How to Make Perfect Hummingbird Food

By: Andrea Pisani Babich How to

You can find hummingbirds in the western hemisphere from south Alaska to south Chile—and likely in your backyard, given the right habitat and conditions. You can boost your chances of watching these high-energy birds by providing an attractive environment.

The hummingbird diet consists largely of energy-rich sugars from sources like tree sap, pollen, insects, nectar, and juice from overripe fruits. You can attract hummers to your yard or patio by providing a sugar water solution in a brightly colored feeder.


  • White cane sugar
  • Boiling water

Making the hummingbird food solution

  1. Mix 1 part white cane sugar with 4 parts boiling tap water. Tap water is better than distilled, which lacks minerals that hummers need.
  2. Stir vigorously to dissolve the sugar and to delay fermentation.
  3. Allow solution to cool completely before filling feeders. Note that nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Don’t add red coloring to hummingbird food, as edible dyes can be harmful to hummers. These birds are attracted to the color red, but this can be satisfied by choosing a red feeder.

Left Inverted bottle feeder

Right Basin feeder

How to choose a hummingbird feeder

Feeders come in two basic styles, and both work for hummers, so the choice is up to you. You’ll attract more hummingbirds if you choose a red feeder, but avoid yellow decorations or embellishments, which can attract bees and wasps.

1. Inverted bottle feeder

A nectar reservoir sits atop a base with one or more feeding stations.

2. Basin feeder

Easier to fill and clean than the inverted-bottle type, this type feeder consists of a shallow basin covered with a lid.

Cleaning your hummingbird feeder

In order to keep your feeder attractive to your hummers, clean and refill the feeder with fresh hummingbird food as least once a week. Cloudy nectar means spoiled nectar, so discard the nectar and clean the feeder weekly.

  • Each time you clean your feeder, discard any remaining nectar and rinse the reservoir with hot tap water. Use a bottle brush for an inverted-bottle feeder and a clean sponge for a basin feeder.
  • Don’t use soap when cleaning your hummingbird feeder—it can leave a residue that’s foul-tasting to the hummers.
  • Once a month, soak the hummingbird feeder in a solution of ¼ cup of full-strength white vinegar and 1 gallon of water. Scrub with a brush and rinse thoroughly with clean hot water.
  • If your feeder has collected black mold, use the vinegar and water solution to eliminate this problem.

Hummingbird migration and feeding times

If you live in the Western Hemisphere between southeastern Alaska and Chile, you’ve probably caught glimpses of hummingbirds flitting around your garden, furtively dipping their long beaks into your columbines, impatiens, and petunias. Some regions of the United States are lucky enough to have hummingbirds in residence year round while other regions serve as fueling stations on hummingbird migration routes.

To see when you can expect hummingbirds in your region, consult the guide to hummingbird seasons by region of the United States and a hummingbird migration table. Hang your feeders about two weeks ahead of schedule to welcome the early birds.

Eastern United States

Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winter in Mexico and arrive in southern states in early March and northeastern states by late April and early May.

Southeastern United States

The southern coast of Florida is home to several species of hummingbirds year round. Even in coastal regions of Texas and Louisiana, hummingbirds will appear as early as late winter and early spring.

Western Mountain region

A variety of hummingbirds begin to arrive near the Mexican border from the south in early March, working their way north to the northern Rockies by mid-May.

Southwestern United States and West coast

From the southwestern states as far north as British Columbia, hummingbirds will visit your backyard feeders all year long.

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