Feeding Hummingbirds

hummingbird

May 11 is World Migratory Bird Day, and since I love to feed backyard birds, I could not let this day pass without talking about it!  My hairstylist, the fabulous Jenny, was asking me about feeding hummingbirds so Jenny, this is for you!

Hummingbirds are the most amazing little creatures.  And when I say little, I mean TINY.  The average ruby-throated hummingbird (the species seen in my backyard) weighs 3 grams.  By comparison, a nickel weighs 4.5 grams. Just absorb that for a minute.

A hummingbird’s wings flutter in a figure 8 pattern between 50 and 200 rotations per second, which is what produces the characteristic humming noise that inspired their name. All this activity means they are almost constantly eating; the typical hummingbird feeds 5 to 8 times per hour.

This continual need for food can be a real opportunity – if you provide a reliable food source they will visit your feeders again and again. And in subsequent years, they will come back to those same locations and look for those same feeders! (And they say elephants have good memories!)

Over the years, I have collected an embarrassingly large array of hummingbird feeders. I will show you (most of) them.

The first two are what I consider the classic style of hummingbird feeder – usually a long vertical tube with feeder ports at the bottom.

Sometimes these feeders have a lot of pieces, so before you buy make sure you understand how easy/difficult it is to take apart for cleaning.  Hummingbirds are very particular about the cleanliness of their feeders

I also have this very stylish looking feeder – I love how classy and almost artistic it looks. Unfortunately, the hummers don’t share my enthusiasm as I have never seen a hummingbird drink from this feeder! Fortunately, it still comes in handy. Removing the red lid, I now use it as a nice big cup to hold grape jelly for orioles!

Next, these cute flower feeders: I just started using them last year. I was skeptical about them, but they were so darn cute I figured I’d give them a try. The birds took right to them, so I bought another (the purple one) this year to add to the collection.

I also bought this suction cup mounted window version of the flowers, which I’ll try this year.

But what always amazes me is this feeder. I have had this for at least 20 years, and it shows. The red is faded, one of the perches has broken off, and I had to replace the yellow flowers last year, but this feeder is a perennial favorite. If I could find this for sale somewhere I swear I would buy ten. And believe me, I have looked. Hard.

That feeder is the one that I relocated last year. I had always attached it to my kitchen’s big picture window. Last year, I decided to attached it to a different window, in the TV room, since we spend more time there than at the kitchen table.  Well, the hummers did come to that feeder but they also regularly flew over to the kitchen window, where the feeder was previously mounted. That’s why I bought the new purple window feeder – this year, there will be a feeder at BOTH windows.

In addition to your feeder, you probably want to plan for an ant guard.  Just like with the feeders, I have tried multiple types of ant guards; all have their strengths and weaknesses.

First, there are these little copper ant guards. I really love the look of these; they have a nice simple design. However, I find the size to be lacking. The “moat” or area that holds the water is so small, it only holds about a thimble full of water, which evaporates in no time in summer. So unless you want to check and fill these every day, you might want to find something with a bigger capacity.

This next guard works very well and is affordable. It holds over a half cup of water which is probably as big as you will find.


I have to admit, my favorite ant guard is this inverted parasol. It’s just too cute! It holds a little less water than the red guard, about 1/3 of a cup, but the cuteness makes up for that! It costs a lot more than the red ant guards: when I purchased, I was able to buy 3 red guards for the same price as one of the parasols, which is why I still use both.

The two most important factors in feeding hummingbirds are cleanliness and – cleanliness. Yes, I know, I repeated.  But that’s how picky these birds are.  You are putting out sugar water and trying to emulate nectar, so if your feeder gets grungy or your nectar gets old, the birds will reject it and stop visiting your feeders.

When the season starts, I usually leave the nectar in the feeders for up to a week, but once it gets warmer that gets risky, so by June I try to refresh the nectar every 3-4 days. Since I have multiple feeders I will do half of the feeders one day and then the rest a couple days later – that way, I always have some feeders that are fresher than others, and if I see the birds avoiding certain feeders I assume the nectar is getting funky and I need to refresh the food more often.

Because of this, I never completely fill those larger feeders. I never get so many birds that they empty the feeders, and I will be dumping the contents and re-filling in 3-4 days, so why would I fill them all the way? Doesn’t seem logical. Which is another reason I have started buying the little flower feeders.

Here is my basic recipe for hummingbird food: I take a 2-cup measuring cup and measure ½ cup of sugar into it. I then add water to fill it to the 2-cup mark. Stir to dissolve. Some people tell you to heat this in a pan, but if you just let this sit for about 5 to 10 minutes the sugar will dissolve just fine. That’s all you need – no food coloring or anything else, just sugar and water.

Every year I take a plastic water bottle and mark it for hummingbird food. Once the food is made I pour it into this bottle and store it in the frig. When I want to fill my feeders, I first mix up a fresh batch of food in the measuring cup and let it sit while I empty, rinse out, and re-fill the feeders using the saved nectar in the frig.  By the time I am done, the sugar is dissolved so I can re-fill the bottle and have it ready for the next time.

When I checked the hummingbird migration maps on May 3, hummingbirds had already migrated to this area. Even though I hadn’t seen any hummingbirds yet, I put the first few feeders out that day and waited to see who would show up.  To my delight, I saw my first hummingbird 3 days later. So of course, all the rest of the feeders had to be put out right away!

The first visitor seemed to know right where to find the food, so I think I am seeing at least one repeat customer. Here are some pictures of my past visitors!  I just love these little guys!

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4 thoughts on “Feeding Hummingbirds

  1. Wow, you sure do love hummingbirds! I had no idea! 🙂 This is a great post though. Hummingbirds are so cool and adorable! Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Sula. And lay off the hummingbird feeders, okay? I think you have enough… 😉

  2. Love, love, LOVE this!!! Not only the practicality of making and storing the food, alternating which feeders to fill, but the vast array of options for feeders, ant guards, etc. Sula, you are an amazing resource, thank you! My hummingbirds await! Also, I’m so honored to receive special mention in a post!!! 😃

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