Hummingbird Feeding Tips

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about hummingbird and oriole feeders. I think a lot of it has to do with the fill it and leave it nature of most other types of feeders. I have customers who have confessed to filling their hummingbird feeders in April and leaving them for weeks and even months. They couldn’t understand why they hadn’t seen any hummingbirds. Have you ever left Kool Aid in the refrigerator too long, never mind out in the sun? Would you drink it with mold floating around in it? Help your hummers and orioles out by:

  1. Keeping your feeder clean…If the nectar in your feeder is cloudy looking or especially if it has black spots forming on the glass or plastic, it has gone bad. When temperatures reach the mid-80’s this can happen in just a couple of days. If your feeder is in full sun, the nectar can go bad in a day. If your feeder allows you to run it through the dishwasher, great, if it doesn’t a good set of brushes (my favorite are the ones from Songbird Essentials) and hot soapy water will help greatly. If you've seen mold, please rinse with a mild (1 part bleach/10 parts water) bleach solution. Rinse again with plain water and let air dry. Unless your feeder requires that you fill it full to prevent it from leaking, I would only fill it about 1/4-1/2 full until the activity level picks up.
  2. Resist the temptation to make your nectar mix too sweet. All studies show that 4 parts water to 1 part sugar is the best ratio for hummingbirds. Too sweet and the hummingbirds have to spend extra time seeking out water to help break down the extra sugar.
  3. Keeping ants out of your feeder…Not everyone has problems with ants in their nectar feeders (but most do). Ant Moats are a very simple and inexpensive design that uses water to keep ants from ever making it to your feeder.
  4. Keeping bees away…Bees are far more challenging to deal with than ants and just get worse as the summer wears on. Yellow is known to attract bees to flowers, so on a hummingbird feeder it tends to attract bees. My favorite solution to this problem is the Aspects’ Hummzinger Ultra that includes Nectar Tips that fit over the inside openings of the feeder. Hummers can push their bills through them to drink but the bees cannot.
  5. Do you have a source of water? Don’t be surprised to see these little winged gems zipping back and forth through your sprinkler. The very best set up is a Mister. These little hoses spew a fine mist that is just right for hummingbirds. It attaches to your outdoor faucet and can be snaked up into a shrub for watering a patch of vegetation while providing water for the birds.
  6. Do you have enough feeders out? During the fall (late July through September), our adult birds are joined by the babies and migrating birds. They are all looking for food to help them with their journey south. Most of our dedicated hummingbird people put out extra feeders this time of year and take care to place them far apart. This keeps one bird from being able to dominate your feeder station. Good landscaping will help this as well.


Don’t forget the simple rule: Clean Food, Clean Water, Shelter.

photo credit: Pat White


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