Hummingbird nectar is very close in composition to the pure natural nectar hummers harvest from flowers. Sugar is their natural diet. Hummingbirds also eat insects for protein. The only caution about using hummingbird nectar is that you must mix the proper solution and clean and maintain your hummingbird feeder. Although these two tasks are small, they must be done with responsibility.
Change the hummingbird nectar every 3-5 days, and every 2 days in hot weather or direct sunlight. If you do not, the solution will begin to ferment. You know it is far past the right time if the nectar has turned cloudy. Throw away the unused nectar and clean the feeder every time you change the solution. If the solution ferments-then you have a mess that has to be scrubbed and sterilized. Hummingbirds will avoid fermented nectar and if they are not smart enough to avoid it, it can kill them. If they get a taste of bad nectar it will warn them away from your feeder and it will be a long time before they trust your feeder again.
We sell Songbird Essentials nectar. It comes as a powder that you mix a heaping teaspoon with 2 ounces of water, stir till dissolved and pour into your clean feeder. No boiling needed. It has no artificial sweeteners. A package makes 48 ounces and comes in a zip-lock bag priced at $2.49.
If you make your own nectar you mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Boil the sugar mix for two minutes (cover the pot so that evaporation does not change the concentration) and then cool before letting the hummingbirds drink. Boiling helps to prevent fermentation so you can feel confident that your food will last a few days. Refrigerate the unused hummingbird nectar – good for one week, date the container and err on the side of caution or make it fresh each time. White sugar and beet sugar have been tested and are equally good. They have no significant difference in nutritional value and the minor difference in mineral content has no consequence.
Hang your feeder in the shade to retard fermentation but take immediate precautions against ants. We carry two forms of ant traps, one you fill with water and hang your feeder underneath the trap. Ants cannot swim so they cannot cross the water to get to the nectar. The second form of ant trap contains permethrin inside a protective disk that repels ants being maintenance free and lasts all season.
Never use a microwave to heat your sugar solution. Microwaves heat the sugars hotter than boiling water, and this breaks down the molecules – no longer suitable as hummingbird food. No food coloring. Food coloring is a chemical that has little effect on humans because of our size. These birds are small and they drink the equivalent of 300 lbs. of human food every day. The dyes in food colorings coat the tongue and make it hard for them to drink – which is starvation to a hummer. Instead of dyes in the food you can help attract the hummers adding a shade/rain guard. We carry several different varieties. Besides shading your feeder, it keeps rain from diluting your sugar solution and also adds a big pop of red color.
Honey is bad for hummingbirds and kills the birds by causing a ghastly tongue disease. Artificial sweeteners have no food value, hummingbirds need real sugar. Too much sugar does not match the natural concentration found in flowers. We have heard stories of people competing with their neighbors and they use more sugar because they want to have the feeder with the most hummers. It is the proportion of sugar to liquid in every sip that keeps the hummers healthy. A false concentration of too much sugar may cause liver and reproductive problems. Too little will starve them. Actually, hummingbirds are too smart to starve and will simply scorn your feeder. Our songbird essentials nectar (see above in “do” section) is sucrose. It is safe and does not contain preservatives. Do not use commercial premixes with preservatives, this is bad for the birds and is vulnerable to bacterial and fungal growths.
If you are going to attract hummingbirds (or birds of any kind) to your garden, Do not use pesticides. Pesticides and chemicals accumulate very rapidly in a hummingbirds system because of the high volume of liquids they drink. They are too small to fight the effect so please take care.
There are two basic styles of hummingbird feeders and each has advantages. Our favorite and the one we use at home: Saucer shaped feeders like our Aspects HummZingers have the advantage of not dripping. They are two pieces and very easy to open, clean and fill. They have a built in ant trap. The saucer style is less affected by the wind. Aspects HummZingers have a polycarbonate bowl and cover with solid brass hanging rod that won’t rust. They come in three sizes, 8, 12, and 16 ounce. We also have nectar guard tips that fit the feeding ports to prevent bees, wasp, and other flying insects from contaminating the nectar.
Vacuum style feeders (inverted bottle feeders) like our Best-1 feeders available in an 8 or 32 ounce feeder. Also, our Perky Pet feeders available in 8 or 30 ounce size. These feeders are more vulnerable to dripping and sloshing from the wind and also because air pressure and temperature changes (night to day) act like a pump upon the fluids and force the liquid out the ports. They all have glass bottles which is easy to clean in hot water. Our 8 ounce Perky Pet comes with bee guards.
Your hummingbird feeder must be thoroughly cleaned every few days so simple assembly and access is important. You need to be able to take apart the reservoir and flower ports to clean them. We carry an assortment of quality cleaning brushes for various types of feeders. An important question to ask yourself in choosing a feeder is “How easy is it to take apart and put back together?” Our Parasol feeders our made of recycled glass (we also use these at home) are beautiful garden art feeders and the hummingbirds love them. They come in a variety of styles and colors like red, clear, green, blue and aqua. The feeder ports are red glass flowers which attract the birds. We also carry Holland Hill test tube feeders held by copper perches with red port caps. These are also available as window feeders.
Hummingbirds are attracted to red glass. Red glass is impregnated with gold and actually emits an ultra violet light frequency. It was discovered that hummingbirds see light and color in a range that we do not. When a flower is “ripe” with nectar, it will actually glow and shimmer in patterns of ultra violet light, thereby attracting the hummingbird to it. We used to think that hummingbirds preferred red food and so we dyed the nectar red. Now we know that food dyes are bad and unnecessary because hummingbirds have such good memories. The color that first captures their attention is red – but then they test to see if the red is rich in sugar. As soon as they know that the sugar has the right concentration, then they no longer care about the color. They remember the location of a quality source. Tests show that you can switch the feeder color from red to blue and they will remain loyal and the bird will respond by seeking out blue flowers because it has learned that blue gives quality sugar. A feeder can be absolutely clear in color with only a spot of red at the nectar port. Red is preferable at the nectar port because of the very first attraction and also because insects are not attracted to red so, red keeps bugs away. Bees, in particular, are attracted to yellow so, if you have problems with bees and wasps, you should avoid feeders with yellow ports.
We recommend hot water only and cleaning every time you change your nectar. Dish soap and other cleaners are designed to leave a coating on the surface to cause a “sheeting” of the water. This is bad for vacuum style feeders because they rely upon water surface tension to function. Some sources will suggest a bleach or vinegar solution or sand mixed with saltwater for scrubbing, then soak in hot water, and always thoroughly rinse.
First, choose a site that is higher and farther than a cat can jump. Shade is best. Hang your feeder in the same location year after year. The hummingbirds have superior memories and will hunt and expect food in the same location. It is important to have your feeder up when the birds arrive in the spring. If a scout comes and inspects your garden and does not find food, he and others may not stay. If a male hummingbird comes and claims a feeder, you may want to promptly hang another to provide a territory for the next male. You’ll know a male has claimed your feeder because he will chase everyone else away. Females will follow a male who has a territory. It is better to have more than one feeder. Hummingbirds do not like to share. They are naturally territorial and will fight over the feeder, no matter how much food you give them. The best tactic is to hang another feeder far enough away so that feeding hummingbirds cannot see each other. Three feeders seem to be a good number of feeders to have.
If they find you, they can be relentless. Keep your hummingbird feeder clean and drip free. If you reduce the sweetness of the nectar, the bees will eventually leave. Bees require high levels of sugar in their diet. Using 5 parts water to 1 part sugar is just enough to keep the hummers happy and to make the bees go somewhere else. Bees/wasp are attracted to yellow-remove all yellow from feeder.
There are special feeders designed for orioles with larger feeding ports. These are easier for the Orioles to feed from. Buy them one and they will leave the hummingbird feeder alone. We carry several styles like the Audubon Oriole feeder that you can also feed jelly on.