Backyard Ecology Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife
Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife

10 Tips for Feeding Hummingbirds

A male ruby-throated hummingbird visiting a feeder. Photo credit: Eric Kilby, cc-by-sa 2.0 

Many people enjoy feeding hummingbirds during the summer. In Kentucky and the rest of the eastern U.S., the hummingbird that we are feeding is the ruby-throated hummingbird. It is the only hummingbird that nests in the eastern U.S. Below are 10 tips for feeding hummingbirds.

  1.  Hummingbird food should consist only of 1 cup table sugar dissolved in 3-4 cups water. You can boil the water to help the sugar dissolve better and then let it cool down before feeding it to the birds. Make sure you use regular table sugar and not honey or other sweeteners because they aren’t good for the birds.
  2.  Never add red food coloring or other substances to the sugar water. They aren’t needed and may harm the hummingbird. Most feeders have a red base and that is all that is needed to attract the hummingbirds. Even just tying a red ribbon directly above the feeder can help attract the birds without adding coloring to the water.
  3.  Fill your hummingbird feeder with only enough sugar water to feed the birds in your area for a day or two. This may mean only partially filling the feeder. Any extra sugar water that you make up can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.
  4.  Place your hummingbird feeder out of the direct sun. If you place it in a bright, sunny spot, then the sugar water will go bad faster. The feeder may also be more likely to leak which will attract ants, bees, and wasps.
  5.  If you see mold growing around the feeding ports or the water becomes cloudy, then the feeder needs to be emptied and cleaned. A good rule of thumb is to change the water at least once a week and more often in hotter weather or if the feeder is in full sun. In the middle of summer, you may need to change the water every day.
  6.  Always clean the feeder well before refilling it. Scrub both the container that holds the sugar water and the base, including the feeding ports. You’ll need to use a small bottle brush to clean the feeder ports. Use dish soap or another mild detergent when cleaning the hummingbird feeder, just make sure to rinse it well. Some newer feeders can even go in the dishwasher, although you may still need to clean the feeding ports.
  7.  If you are having trouble with ants, bees, or wasps, try taking the feeder down for a few days. Flowers don’t naturally produce nectar continuously throughout the summer, so the hummingbirds will be fine while you aren’t feeding them. They’ll just think that flower has stopped blooming for a bit. The hummingbirds will continue to come back to the area where your feeder was to see if that “flower” has started blooming again. Often, the bees and ants will stop returning to a former feeding spot before the hummingbirds do. After a few days, put the feeder back out and see if the problem happens again. You can also buy hummingbird feeders with ant moats or bee guards which are designed to help prevent bee and ant problems.
  8.  Make sure your hummingbird feeder is high enough off the ground and far enough away from any branches, retaining walls, or other features that cats and other predators can’t reach the birds. You want your hummingbird feeder to feed the hummingbirds, not feed hummingbirds to the local predator population.
  9.  Hummingbirds are territorial so several smaller hummingbird feeders scattered throughout your yard are likely to attract more hummingbirds than a single, large hummingbird feeder. While it is impressive to see lots of hummingbirds battling over a single feeder, it is better for the birds if they are spread out at multiple feeders.
  10.  In the fall, leave your hummingbird feeders up for several weeks after you see your last hummingbird. Leaving your hummingbird feeder up won’t delay the hummingbirds’ migration south. However, it may provide a much needed energy source for any late migrants that may show up.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology. All of Shannon’s Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blogs can be found at https://shannontrimboli.com/posts/blog/.


Backyard Ecology: Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I started Backyard Ecology as a way to share my love of exploring nature and learning about different plants and animals. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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