping the feeder clean and full is very important if you want hummingbirds to stick around your yard.

To be sure you don't forget to fill the feeder, choose two days each week and a time that's convenient for you. Set a regular reminder in your phone or mark your calendar so that you don't forget.

Keep in mind that when the weather averages over 75 degrees, you will need to change the nectar more frequently. During hot weather, plan to clean and refill the feeder every other day.

06

How Should I Clean My Hummingbird Feeder?

yellow flower hummingbird feeder Darwin Brandis / Getty Images

When you buy your feeder, read the packaging for its recommended cleaning methods. Some feeders can be washed in the dishwasher; others must be washed by hand with dish soap and warm water.

Sugar water attracts mildew, so each time you refill your feeder, check the feeding ports for mildew. You can purchase tiny brushes to clean the feeding ports or use a pipe cleaner to scrub inside.

If you refill your feeder twice a week, you can wash the feeder one day and simply rinse it with warm water the other day. Be sure to check for mildew or bird droppings each time.

07

Why Haven’t Any Hummingbirds Come to My Feeder?

yard without flowers tomprout / Getty Images

It's easy to feel discouraged when you purchase a hummingbird feeder, keep it filled with fresh food, and still never see a hummingbird enjoying it. However, don't take it personally! Remain persistent about cleaning and filling the feeder; with time, a bird is likely to adopt it. Some reasons why you aren't seeing birds at your feeder yet include:

  • Migration and breeding season has passed
  • Hummingbirds simply haven't found the feeder yet
  • Bees or other insects have invaded the feeder
  • The feeder is located too close to a seed feeder
  • The feeder needs to be cleaned and filled more frequently
  • Landscaping lacks hummingbird-friendly plants
08

What Can I Do About Bees and Ants in the Feeder?

bees hummingbird feeder LynGianni / Getty Images

By far, the biggest challenge in maintaining a healthy hummingbird feeder is dealing with bees and other insects that are attracted to sugar water.

Even though insects can be a challenge to hummingbird feeding, you must never use insecticide or other chemicals to kill them. Always select natural, chemical-free methods.

Crawling insects are easily dealt with by a device called an ant moat; it's easy to purchase one or make your own.

If bees and wasps are using the feeder, you must purchase nectar guard tips so they can't access the food. If your feeder hangs in direct light, move it to a shadier place. And always clean up any spilled nectar that might attract these insects.

09

What Are Some Other Ways to Attract Hummingbirds to My Yard?

Swallow tailed hummingbird at the feeder

While hummingbird feeders are the obvious way to attract these tiny birds to your garden, other methods can help draw them in, especially during the migration season.

Whenever possible, try to plant hummingbird-friendly plants. If you have a yard, select bee balm, trumpet vine, butterfly bush, and similar plants with brightly colored, trumpet-shaped flowers.

If you live in an apartment or can't plant a garden, you can also attract hummingbirds by placing red objects near the feeder. A few large, bright red ribbons tied on a porch railing will announce to hummingbirds overhead that food can be located nearby. Just be sure your feeder is near the red decorations; don't make your feathery visitors search too far for their meal.

10

What Do I Need to Know About Hummingbird Behavior?

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

When hummingbirds begin arriving at your feeder, you'll quickly notice that these tiny, supposedly harmless birds are fearless and will engage in battle with one another.

Don't be distressed if you see hummingbirds chasing each other. This is natural behavior. In fact, Ruby-Throated hummingbirds are so territorial that if you live in the eastern part of the United States, you're unlikely to see more than one hummingbird at your feeder at a time.

If you take the time to sit a short distance from your feeder and watch your hummingbirds, they may occasionally hover near you and check you out. As they become used to your presence, you can move your chair closer to the feeder. This will offer you the joy of watching these lively creatures up close and take pride in your hummingbird feeding.

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