What Is the Best Sugar Water Recipe for Hummingbirds?

By Roxy FavrettoLast Updated September 3, 2020
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It’s fun to watch hummingbirds hover around a feeder — the vibrant colors and unique motions of these mesmerizing birds add beauty and interest to your garden. For a long time, people typically bought premade hummingbird nectar to put in their feeders, but we’ve learned that it’s healthier for the birds, easier for you and less expensive all around to make your own.

If you look for a hummingbird nectar recipe, you’ll find simple mixes in different places — from bird-watching organizations to recipe sites to sugar companies — but the general ratio of ingredients is typically the same. It’s easy, effective and made with things you probably already have in your kitchen cabinet.

Making Your Own Simple Nectar

To make your own nectar for a hummingbird feeder, mix four parts water to one part sugar. Some websites recommend making small quantities of just a quarter-cup of sugar to a cup of water, while others suggest making larger quantities. Smaller quantities will work well if you have a small feeder, but you can also put leftover mixture in your refrigerator or make more if you have multiple feeders around your home’s exterior.

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Most, though not all, nectar recipes call for boiling the water before adding the sugar. Heating up the water not only helps the sugar dissolve better, but it also kills off of any harmful bacteria that may be present. After adding the sugar to the hot water, remove the sugar water from the heat so it doesn't start to caramelize. Stir the solution gently. Let it cool completely before adding it to your feeders.

What’s Wrong With Red Dye in Commercial Hummingbird Feed?

Hummingbirds' eyes are sensitive to colors like red and yellow, and they don't see blue tones that well. Because of this, manufacturers often add red dye to their bottles of nectar. Plus, the red liquid also looks more enticing on shelves than clear liquid does — and hides the fact that it's mostly sugar water. Sometimes premade nectar comes as a concentrate that calls for adding water, while other times it’s a straight mix that you can pour directly into a feeder.

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Red dye isn’t necessary, however. If you choose a feeder with red accents, hummingbirds will find their way to it, and the red dye doesn’t add nutritional value. Even if your feeder doesn't have any red on it, it's likely that hummingbirds will eventually find it and start eating from it. While some of the claims of the harm that red dye can do to hummingbirds may be overblown, the greatest danger comes in how much of the dye a hummingbird consumes as they zip from feeder to feeder.

Where Should You Place Your Hummingbird Feeder?

Now that you know how to make an easy and affordable hummingbird nectar, you may be eager to place feeders all over your yard. But where should you position feeding stations to best lure and look at these bitty birds?

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You should place feeders within 10 or so feet of tree cover. Hummingbirds like to stay out of the sun and rest when they’re not feeding, so a feeder near a place of safety for them is attractive. It’s important to position your feeder where hummingbirds can spot it as they travel, too. This way, the feeder will attract new hummingbirds. More is better when it comes to feeders, as hummingbirds, especially the males, are quite territorial. If possible, install some feeders where you can see them easily so you can enjoy watching the birds zip around.

Don’t Let Your Hummingbird Feed Go Bad

Proper care of your feeder will ensure that hummingbirds keep coming back day after day and year after year. The feeder can grow mold if you don’t keep it clean, so cleaning it out properly makes it healthier and more attractive to hummingbirds.

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The most common mistake that people make is to wait until their feeder is empty to add more feed. When the weather is warm, the nectar can ferment easily, which means that hummingbirds won’t visit. In the summertime, you should clean out your feeder and fill it with new nectar every two or three days; in cooler times of year, you can replace your feed about once a week. Soak the feeder in a solution of soap and hot water to loosen any residue, and be sure to rinse it well before refilling it.

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