This quick, easy and inexpensive homemade hummingbird nectar recipe is a safe alternative to store bought hummingbird food.
One of my favorite things to do in the morning is sitting outside on the back porch and waiting for my hummingbird friends to visit. Other than the colorful flowers I like to plant in my yard (zinnia, butterfly bushes, salvia) I like to have a couple of hummingbird feeders spaced throughout the yard to attract the hummers.
I used to buy store-bought hummingbird nectar and then I found out how easy it was to make my own and have never gone back to the MUCH more expensive store varieties again.
Table of contents
Ingredients For Hummingbird Food
OK, get out your legal pad now to write all these ingredients down:
Yep, that's it. This recipe is not the least bit complicated, just regular table sugar and tap water, and takes less than 5 minutes to make.
How To Make Hummingbird Food
Boil your water, add the sugar to your water and stir until dissolved.
Allow the sugar water mixture to cool to room temperature and then fill your feeders.
Any left-over sugar solution can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
The cost of a ½ gallon bottle of dye-free nectar on Amazon is $7.99-ish. The cost to make your own ½ gallons of nectar will be roughly, give or take a few cents, $1.45.
Why You Shouldn't Use Red Dye
Red dye and food coloring may be harmful to hummingbirds. Additionally, the red dye coloring is not necessary to attract hummingbirds as most feeders will incorporate the color red either into the feeding ports or some other portion of the feeder.
If you're interested in more in-depth thoughts on red dye, Journey North, an online migration tracking site, goes into more detail on the dangers of red dye for our bird friends.
Homemade Hummingbird Nectar
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup refined white granulated sugar (regular table sugar)
- Mix sugar into boiling water until dissolved.
- Allow sugar water to cool and fill feeder.
- Hang your hummingbird feeder outside.
Maintaining A Hummingbird Feeder
There's a few things you can do to keep your hummingbird feeders safe for the birds.
- Keep FRESH sugar water in the feeders. In hot summer months you want to change out the sugar water every other day. In cooler months once a week should be fine.
- Thoroughly clean your feeder between fillings by flushing it with hot water. Avoid using soap as hummingbirds are sensitive to the taste of soap residue (and can supposedly taste it even if the feeders are meticulously rinsed afterwards).
- Once a month do a deep cleaning of your feeders. Take your feeders apart as much as possibly (I love the kind where even the feeding ports and bee guards can be detached). Soak your feeders for one hour in a mixture of ¼ cup bleach in a gallon water. Then use a bottle brush to get into any nooks. Rinse thoroughly with water, air dry and refill your feeders.
- Alternately you can use a mixture of 2 parts water and 1 part vinegar as a soak if you don't want to deal with bleach. Am I the only person who can't get within 2 feet of a bleach bottle without random bleach spots popping up on my t-shirt?
How To Keep Ants Out Of A Hummingbird Feeder
Ants and other small insects are attracted to sugar, just like the rest of us, so they can become a huge nuisance for your hummingbird feeder. Here are some tips to keep the ants away:
- Use an ant moat. These cup shaped devices are designed to hold water and hang between your shepherds hook and your feeder preventing your ant friends from having an easy walk to your feeder.
- Hang your feeder with fishing line. It is small enough in diameter so that ants can't easily travel across it.
- Clean your feeder often. When cleaning the feeder make sure you wipe down the outside of the feeder. When the hummingbirds drink they may be slopping sugar water outside of and down the side of the feeder which will attract ants.
- Move your feeder to a new location occasionally. It may take a few days for the ants to find it again.
- What about the Vaseline trick? I've heard people recommending applying petroleum jelly to the pole or hanger holding your feeder. HUGE caution on this one and I absolutely do not recommend it. Vaseline can get stuck to the hummingbird's wings and make it unable to fly. And a hummingbird that can't fly will soon be a dead hummingbird. So that is a big NO from me, but I wanted to address it in case your Great-Aunt Martha had told you that is what they used to do in the Great Depression.
When To Put Your Feeders Out
Hummingbirds are migratory in most parts of North America, spending warmer months here for their breeding season and returning to Central America and Mexico in the winter months.
You will want to put your hummingbird feeders out 1-2 weeks before they are expected back in your area.
In the more southern states (Florida, Southern Texas, Louisiana, etc) hummingbirds start arriving in late February to Mid-March.
As warmer Spring weather rolls across the country, the hummingbirds start making appearances in the other states. For instance in the Carolinas they normally arrive by early April. Here in Ohio they make their appearance by late-April.
By mid-May the hummingbirds have migrated to almost all of North America.
Hummingbird Central curates a nice interactive map each year tracking real-life hummingbird sightings. It's fun to see where they've been sighted recently and how close they are to coming to your area.
Best Hummingbird Feeders On Amazon
(This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. You can read my full disclosure policy here.)
- Nature's Way Mason Jar Hummingbird Feeder (holds 6 oz and super easy to clean - it's the one I show in my tutorial photos above)
- More Birds Antique Glass Bottle Feeder (holds 20 oz)
- Garden Hummingbird Feeder With Hand Blown Glass Design (holds 25 oz)
- Perky Pet Classic Red Glass Hummingbird Feeder (holds 24 oz)
15 Plants That Attract Hummingbirds
If you want to attract lots of hummingbirds it's beneficial to not only give them access to your feeders, but also plant flowers they love. Hummingbirds like brightly colored flowers that produce a lot of nectar and have a high sugar content, such as:
- bee balm
- trumpet creeper
- bleeding hearts
- cardinal flower
- butterfly bush
Frequently Asked Questions
No matter the quantity you are making, the ratio of sugar to water is always 1 part sugar to 4 parts water (for example, 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water).
It is always best to boil the water before adding the sugar to get rid of any impurities in the tap water. With that said, you don't absolutely positively have to, but it only takes a minute or two and is the best way to keep our hummingbirds safe and healthy.
Only use refined white sugar (regular table sugar). DO NOT use honey, corn syrup, raw sugar or confectionary sugar. For instance, confectionary sugar has corn starch added to it which is bad for the birds. And honey has naturally occurring bacteria and fungus in it that grows like crazy when mixed with water. Just stick to refined white sugar and you don't have to worry!
Yes you can, just boil it first.
Yes you can! Too little sugar and the birds don't get the calories they need to survive. Too much sugar and you run the risk of harming their kidneys and liver (yes, hummingbirds have kidneys and livers).
Their bodies are made differently from humans, so even though they have kidneys like humans, they do not get diabetes from all the sugar. Their bodies are specifically designed to process all that sugar efficiently.
Glass feeders are easier to clean and seem to last MUCH longer than the plastic ones that tend to warp, crack and fade over time. In general, a plastic hummingbird feeder may last a season while a glass one can last for many years. I'm Team Glass all the way.
Place your feeder in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Being visible in the sun part of the day make it easier for birds to find the feeder. But too much sun, especially full on afternoon sun, will make the nectar spoil quickly.
Try to find a spot close enough to house so you can see the hummingbirds, but far enough away that they will feel comfortable visiting the feeder. Being close to a bush or tree gives them a place to watch the feeder from as they are somewhat territorial and will want to keep an eye on "their" feeding spot when not actively drinking from it themselves.
Your homemade hummingbird food can be stored in the refrigerator for up the 2 weeks. After that point it should be thrown away and a new batch made.
Do you try to attract hummingbirds in your yard?
View the web story version of this article HERE.