I love hummingbirds. They are beautiful to look at, a joy to watch and easy to attract and feed. Gardening for hummingbirds is a popular hobby (see one of my articles on the subject here) but all you really need to attract and feed hummingbirds is sugar water (i.e. nectar) and some sort of feeder in which to serve it.
Let me repeat that: All you need to attract and feed hummingbirds is sugar, water and a feeder.
You do not need to purchase special colored powders to make hummingbird nectar, nor do you need to add red food coloring to your basic sugar water nectar. All you need to do is whip up a batch of the easy recipe for hummingbird nectar below.
Hummingbird Nectar Recipe
Combine one cup of boiling water with one quarter cup of granulated sugar. Mix well.
That’s it? Really?
Unless you have particularly polluted water in your area, you do not need to boil the sugar and water together for any set period of time. If you worry about water quality in your area, use filtered water to make your hummingbird nectar.
The hummingbird nectar recipe may be doubled, tripled, even quadrupled if you like.
The rest is common sense. Use clean utensils and containers, stir well to make sure all the sugar is dissolved, and refrigerate unused hummingbird nectar to prevent spoilage.
I know it’s tempting, but don’t use honey in your hummingbird nectar. Aside from being a pain to dissolve, honey contains bacteria that could harm our little humming friends. Think of it this way: if hummingbirds really wanted to snack on some honey, they would be hanging around beehives instead of swarming around your backyard feeders.
You do not need to use fancy “natural” sugars, either. Believe it or not, plain white granulated sugar makes a nectar closest to the nectar found in hummingbirds’ favorite flowers.
Do not use artificial sweeteners to make hummingbird nectar. Sweet-n-Low and Equal have no nutritional value. Neither do Splenda and Stevia. Hummingbirds need sugar for energy, and have amazingly high metabolisms. Hummingbirds never need to join Weight Watchers or sign up with Jenny Craig.
Sometimes I up the sugar content during the hummingbird migrations in the Spring and Fall. I would not increase the ratio more than 3:1, however.
A word about food coloring.
Seriously. Do not use food coloring in your hummingbird nectar. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, it’s true, but what keeps them around long enough to feed is the taste of your fresh, superior quality nectar.
You know, the all natural, homemade sugar water that I just gave you the recipe for above. The hummingbird nectar that does not contain food coloring.
I have heard what I am sure are well meaning people– not to mention the irresponsible companies who sell nectar loaded with red dye– argue that there is no proof that red food coloring harms hummingbirds. Well, I have a counter argument for those folks, and it’s pretty persuasive: we do not have any evidence that it doesn’t harm hummingbirds.
Would you feed your baby something loaded with red dye just because it’s pretty? Of course not. Babies are small, and even stuff that’s safe for adults might be too much for a baby to handle. Aside from the fact that they are not even human, think about how tiny a hummingbird is; an adult ruby throated hummingbird weighs less than a nickle.
Now factor in the fact that water and sugar is a lot cheaper than buying pre-mixed red hummingbird nectar or that powdered stuff that you’re instructed to mix with water anyway. Think about how red food coloring stains your clothes and fingers and counter tops.
Still want to add red food coloring to your hummingbird nectar?
I hope not.
Attracting hummingbirds to your feeder.
Standard hummingbird feeders usually have enough red on them to get the attention of any hummingbird that happens to pass by. Think about plants known for attracting hummingbirds: the flower tends to be red (but not all of them are!) and the rest of the plant is green. If you’re worried about your feeders not being red enough to attract attention, try tying a red ribbon near the feeder.
If you are buying a new feeder, choose one that has a decent amount of red on it.
It’s more important for your hummingbird feeder to be clean and the nectar fresh. The red gets their attention, but it’s the taste of the nectar itself that keeps them coming back for more.
Cleaning and maintaining your hummingbird feeder.
Change the nectar in your hummingbird feeder often. In the heat of the summer, I change it every day. I don’t worry about wasting nectar, either: I only put in a few ounces of sugar water at a time. Just because a feeder holds two cups of nectar, there is no reason to fill it all the way up every time.
The easiest way to keep a hummingbird feeder clean is to not let it get dirty in the first place. By changing the nectar frequently, all you need to do is rinse it well with hot water every time you change the nectar. I keep a spray bottle full of vinegar under the sink and spritz my feeders every so often, making sure to rinse well afterward.
Every so often, run those hummingbird feeders that can handle it through the dish washer. Once or twice a year, or if mold does develop inside the feeder, soak your hummingbird feeders in a sink full of hot water with a splash or two of bleach. Just make sure to rinse them well afterward.
Sources and Resources.