We’ve talked about hummingbird feeders before in discussing how long to leave your feeders up during the fall migration, but this new question came from Stacey:
Carole, is it really okay to feed hummingbirds sugar water? I avoid refined sugar like the plague, so I’m wondering if it’s safe for those tiny bodies. I prefer to plant flowers they like, even if it means a few non-natives (Maltese cross, for example).
Am I being too much of a purist?
What a great question! Especially at this time of the year when the Hummingbirds are flitting all over my garden.
Here’s some rules of thumb when filling your hummingbird feeders:
- DO NOT use that red-dyed hummingbird “food” you can get in the supermarket or garden store. It is thought to cause harm to both humans and hummingbirds and it’s just not worth risking that. Besides, it makes no difference in attracting hummingbirds and it’s expensive.
- DO NOT use honey to make nectar for hummingbirds. Honey ferments and causes a deadly bacterium in hummingbirds.
- Table sugar most closely resembles the nectar found in flowers. This is the feeding method of choice by every hummingbird researcher I know.
- It is very important to clean your feeders out frequently in the summer heat. The nectar can spoil in the heat and cause illness for the hummingbirds. Aim for every other day.
To make nectar for hummingbirds, mix table sugar with water in a 4 to 1 ratio. For example, 1 cup water to 1/4 cup sugar, or 4 cups water to 1 cup sugar.
You can either prepare this on your stove top by boiling the water until the sugar is dissolved. Or you can prepare it at room temperature by stirring the sugar into the water until it is completely dissolved.
Hummingbird feeding in the wildlife gardenWhen choosing a feeder, you want one that is red, is easily cleaned, has built-in ant protection, and is easy for hummingbirds to use. I prefer the Aspects Hummzinger feeder pictured here. It’s easy to use and the hummingbirds love it.
There is also a smaller feeder, the Aspects mini Hummzinger Hummingbird feeder which is great at the times of year when the hummingbirds are not migrating, but nesting in your garden.
You may want to read Attracting and Feeding Hummingbirds, by Sheri Williamson. While there are several other Hummingbird garden books, Sheri Williamson’s is the most accurate. She is also the author of A Field Guide to the Hummingbirds of North America, the essential reference for identifying hummingbirds.
Also, consider adding some of these native plants to your wildlife garden:
- Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
- Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
- Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia)
- Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
- Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemmon digitalis)
- Lyre-leaved Sage (Salvia lyrata)
- Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
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More From Ecosystem Gardening
I live in San Francisco and have been attracting Anna's hummingbirds to my balcony (I live in an apartment) using the Hummzinger feeder and a four-parts water, one-part sugar solution. I've been changing the solution once a week and seeing lots of hummers. This week I saw none, which was unusual and when I went out to check the feeder I was shocked to see it had black mold in it!!! I think with the warming temps my once a week cleaning was no longer often enough. Lesson learned!! But.....my questions are: 1. Did I hurt and/or kill any hummers with my stupid mistake? (I feel so terrible...) and 2. If I put a new clean solution out there, will they ever come back? How will they know that I've cleaned it and that it's now "safe" again? Thanks for any insight you can provide.