10 Quick Joyful Tips for What to Feed Hummingbirds

Table of Contents

what to feed hummingbirds, Feeding hummingbirds properly is crucial to attracting them to your yard and providing the high-energy food they need. Understanding their unique dietary requirements, feeding behaviors, and favorite flowers, and adapting approaches by season will bring in more of these special birds.

Hummingbird Feeding Habits

Hummingbirds have very fast metabolisms and high energy requirements to power their unique hovering flight and rapid wing-flapping. They must consume a lot of nutrient-rich food to sustain their active lifestyles. Key insights into their feeding behaviors include:

  • Primarily consume sugary flower nectar and tree sap for energy, and small insects for nutrients and protein.
  • Consume roughly half their body weight in pure sugars from nectar/sap daily and hundreds of fruit flies and spiders to meet nutritional requirements.
  • Feed every 10-15 minutes throughout the day starting early in the morning.
  • Prefer red tubular flowers that most match their feeding method, but will adapt based on food availability.
  • Use long slender beaks to extract nectar from flowers and feeders.
  • Have forked tongues to lap up nectar.
  • Prefer artificial nectars with higher sugar concentrations (1:3 ratio sugar to water).

How Often to Feed Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds need to feed every 10-15 minutes almost all day to power their hyperactive metabolisms and energy needs for hovering, darting flight. Having a consistent, reliable food source available allows them to frequent and return to your yard continually.


  • Keep feeders filled with fresh nectar at all times during daylight hours
  • Change sugar-water mix every 2-3 days in warm weather to prevent spoilage
  • Rinse and clean feeders fully every week
  • Transition feeder availability based on migration patterns and seasons

Having multiple feeders helps ensure constant access as well. Positioning feeders in both sun and shade provides options during changing conditions.

Hummingbird Feeder Placement

Properly placing hummingbird feeders helps make them convenient, protective, and effective at attracting these birds. Considerations include:


  • Near sheltered perches like trees or shrubs for rest breaks every few minutes
  • Within 3-5 feet of natural cover to escape predators if needed
  • Near bright colored flowers, plants, or yard decor to help them spot feeders

Height & Access

  • 5-7 feet high allows easy access while protecting from predators
  • Ensure a clear flight path to feeder with no obstructing branches/structures
  • Place on a pulley system for easy raising/lowering for cleaning/maintenance

Red Dye in Hummingbird Food

Many commercial nectar mixes include red food dye to help attract hummingbirds by mimicking bright flower colors. However, these dyes provide no nutritional value and may even be problematic. Key considerations on dyes include:

Potential Drawbacks

  • Red dye may be problematic for nestling birds unable to excrete excess dye
  • Artificial additives provide no nutritional benefit and may suppress appetites
  • Coloring may attract undesirable bees and wasps competing for food


  • Plain white sugar-water mixes still attract hummingbirds effectively minus risks
  • Use brightly colored feeders instead to help them spot feeders

So while red dye often successfully draws more hummingbirds initially, over time plain nectar in colorful feeders works equally well without potential risks.

Hummingbird Food Recipes

Mixing your own homemade nectar can save money while controlling quality and ingredients. Use the following recipes:

Basic Sugar-Water Ratio

  • 1 part white granulated sugar
  • 4 parts hot water
  • No food coloring/dyes needed

Boiled Sugar Method

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • Boil water first, dissolve sugar by stirring continually for 2+ minutes
  • Let cool fully before filling feeders

Tips: Use pure cane or beet sugar only. Never honey, artificial sweeteners, fruit juices which all risk bird health. Store unused portions in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks. Bring back to room temperature before pouring into feeders.

Avoiding Ants at Hummingbird Feeders

Ants can overrun hummingbird feeders drawn to the sweet nectar. Stopping them prevents larvae threats to nesting birds, contamination, and allows full feeder access. Methods to try:

Feeder Designs

  • Use feeder styles with ant moats – outer chambers of water to block access
  • Suspend feeders from poles/hooks using fishing line which ants can’t cross

Grease Barriers

  • Coat hanging wires/fishing line in petroleum jelly to block ants
  • Cover pole mounts in sticky substances (ex. Tanglefoot paste)

Quick Fixes

  • Temporarily fill moat with vegetable oil until ants clear out
  • Scrub away ant scent trails around poles and mounts

Hummingbird Migration and Feeding

Hummingbird populations across North America ebb and flow by seasons as birds migrate thousands of miles between tropical wintering grounds and more northern summer breeding areas. Adjusting your feeding approaches helps support their needs through summer nesting periods, long migrations, and winter months for non-migrating species.

Spring – Late March Through May

Summer Months

  • Ensure a consistent, plentiful food supply for nesting females and teaching young fledglings to feed
  • Cater to higher food demands from June through August
  • Provide shaded areas for recurring feedings between nest visits

Fall Migration August Through November

  • Maintain higher fill levels and multiple feeder capacity as migration peaks
  • Southwestern US may host migrating hummingbirds longer into winter months

Winter – December to March

  • Only southeast states host consistent wintering hummingbird populations requiring year-round feeding
  • Anna’s hummingbirds and some rufous populations may overwinter as far north as the Pacific Northwest depending on the severity of the winter
  • Monitor food volume to gauge presence of non-migrating winter bird numbers in your area

Hummingbird Species and Diet

Over 300 species of hummingbirds exist worldwide exhibiting incredible diversity. While preferences vary slightly by species, the primary diet remains flower nectar and insects. Notable dietary insights by the most common North American hummingbird species:


The most widespread and only breeding species east of the Mississippi. These hummingbirds have adapted well to backyard feeders and ornate tubular flowers.

Rufous Hummingbird

The longest migrating hummingbird traveling between Alaska and Mexico. They thrive on nectar from colorful, tubular flowers and small insects along their migration routes.

Allen’s & Other Western Species

Western US hummingbirds like the Anna’s, Costa’s, Calliope, and Broad-tailed readily adapt to backyard feeding on plain sugar-water mixes. Allen’s prefer desert-adapted red tubular flowers.

Tropical Species

White-bellied hummingbirds, mangoes, coquettes, and other tropical species thrive on nectar from rainforest flowers and small insects when stateside during summer migration months. Their migration routes position the Gulf coast states to potentially host the most hummingbird diversity in the country.

Flowers that Attract Hummingbirds

In addition to customized nectar feeders, providing flower gardens with favorites like these will help draw in hummingbirds naturally:

Tubular Red Flowers

  • Bee balm
  • Cardinal flower
  • Trumpet honeysuckle
  • Fuchsia
  • Coral honeysuckle
  • Columbine

Other Hummingbird Flowers

  • Milkweed
  • Butterfly bushes
  • Lilies
  • Petunias
  • Larkspur
  • Foxglove
  • Salvias
  • Coneflower
  • Impatiens
  • Zinnias

Focus on red, orange, and pink tubular flowers rich in nectar. Cluster in circular beds allowing easy access between multiple flower patches.

Hummingbird Feeder Maintenance

Keeping feeders properly maintained ensures the nectar stays fresh and mold-free for a consistent food supply. Best practices include:

  • Use white plain sugar only to prevent spoilage
  • Change nectar every 2-3 days in hot weather, 5 days in cooler climates
  • Scrub inside feeders with a bottle brush and non-scented soap at least weekly
  • Rinse thoroughly before refilling
  • Soak in 10:1 water vinegar solution weekly to kill bacteria
  • Clean around the base and mounting pole to prevent ant nests
  • Consider 2+ feeder rotation to allow deep cleaning while still feeding birds continually

Proper care keeps feeders sanitary and fresh for uninterrupted eating that hummingbirds rely on.

Hummingbird Food

Hummingbirds need specialized nutrition to power their unique lifestyles and survive in varied environments. Key food sources include:

Primary Energy Sources

  • Flower nectar
  • Tree sap
  • Backyard nectar feeders

Nutrient Sources

  • Small insects like gnats, mosquitoes, fruit flies
  • Tree resin
  • Pollen
  • Spiderwebs

They consume roughly half their body weight daily in pure sugar from flower/tree nectar and sap to stay energized for their hyperactive life. This need for quick consumable calories leads them to backyard feeders.

Small insects and other proteins provide essential nutrients not found in pure sugary nectar. Aiding nesting mothers in catching insects bolsters reproduction and fledgling success.

Hummingbird Diet

Hummingbirds need surprisingly high calorie intake relative to their very small size. Understanding their specialized diet helps properly feed them.

  • 50% sugar content consumed from floral nectar and tree sap
  • Up to 2,000 calories a day compared to only 100-200 calories daily for small songbirds
  • Hundreds of fruit flies and gnats providing essential protein and nutrients
  • Twice hourly feeding needed due to hyperactive metabolism
  • Changes by season as nutritional needs spike during nesting periods and long migrations

Without proper nutrition, hummingbirds risk starvation, failed reproduction, or lacking energy for long migrations to winter nesting grounds. Providing what these unique birds need in your backyard helps them thrive season to season.

Hummingbird Nectar

Special nectar mixes help provide the calorie-rich fuel hummingbirds need to balance their small size and extreme energy usage. Characteristics of effective nectar include:

Sugar-Water Ratio

An approximate 1:4 sugar to hot water ratio best approximates natural flower nectar. Normal table sugar dissolves easily for quick energy.

Sweetness Level

The ideal sweetness matching flowers falls between 15-50% sugar content. Too diluted weakens caloric intake. Too concentrated risks burning tongues or leaving toxic build-up.

Frequent Changes

Nectar spoils easily from summer heat or bacteria. Changing Mix every 2-3 days provides freshness. Adding vinegar weekly prevents dangerous black mold.

Store Properly

Unused nectar lasts 1-2 weeks refrigerated. Return to room temperature before pouring to prevent shock from cold. Discard any excess cloudiness or signs of spoilage.

No Additives

Never use honey, artificial sweeteners, food coloring, or fruit juice which risk hummingbird health despite advertising claims. Pure sugar-water mixes keep their needs simple.

Following these best practices ensures homemade or store-bought mixes provide safe, nutritious fuel.

Homemade Hummingbird Food

Specialized commercial nectar mixes for hummingbirds are widely available. But with only 2 basic ingredients – sugar and water – you can easily mix your own homemade nectar for a fraction of the cost.

Base Mix

  • 1 part white granulated sugar
  • 4 parts water

Bring water to a rapid boil first to maximize sugar dissolving and minimize risk of spoilage. Add sugar slowly while continually stirring for 2-3 minutes. Let cool fully before pouring into feeders.


  • Refrigerate unused portion in sealed container 1-2 weeks
  • Return to room temperature before use
  • Discard any cloudiness or spoilage

Supplemental Tips

  • Consider adding organic apple cider once monthly to provide electrolytes
  • Use hot water and vinegar weekly rinses to keep feeders sanitized

Follow nectar guidelines, proper storage, and feeder cleaning for safe, effective homemade food.

Best Food for Hummingbirds

Providing the right nutrition is key to attracting and sustaining hummingbird populations by seasons. The best approaches involve:

Sugar-Rich Instant Energy

  • Homemade 1:4 ratio white sugar nectar
  • Orchid mixes marketed for hummingbirds
  • Uncolored high calorie commercial mixes

Protein For Nutrition

  • Natural insects like fruit flies around ripe fruit
  • Smearing tree sap, softened tree resin, or sugary tree pulp onto tree branches/cones
  • Commercial powders as diet supplement added to nectar

Alternative Natural Sources

  • Backyard flowers rich in sweet nectar like honeysuckle, fuchsia, and trumpet vines
  • Fruit halves with small holes to draw fruit flies
  • Shallow plant saucers filled with sand saturated in sweetener to attract ants and gnats

Varying food sources throughout the year supports the nutritional needs to sustain hummingbirds as they rest and refuel during migrations or before raising young.

Attracting Hummingbirds

Bringing hummingbirds into your yard takes providing their key attraction needs – lots of sugary calories and small soft-bodied insects. Use these proven tips:

Nectar Feeders

Use 2-4 nectar feeders spaced around your yard keeping them freshly filled to match food availability that extensive flowering beds would provide naturally. Clean them thoroughly at least weekly.

Bright Red Feeding Ports

Hummers associate the color red with high nectar availability. Choose feeders with red feeding ports or add red accents to help them spot them easily.

Tubular Flowers

Incorporate lots of red, fuchsia, and orange tubular flowers which provide accessible nectar and attract the most hummingbird attention based on appearance.

Water Features

Dripping water fixtures, fountains, or bird baths help attract insects which hummingbirds need for protein. Position them where hummingbirds can easily dart down to the surface.

Fruit Plate

Put halves of bananas, oranges, apples or other ripe fruit to spawn lots of fruit flies and gnats hovered over by actively feeding hummers.

Feeding Hummingbirds in Summer

In summer months, backyard feeding proves essential to supplement the diet of nesting mothers and teach fledglings where to feed reliably once leaving the nest. Strategies for summer include:

  • Maintain multiple freshly filled nectar feeders in both sun and shade
  • Clean feeders more frequently as heat accelerates nectar spoilage
  • Provide fruit, sap, and resin to spawn protein-rich insects
  • Use red died commercial mix made just for hummingbirds
  • Ensure a water source for bathing and attracting bugs
  • Limit pesticide use which reduces insects young hummers need

Meeting the dietary demands of stretched mother hummers keeps them nourished, while showing offspring trusted food sources helps them transition successfully to independence in your yard.

Natural Food for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds evolved consuming flower and tree nectar long before the creation of artificial feeders as alternative food sources. Providing these natural food options helps round out their diet:

Nectar-Rich Flowers

Tubular flower varieties like honeysuckles, trumpet vines, and fuchsias have accessible, abundant nectar perfectly suited to hummingbird feeding needs.

Tree Saps & Resins

Certain trees ooze saps and resins eaten by hummers for quick sugar intake. Some also attract insects. Encourage sap flow by trimming branches.

Edible Tree Fruit

Fruit pulp from wild trees like mulberry, juniper, mountain ash, pine and gum trees supplements sugar and nutrients. Allow some fruit to ferment on branches to attract lots of fruit flies.

Incorporating such plants provides nutrition and easily accessible feeding opportunities hummingbirds rely on.

Sugar Water for Hummingbirds

Dissolving white granulated sugar in hot water creates an effective homemade nectar hummingbirds readily consume as a convenient mimic of flower nectar they cannot always find naturally in adequate supplies. Follow these sugar-water tips:

  • 1 part sugar to 4 parts hot water ratio
  • Dissolve sugar fully by stirring over heat 2+ minutes
  • Cool before filling feeders
  • Never use honey or artificial sweeteners
  • Limit adding red dye as unnecessary
  • Change mix every 2-3 days to prevent spoilage
  • Refrigerate unused portions 1-2 weeks; reheat before reuse
  • Rinse feeder parts in hot vinegar water weekly

Adjusting the ratio, sweetener type, storage and cleaning methods ensures homemade solutions provide safe nutrition these tiny energetic birds require.

Plants that Attract Hummingbirds

Incorporating the right flowering plants provides natural food sources drawing hummingbirds consistently. The most effective flowers feature:

Tubular Petals

Slender, tubular flower shapes allow hummingbirds to access nectar easily using their specialized long, slender beaks and tongues.

Bright Red Colors

Shades of red or fuchsia flowers guide hummingbirds with visible cues to abundant food rewards.

Plentiful Nectar

Flowers producing excess, very sweet nectar provide the high energy food source hummingbirds rely upon most.

Flower Shapes

Trumpet-shaped blooms with sturdy bases for hovering near and deep inside reaches perfectly match hummingbird feeding abilities.

Flower Arrangement

Dense circular clusters allowing visiting hummingbirds to conveniently access multiple blossoms without frequent longer flights conserve needed energy.

Native Species

Planting local wildflowers and shrubs already adapted to native hummingbirds supports seasonal nutritional needs when migrating through your region.

Diverse Offerings

Provide a wide range of flower colors, species, and bloom times to support nutritional variety and sustainability through seasons.

Ongoing Blooms

Stagger plantings for continuous flowering from spring through fall to match hummingbird occupancy periods in your region.

Pesticide Avoidance

Grow flowers organically without pesticides which reduces insect populations hummingbirds rely on for protein.

Location Strategy

Place flowers very close to feeders allowing easy access back-and-forth to maximize calorie intake efficiency.

By incorporating these key plant characteristics and strategic approaches, your garden better provides complete and accessible food options attracting more hummingbirds.

Additional Tips for Feeding Hummingbirds

Using Feeder Guards

Hummingbird feeders provide lots of readily accessible sugar water, making them targets for non-hummingbird pests wanting easy calories. Protect them with these deterrents:

Bee Guards

Plastic domes or mesh bottoms allow hummingbird tongues but block bigger bees and wasps.

Squirrel Baffles

Slip-proof plastic or metal baffles mounted above with a slippery slope prevent climbing access.

Cage Housings

Wire cages secured around feeders keep out larger birds. Ensure openings allow hummer flight access.

Guarding nectar ensures ample food remains for tiny hummingbirds to thrive.

Storing Unused Nectar

To avoid wasting ingredients and time repeatedly making fresh batches, properly store and reuse leftover nectar using these tips:

  • Refrigerate unused mix in sealed container
  • Soft plastic bottles work better than glass which may shatter
  • Consume within 1 week for peak freshness
  • Inspect visually for mold before reusing
  • Colder temperatures prolong storage life
  • Microwave to reopen sugar crystals if hardened before pouring into feeder again

Proper storage between feeder refills makes pre-made excess last longer.

Sugar Alternatives to Use

While plain white sucrose table sugar provides an excellent calorie source, alternative sugars can also effectively fuel hummingbirds when making homemade nectar:

Cane Sugar

Whether organic pure or conventional, cane sugar easily dissolves into an energy-rich food source.

Beet Sugar

Many bagged sugars come from sugar beets – perfectly healthy for hummer food.

Agave Syrup

This natural, minimally processed sweetener provides calories though mixing takes more effort.

Ideally avoid more processed alternatives like brown sugar and powdered sugars which dissolve less effectively. Never use artificial sweeteners which may harm birds.

Preventing Spoiled Nectar

Once mixed, homemade nectar lasts 1-2 weeks refrigerated. But bacteria growth causing fermentation and mold can quickly spoil opened nectar, especially in summer’s heat. Prevent it with these steps:

  • Use hot water allowing sugar to fully dissolve
  • Only mix what you use within a week
  • Refrigerate unused portions immediately
  • Consume or change within 5 days in hot weather
  • Store in soft plastic bottles, not glass
  • Clean feeders thoroughly each week using diluted bleach

Keeping nectar fresh ensures feeders provide safe nutrition hummingbirds rely on. Monitor sweetness and signs of spoilage.

Why Hummingbirds Hover to Feed

Hummingbirds’ unique ability to hover sets them apart from all other birds. They can beat their wings up to 70 times per second to maintain one fixed position. This allows them to dip their specialized beaks and tongues into flower centers without need to land. Key reasons include:


Many tubular flowers favored by hummingbirds don’t provide a good landing spot. Hovering allows feeding without landing on them.


Rapid hovering creates aerial agility letting hummingbirds instantly change direction claiming feeders from competing birds.

Hovering to feed lets hummingbirds target flowers and feeders inaccessible to other species. It powered by extreme energy needs met by nonstop nectar feeding.

Impact of Climate Change

Warming climates create higher risk of droughts impacting flower nectar supplies. Providing multiple feeders with higher sugar concentrations can help offset regional drying impacts that may make natural food harder to find. Migrating further north often exposes them to flower/tree species producing less nutrition. Backyard feeders help supplement gaps when migrations take them beyond optimal natural feeding grounds.

Conclusion: What to Feed Hummingbird

In summary, understanding hummingbird dietary needs for both energy sources and vital nutrients allows properly supplementing natural food availability through targeted backyard offerings catered to their unique feeding behaviors and adaptations. This supports attracting and sustaining more hummingbirds season after season.

FAQs About Feeding Hummingbirds

What food is best for hummingbirds?

The best broad diet includes homemade nectar using 1 part sugar dissolved thoroughly into 4 parts hot water and cooling before use. Feeders should be supplemented with edible backyard flowers, tree sap flows to attract insects, shallow fruit plates, and clean hummingbird baths.

Can I use brown sugar for hummingbird food?

It’s best to avoid brown sugar because added molasses may promote bacterial growth. Plain white cane or beet sugar best approximates natural flower nectar. Powdered sugar also risks clumping. Organic, non-GMO white granulated sugar provides the most reliable nutrition and easier mixing.

Is too much sugar bad for hummingbirds?

Providing excessive sugar concentration beyond a 1:4 ratio risks burning their tongues or leaving toxic buildup preventing absorption. But higher sugar levels more closely match the concentration hummingbirds prefer from orchids and specialized flowers. Just avoid exceeding 1:3 sugar ratio.

Is organic sugar OK for hummingbirds?

Yes, organic cane or beet sugar makes an excellent alternative to conventional white sugar for hummingbird nectar. It avoids pesticides and GMOs without sacrificing any nutritional value. Just be sure it fully dissolves with hot water without added ingredients. Other natural options like agave also work well.

What is the healthiest thing to feed hummingbirds?

The healthiest broad diet includes homemade nectars to provide concentrated calories, flowering plants and maple trees which provide natural nectar options, placement of fruit plates and tree resin to attract swarms of flies and gnats for protein intake, and clean running water sources for fluids and bathing.

What type of flowers do hummingbirds like best?

Hummingbirds gravitate most to tubular flower shapes with lots of accessible nectar like honeysuckles, fuchsias, and trumpet vines. Bright red, orange, and pink blooms also attract them best visually. They favor flowers matching most closely their specialized feeding abilities and coloring pointing to abundant food rewards.

Is sugar water the same as nectar?

Table sugar fully dissolved in hot water very closely approximates the same nutritional make-up as natural flower nectar. The only thing missing are small traces of electrolytes and vitamins sometimes present in plant nectar. So adding a small bit of electrolyte powder or fruit juice once a month best optimizes a complete nectar profile.

How do you make a hummingbird feeder?

The easiest way is filling reused glass jars or plastic bottles with holes poked through the lid or cap to allow feeding access. Invert and hang using wire. Commercial options with ant moats, built-in bee guards, and specialized feeding ports work best long-term. Durability and ease of cleaning should factor into feeder choices.

Why do hummingbirds need white sugar?

White sugar, especially organic cane sugar, most closely matches the concentration and nutritional make-up that flower nectar provides them naturally. The pure carbohydrate energy efficiently fuels their hyperactive metabolisms. Other natural sugars like agave also work, but nutritional needs make white sugar stationary feeding easier when flower supplies are inadequate seasonally.

About the Author: Hudaibia

My name is Hudaibia with the profound passion for our feathered friends. Birds have captivated my heart and mind since childhood. Now I share my avian devotion through my website, mybirdfeed.com.