There are 2 basic designs of hummingbird feeders: vacuum and saucer. Or you
can make your own
A vacuum feeder has a container that drains the nectar into a reservoir with feeding ports. A vacuum is created at the top of the container when it is turned
upside-down, keeping the sugar solution from flowing out of the feeder ports.
All vacuum feeders can drip. This most often occurs when the solutions is heated during the day. The increasing temperature causes the solution to heat &
expand, forcing some nectar out the feeding ports, where ants, bees, & wasps can get to it. This can be avoided somewhat if the feeder is placed in a cooler,
shady location. They also can drip if they swing and are tilted on windy days.
Saucer As the name suggests, these hummingbird feeders are shaped like a saucer, with feeder ports located on the cover of the reservoir.
These feeders are essentially drip-free unless tipped because the horizontal reservoir is below the feeding ports instead of above as in vacuum feeders.
A saucer-style feeder has a low profile which is an advantage if your feeder will be exposed to wind often.
So which style should I choose?
As far as hummingbirds go, they'll feed from either design. What may be more important are other factors such as
There are lots of inexpensive, durable models of hummingbird feeders to choose from at your local stores. When you are selecting your feeder make sure that it will be easy to clean, refill, and has a clear reservoir for you to
easily see how full or empty it is.
You don't want a feeder that has a lot of intricacies or hard to reach places that will be difficult to clean. Nor one that is difficult to open & refill
without leaking sticky, sugar-water all over you & your kitchen.
Those decorative ones sure are pretty, but may be too hard to clean. And if they don't have clear, transparent reservoirs you'll have a difficult time
seeing how full it is, or if the solution is going bad (getting cloudy).
So try out feeders in the store - take them apart and pretend they're full of sticky, sugar-water & see how easily they are to open & clean. If it's too
difficult to clean, it won't get done & the hummingbirds will be the ones who suffer the consequences. Don't put up a feeder if you don't have time to clean
Bee guards are also a nice feature to look for when choosing (see "pests").
Perches or no perches? There are no perches on flowers for hummingbirds to use when feeding (hence hovering). But wouldn't you rather sit than stand when
Perches give hummingbirds a break and give you a closer look. Rather than seeing their wings as a blur, you will see more details as they sit & sip.
Perches may encourage other birds to visit as well (see "other birds").
As far as size goes, choose a smaller one at first. There is no need to get a huge one, because your feeder only needs to hold no more than a few days of
nectar (see "cleaning"). If your visitation increases, and your reservoir needs daily refills, then you may want to go with
a bigger feeder or just put up several small ones.
The sugar in flower nectar is primarily sucrose, like that of white sugar. So don't use honey in your feeder, which is primarily composed of fructose &
glucose. Hummingbirds can't digest it as efficiently. Fermentation & mold growth also occurs faster in honey solutions than those made from granulated sugar.
This mold (fungus) can give the hummingbirds a fatal tongue infection. Do
not use artificial sweeteners either which provide no calories (no energy).
Natural Nectar Sugar Concentrations
Nectar concentrations of flowers can range from 8 to 43% sucrose (Hainesworth 1973), and concentrations sometimes vary with time of day and with variations in
environmental conditions (Plowright 1981, Bertsch 1983).
Sugar concentrations of bee-pollinated flowers regularly exceed 35%, but hummingbird-pollinated flowers typically have more dilute nectars (Bolten
et al. 1979).
In their study, McDade and Weeks (2004a) found that 12 species of Neotropical hummingbird-pollinated plants had sugar concentrations that ranged between
16-28% which is comparable to those reported for other hummingbird-pollinated species.
Artificial Nectar Concentration
Using the normally accepted hummingbird feeder solution ratio of 1:4 (i.e., 1
cup sugar dissolved in 4 cups water = 5 cups of nectar) produces a solution with an approximate sugar concentration of 20% (1/5 of the solution is sugar), which
is what is naturally found in flower nectars preferred by hummingbirds.
We say approximate because in reality sugar and water molecules have different atomic weights, which means you can't simply divide to get your
percentage by volume alone. A refractometer* (which McDade and Weeks used to measure sugar content of flower nectar in their study) would measure our 1:4
feeder solution as being 18.6% sugar.
*A refractometer is a precision optical instrument designed to measure the concentration or mixture ratio of water
soluble fluids. It measures refractive index, the speed at which light passes through a liquid. The denser the liquid the slower the light will travel through
it, and the higher its reading will be on the refractometer.
Long story short, you can't go wrong with the 1:4 ratio because the concentration is close to the natural sugar concentration of
hummingbird-pollinated flowers (20%).
Higher Concentrations Are higher concentrations harmful? No research has shown that higher concentrations are harmful to hummingbirds. In fact, Blem et al. (2000) found
that Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) preferred a sugar concentration of 50% when presented with solutions varying in concentration from 10-70%.
Lower Concentrations And what about lower concentrations? The more diluted the nectar, the more consumption of nectar is needed to satisfy a hummingbird's energy requirements.
McWhorter and Mart?ez del Rio (1999) found that, depending on sugar concentration, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus)
consumed volumes of nectar ranging from 1.6 to 5.4 times their body mass per day.
Weaker concentrations are less attractive to hummers & you'll find they may just stop coming to your feeder to find a better, concentrated source.
In addition, because hummingbirds will have to consume more of a dilute nectar to get the same energy from a concentrated one, their bodies will have to
work harder. The rate of energy assimilation may be constrained by excess water elimination.
So when making your nectar solution, don't go weaker than the 1:4 ratio of sugar to water.
Pre-made nectars you find in stores offer no advantage over homemade. The liquid ones will have preservatives & artificial colors that hummingbirds don't need & may even be harmful. Instead of using
artificial dyes in your solution, wrap the feeder with red ribbons or tape to add color.
And why bother with the dry mixes? They're just sugar (which may have preservatives & colors added as well) that you have to add water to anyway - so
just use your own sugar at home and save some $$.
And those mixtures that are fortified with vitamins, minerals, etc. are unnecessary as well. Hummers supplement their diet with insects & spiders and,
if necessary, with natural flowers if they aren't getting what they need from your feeder.
To make your solution:
When creating a sugar solution for your feeder, the best ratio is 1 part white, granulated sugar to 4 parts water, since this closely approximates the
concentrations found in the nectar of wildflowers they prefer.
Using a 1:4 ratio, stir 1/4 cup white granulated sugar into 1 cup of boiling water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool & serve. Any leftover nectar can be
stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
As mentioned above, higher concentrations (up to 1:1) can be made, especially during cold migration periods.
As mentioned earlier, planting flowering annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees is a great way to attract hummingbirds to your backyard & to your feeder.
Hummingbirds will harvest nectar from flowers of all colors, although they seem to prefer red flowers. Thus, the color of most hummingbird feeders.
The bright red color on most hummingbirds will help with attracting hummers. If you don't have a lot of color in your yard, (i.e. only green grass), then
begin to decorate.
To attract visitors, hang up red clothes on the clothesline, get some fluorescent flagging tape and hang it in trees & shrubs. They will come in for a
closer look, even if its not flowers. We often have hummingbirds zoom down to our red truck, only to be disappointed that it's not the biggest red flower they
ever saw. But once you lure them in with red items, they may stick around & find your feeder.
If you don't have plants that are flowering yet, put up some fake ones around the feeder. Anything brightly colored, especially red and/or orange will help.
Red dye in the sugar solution is not necessary. Instead tie a red ribbon or stick red tap on the feeder itself to add color
If you have flowering plants, place hanging or potted plants of bright flowers near the feeder.
Place your new hummingbird feeder where hummers will find it easily.
Don't hang it under a tree or under the eave of your roof where they may not be able to spot it as they cruise by your neighborhood.
You many need to place your feeder out in a more open area at first to attract hummers. Once they find your feeder, and are coming to it daily, then
you can move it closer to where you can observe them better. Don't worry, they'll find it even though you've moved it. Do your kids stop looking for the
cookie jar just because you've moved it to the other side of the kitchen?
Space, Perches, & Cover
Make sure your feeder has enough space around it for hummers to hover easily while feeding - not jammed pack up against the house or shrub, etc.
Hummingbirds prefer feeding locations where there are nearby perches (this is in addition to the perches that already may be on the feeder). Perches in nearby
bushes or trees provide a safe place to rest and watch over their food source (the feeder).
They also like to have a clear view of their surroundings and a clear get-away path to nearby cover if a predator should arrive.
Up off the Ground Place your feeders higher off the ground than lower. Blem and Blem (1997) found that Rufous Hummingbirds occasionally foraged on flowers as low as 15 cm
from the ground and as high as 10 m. The former was rare, however. They hypothesized that avoidance of low flowers may reduce risk of predation.
Overall, hummingbirds usually preferred elevated sources over those near the ground. Keep your feeder out of reach of cats, at least 6 ft off the ground. Cats kill millions of birds every year.
Shade Which do your prefer? Sitting under the heat of the sun, with a hot glass of tea on a hot summer day? Or sipping a glass of cool, iced tea under the shade?
Well hummers like their nectar not heated as well. Try to place your feeder in a shady area, for at least the hottest part of the day, if nothing else.
Nectar heated by the sun spoils much faster than cooler, shaded nectar. Additionally, cool locations will prevent the solution from heating & expanding,
which sometimes causes the solution to drip out in those upside-down vacuum feeders.
If you just don't have a convenient shady area, you can improvise by creating your own shade for the feeder. Take a plastic red plate, punch a hole in the
middle and slide it over the support rod that the feeder is hanging from. Voila! Shade and more red color.
You should clean your feeders at least every 3 days in hot weather and 6-7 days in cool weather. Otherwise fermentation can occur and mold & bacteria will
grow, which can be fatal to hummingbirds. In addition, hummers won't like the taste of the nectar & stop coming to your feeders.
Clean the feeder with a mixture of hot water and a splash of vinegar. The vinegar will help remove any mold & bacteria. You can also use lemon juice or
dishwashing detergent - just make sure you rinse thoroughly to remove any residue.
You can also add some rock salt or uncooked rice in the rinse solution and then shake to help dislodge mold from hard to reach places.
Take a toothbrush or bottle brush to scrub any places that have intricate areas where mold or bacteria can accumulate.
Basically, clean your feeder enough so that you would feel comfortable drinking from it.
Empty reservoir and rinse in a mixture of hot water & vinegar
Add rock salt or uncooked rice grains to the rinse & shake to dislodge mold (black scum)
Empty feeder and rinse again thoroughly with hot water
If mold or any other residue remains, scrub with a toothbrush or bottle
Refill with nectar solution, hang feeder, and enjoy!
Look at hummingbird migration maps to get an idea of when hummers begin arriving in your location, which can be as early as February in the southern U.S. for
Early travelers migrating north will take advantage of your feeder when flower production isn't as abundant. During this time, hummingbirds often rely on sap produced by sapsucker (woodpecker) holes, insects, spiders, & perhaps
even your feeder.
When should I take my feeder down? Keeping a feeder up will not prevent a hummingbird from migrating. Hummingbirds migrate because it is an innate, genetic instinct, not
whether or not you keep your feeders out. Factors such as weather, length of daylight, & fat accumulation stimulate migration.
There are some late, migrating stragglers that during cold days and adverse weather conditions will appreciate your feeder along its journey south. As a
general rule, wait 2 weeks after the last bird was seen before bringing it in for winter. Rufous Hummingbirds have been reported to linger around in the
northeast late into fall & early winter.
For the most part, hummingbirds are rarely dependent upon feeders to survive. If you have a feeder & take it down, don't worry - they won't starve.
They'll just find another food source (other feeders, flowers, and/or insects & spiders).
Insects love sweets too. In order to keep ants, bees, & other pests from visiting your feeder you will need to take some preventative measures.
Bees and Wasps
Try to purchase a feeder that has wasp and bee guards (feeder example with bee guards).
They are small criss-crossed
screens that fit over the feeding ports. They keep bees out, but allow long,
hummingbird bills in.
If you have a vacuum feeder that drips, the guards won't help as much because the bees will be able to lick the leaking liquid around the feeding ports.
If you are having a lot of trouble with bees, try switching to a saucer feeder that won't drip. Bees may still be attracted to the smell, but you won't
have as many.
As another option, try moving your feeder. Bees and wasps have habitual daily flight routes they follow and you may be able
to lose them by moving the feeder.
They may never find it in its new location, whereas the hummingbirds will.
If that doesn't work, take the feeder down for a day or two, until you stop seeing bees and wasps. Hopefully, the bees will stop coming to your feeder
location, change their route and seek out another nectar source. And don't worry, you shouldn't lose your hummingbirds. They'll come back. They don't give
up as easily as bees.
You may want to consider putting up a bee or yellow jacket trap in addition to trying the other options if they are still a nuisance. It will help with
reducing the volume of bees that are around your feeders, but may not completely eliminate them altogether.
Ants can also be a problem. You can deter them by applying a coat of vasoline or cooking spray on the support arm above the feeder. This will create a barrier
to the feeding ports. Some feeders also come with moats that you fill with water or oil to prevent ants from crossing over to the nectar, but these must be kept
full in order to work.
Orioles, house finches, woodpeckers & other sugar-loving birds will be attracted to your hummingbird feeder as well. If you don't mind them sharing the
feeder-time with the hummers, do nothing.
If you do mind, there are some things you can do to prevent them from "sharing". If you purchase a feeder without perches, it will be more difficult
for other birds to feed because they can't hover. It's not a 100% deterrent, as some determined birds will acrobatically hang on anything they can to get a sip
of sweetness. But it will slow them down and may prevent others from landing who aren't so acrobatically inclined.
You can also put up
for these birds. Put out fruit such as halved apples or oranges, and/or small
containers of grape jelly to attract orioles & others away from the hummer
Individual hummingbirds can become quite possessive over their feeders,
dive-bombing on others that want to feed from their nectar source.
Place out several feeders if this becomes a problem for you. Place them where one bird can't guard both from any single overhead perch.
Blem and Blem (1997) found that birds partitioned themselves at different feeder heights in order to have free access without competition.
So try placing several feeders at different heights
to keep the dominant one
guarding the feeder above while others feed below.
Heated Hummingbird Feeder
Terri Asked: How to create a heated feeder? We have many hummers who stay year round in Washington state. I try to take my feeder in at night and
bring back in the morning, but I often forget. Wish someone made a heated one.
Well we had some suggestions, but Terri came up with an ingenious, yet simple and cheap way to keep
her nectar from freezing shown in the video below:
Keeping Nectar From Freezing
Why Won't Hummingbirds Come To My Feeder or Why Have They Disappeared?
We receive a lot of questions from people who put up a feeder for the first
time and don't get any hummingbirds and/or have been putting up hummingbird feeders for years and all of a sudden the hummingbirds disappear or never show
up. There are some things you can do to attract hummingbirds to your feeder, as mentioned above, and then all you can do is wait. Either habitat is suitable in
your neighborhood to attract them or not. As to why hummingbirds just suddenly disappear or come to your feeder in less numbers, well that's always hard to
pinpoint. Please read below for possible explanations.
Janet Asked: Hi, My question is I don't understand it, but last year I had 6 Ruby throated hummers come to my garden and before that always 2. This
year I saw a hummer 1 day and I have not seen one all summer. I put out 2 feeders to start with. I was wondering if something has disrupted their
migration across Illinois? Like the global warming or something else that is going on with the climate this summer. Thank you for any information.
Said: Has anything to your local neighborhood habitat, within 1-2 miles, changed between last year and this year. For example, a new development or other
construction that would have decreased nesting and/or food resources such as flowering plants? It's hard to pinpoint exactly why hummingbirds are not coming
to your garden, but surrounding habitat change could be a source even if you had several feeders up.
In regards to global warming, it would initially expand hummingbird migration north, as food sources and habitat would increase. If temperatures continued to
rise, perhaps hummingbirds' tropical habitat would decrease because higher temperatures would affect rain cycles and vegetation growth. And this in turn
would affect hummingbird populations and numbers that migrate north. However, when looking at recorded hummingbird migration observations, it looks like
ruby-throated migration was abundant across the entire state of Illinois. You therefore are experiencing a local, definitely not global or even statewide
Tammy-Jo Asked: I have been feeding hummers for years, this is the third year at my current home. This season the birds were plenty and then
all of a sudden they stopped coming to my feeder. I have flowers that they love, but they seem to have disappeared all together. My children have really
developed their passion for these flying jewels and are so worried about them. What can we do!? I know already the importance of cleaning the feeder and the
general rules to help the birds stay happy and healthy but I need your further help. PLEASE!!
Similarly, Bill Asked: Our Hummers arrived on May 1st and have been very active until 3 days ago. I've cleaned the feeders and changed the sugar-water
three times and they have just stopped coming. Why? We enjoy them so much! Bill
Also, Duke Asked: This time of May, my 2 feeders are constantly busy with many rufus',
but a couple of weeks ago they disappeared except for just a couple once in awhile. Being concerned in Quillayute Valley, Forks Washington. Thank you for
any information on this perplexing dilemma as I have been putting up feeders for several years now, and the rufus usually leaves about August.
And Jill Asked:
Here in north central Texas, the black-chinned hummers came back on Easter weekend. Females and males were numerous. Then two weeks ago, a house finch
started feeding at my sugar water feeders and the hummers have disappeared. Will they stay away or will they come back later. we had a wet winter that caused
abundant wildflower blooms this spring. Does that have something to do with the hummers leaving?
It has been suggested that during the nesting season hummingbird visitor frequency may go down or completely stop. Once the females lay eggs, they spend a lot more time incubating and staying
close to the nest. So some of the females may not be visiting your feeder anymore and getting nectar & insects elsewhere. But after the chicks fledge (leave the nest), expect the number of hummers at your feeder to be double what
it was before the "disappearance." Full explanation can be found here.
At the same time, the males will be busy defending their territories. If there is a territory within close proximity to your feeder, one male could be driving
away all the other hummers, defending the feeder as his. It's also possible the hummingbirds that were visiting your feeders are still migrating and have moved
This is just one explanation, but also look locally in regards to habitat change as mentioned above to Janet's question. If so, try to attract
hummingbirds with even more obvious displays of color. Tie red ribbons on or near feeders, put up brilliant-colored hanging baskets of flowering plants,
anything that will attract hummingbirds. I'm assuming that you already know not to use pesticides on or near your flowering gardens. For both Tammy-Jo and Bill,
I wouldn't worry too much. You should see hummingbirds come and go in different numbers throughout the summer months.
And Jill, It's likely that many of those black-chins visiting your feeder during April were migrating through, using your feeder to fuel up before continuing on
north. Your local hummingbirds should now be there and yes, it is possible that if there are abundant sources of natural nectar, more so than usual, than you
may see less hummingbirds, possibly none. Otherwise, the house finch shouldn't keep the hummers away. As flower blooms decrease, I would expect hummingbirds to
return to your feeder and it still is possible they will return earlier.
Tammy-Jo's Reply: Hello birder-friend! It was so awesome to hear back from you so quickly! Today I hung a new feeder with the resting ring for them
to take a break from drinking, and also put a huge red bowl upside down and over the feeder to give it some shade, I had never thought of the nesting and the
babies keeping the parents away from the feeders! I have never read that either! I feel so much better since getting your email. The hummers
"disappeared a few days BEFORE my husband did some weed-eating, so the habitat hasn't changed. Hopefully they will return soon, I plan to add some flowering
bushes around the feeder also. I will "talk to you later "with an update!, Tammy-Jo.
Tammy-Jo Update: Hello Dear Birder! The hummers are back just as you
predicted! Thanks so much! -Tammy-Jo. (Hummingbirds disappeared May 26, returned
Vel Asked: I have just discovered hummingbirds. I put out my feeder in the beginning of April cause I couldn't wait. They finally came at
almost the end of April. There were a lot of them, seemed like every 20 minutes. Then within a few weeks time they were gone. I keep putting out fresh nectar,
but not even one bird comes! What did I do wrong and how can I get them back. Now it is the end of May. Can you help? Have you ever heard of this happening
Bliss Said: I'm guessing most of the birds you were seeing at your feeders in April were migrants and then once migration was done, they've
disappeared. I don't know what kind of habitat is around your area, but it's possible that it's not suitable for breeding and nesting for hummingbirds and so
they've moved on and migrated north.
Do you live in a city, suburb or rural area? Are there plenty of trees, shrubs, flowering plants in your nearby area? Let us know. Maybe we can come up with some other reasons or a way to attract
hummingbirds back to your feeders.
Burma Said: I made my own hummingbird nectar today and gonna try it out. I got 3 feeders for mothers day. I like the simple things in life. I
enjoy watching the hummers and so do my grandsons. We are nature seekers and they get so excited about the little things in life. They just need to know that
life can be simple, but fun too.
Bliss Said: Hope you get plenty of visitors with your 3 hummingbird feeders, Jasper. I love taking time out in the day to just sit and watch the
hummers and other birds at our backyard feeders. I too enjoy simplicity.
So now it time to turn off the TV, get yourself a hummingbird feeder, and be entertained by the live action-adventure episodes right outside your back yard!