Hummingbird Feeders: How to Feed these Interesting Birds


Zip-p-p-p Zoom! Hey! What was that? A tiny iridescent hummingbird zooms past on his way for a sip of man made nectar at a feeder. What a lot of fun these little bits of personality are to feed and watch. How do you get started with feeding and watching hummingbirds?

Buying a feeder: The simplest feeder type to buy has a plastic or glass container that is turned up and releases the nectar through flower shaped ports. The hummingbirds hover or perch at the ports and sip up the sweet nectar. They must feed somewhere every fifteen minutes.

Making a feeder: You can make a feeder out of a glass water or drink bottle or a glass salad dressing bottle. Clean well and remove labels. Use a nail to carefully punch or drill a hole in the plastic screw-on lid. Mark the hole with a red marker so birds can find it. Wrap wire around the bottle to hang it so that the neck angles downward.

Reading about hummingbirds: Check out some books about hummingbirds and study their habits. I recommend The Stokes Hummingbird Book—A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying and Enjoying Hummingbirds By Donald and Lillian Stokes.

Buying premixed feeder syrup: Mixes and bottles of premixed hummingbird nectar can be purchased at most stores that carry bird food. Some contain coloring and additives that you may not want to use. It is simpler, but much more expensive, to use premixed than to make your own syrup with water and granulated sugar.

Cooking your own syrup: The proper formula for feeding nectar is one part granulated sugar to four parts water. Higher ratio of sugar to water can harm bird’s livers. Never use honey water. Honey was once prescribed for hummingbird feeder, but then it was discovered that many of the birds died after developing a fungus disease of the tongue. Sugar water is the safest. Boil the water and then set it to cool. When it reaches lukewarm temperature, add the sugar and stir. Don’t add more sugars or food coloring. These can be harmful and have no known benefit. Refrigerate extra syrup until you need it.

Filling feeders: Feeders should be emptied and refilled with syrup every three days during very hot weather and once a week in cool weather. The smaller the amount of nectar per feeder the better in hot weather because the heat can cause the nectar to spoil. Smaller containers require more frequent refilling.

Problems with Feeders:

Cleaning the feeder: Each time it is emptied the feeder should be cleaned and inspected for trouble such as clogged or broken feeding ports. Do not use soap to clean the feeder. Some people use vinegar water and this is safe for birds. A feeder will need to be cleaned about every third time you refill it.

What about bees and other insects? Bees, wasps and ants are attracted to the sweet syrup. Keep the outside frees from nectar by washing with clear water often. To outsmart bees try moving to a new spot. Always hang feeders in the shade. If bees are on the feeder when you want to refill it try splashing it with the garden hose first. Never spray around the feeder with insecticide, because that could kill the hummingbirds too.

Bird Fights: Hummingbirds are territorial and they will fight by flying at “intruders” at their feeders. This is normal and unavoidable. Having several feeders up, about six feet from each other will reduce fighting. Filling several at a time can draw more customers and give place for more birds to feed. Many people are dismayed and even frightened by the aggressive behaviour of hummingbirds. Their tiny size makes you expect them to be docile and naturally gentle, but this is not usually the case.

Delayed Migration: Is it true that feeding hummingbirds might cause them to not migrate and thus freeze or starve? No, don’t worry. When it is time to fly south the birds will leave a full feeder and go. If your feeder stays unvisited for a week, you know it is time to empty, wash, dry and store it for next year.

NoTakers: Attracting birds to your feeder is easy. One way is to drape a new feeder with red ribbons or crepe paper streamers. Hummingbirds are attracted mainly to flowers They will need flowers in order to maintain a balanced diet. The sip nectar from the flowers, the feeder and also eat insects that are attracted to the same flowers They love trumpet creeper, jewelweed, bee balm, columbine, nasturtium, petunias, fuchsia, zinnias, morning glories, gladiolas, mimosa, and jasmine.

It is a responsibility to hang a feeder, so be diligent and careful. Enjoy watching your hummers!