Expert Tips for Attracting Hummingbirds

Attracting hummingbirds is easy when you start thinking like a hummingbird! Experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman explain what these birds really want and need.

Hummingbirds are some of the most fascinating and flashy fliers you’ll ever see. Yet they’re also some of the most misunderstood. If you want to attract them and keep them coming around (and don’t we all?) you might not be sure how to get started. After all, a lot of information is out there, and it’s a little overwhelming trying to decide what to believe or try. To provide a little insight into these tiny feathered gems, we thought we would get inside their heads a bit and think the way they do. Of course, we can’t really think like hummingbirds. But we have studied their behavior enough over the years to make some good guesses about what they’re thinking. Here’s what we think they might advise.

In North America, the flowers best adapted for hummingbird pollination are bright red blooms with a tubular shape. Hummingbirds instinctively watch for red things and investigate them. (We’ve seen them making detours to check out the taillights of parked cars, and even someone’s sunburned nose!) There’s no question that planting red flowers will when attracting hummingbirds.

Some companies sell hummingbird nectar, but you can easily make your own. Measure out 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water and mix thoroughly. If you boil the mixture to remove impurities, it may keep longer before it starts to spoil. And don’t mix in any honey, red dye or other additives when feeding hummingbirds. Simple sugar and water work just fine.

Attracting hummingbirds

Feeding hummingbirds means keeping the feeders squeaky clean. Change the sugar water every few days and clean weekly. Cynthia Lockwood

Sugar water that has started to grow moldy can be dangerous to birds. If you’re going to put out feeders, it’s essential that you keep them clean and replace the mixture regularly—at least once every three or four days, more often in hot weather. If the mixture starts to look cloudy, clean the feeder and replace the nectar immediately.

Hummingbirds are always looking around for food sources, and they’re good at finding them, but you’ll have more luck attracting hummingbirds if you put feeders in a place where it’s easy to spot. Use a feeder with some bright red on it, and position it where it can be seen by birds flying past at a distance.

Goldfinches and some other songbirds may feed together peacefully, but hummingbirds often fight around feeders, chasing one another away. Hummingbirds are adapted to feeding at flowers, which will produce only limited amounts of nectar, so they instinctively protect their food sources even when they’re at feeders with an unlimited supply. Try putting up two or more feeders that can’t be seen from one another. Even the toughest little hummingbird can’t monopolize multiple feeders if he or she can’t see them all at once.

If the hummingbirds returning in spring seem to remember where you had flowers or feeders in previous years, they probably do. As tiny creatures that rely on specialized food sources in a big, big world, they have to be good at finding their way back to the best spots. They have a highly developed sense of what scientists call spatial memory. This is a good reason to work extra hard at attracting hummingbirds. Once you get them established, they’ll be back for more.

Attracting hummingbirds

Don’t be alarmed if you only see females at the nest. Males don’t help with raising young. Adam (arwinn)

While the hummingbirds enjoy having your backyard as a nectar source, they aren’t relying on you 100 percent. One of the top questions we are asked is: “If I have my feeder out in fall, will it keep the hummingbirds from migrating?” The answer is no – feeding hummingbirds will not stop them from migrating. They’ll migrate when they’re ready, whether or not feeders are available. It’s instinct!

Backyard birders sometimes worry because they had a pair of hummingbirds around and then the male disappeared, leaving a single mother behind. But this is normal for hummingbirds. The male never helps with nest building, incubation or feeding the young. The amazing mother hummingbird does all that work herself. Meanwhile, the male goes off in search of another female. It seems odd to humans, but this behavior ensures that there will be even more hummingbirds for us to enjoy!

It may take some time for hummingbirds to find your feeder—and even after they do, it may be a while before you notice that they’re visiting. They may zip in to the feeder for a quick sip many times before you happen to catch them in the act. So keep feeding hummingbirds, and keep watching. You’re likely to be rewarded.

  1. c. stevens says

    I was thrilled to read this! Now I know everything, like throwing out the nectar in the cupboard that’s a year old, where to put the feeders (paint the yellow one red), put one in the back, one in the front and wait for the little darlings to come zooming into my yard. Keeping my fingers Xd that I’ll see more of them soon.

  2. Marcie says

    I have a couple who will come peek in my windows until I notice them and put the feeders out!! Every year-we had a house fire in the fall 2 years ago, and as our new house was being built in the same spot, they would hang around looking for food. One of the first things I did when we moved in was had the hooks put in my front porch to hang the feeders!! We have a group who come back every year, love it!!

  3. Connie K. says

    I have some that return every year and will hover at the feeder spot until I hang it for them. If you have a feeder with yellow ports, paint them red with nail polish and the bees/wasps will not be attracted. By the end of summer when babies are grown I have to hang 4 feeders as they will not share :-)

    • Sue says

      Hi, I live in NH and I usually start seeing them a short time after the Baltimore Orioles arrive. Try the middle of May. :)

    • Catherine Smith says

      They always come right after my birthday, which is May 1st. They are always here by Mother’s Day. I live near Augusta, ME. If my feeders aren’t out the buzz me in the window. If they get empty they also let me know. I like the small feeders used in plant pots that come with a long wire with a hook on the end. They seem to like these the best and the sugar water is always fresh as it is a smaller feeder. I also put one in the upstairs office window in the front of the house so I have them in front & in the back. I have even held one of these feeders in my hand they come right up to it. What a thrill to hear & see those little wings move so fast.

    • Gaye Ann Pusch says

      I think the solution sours even if boiled/not boiled. The difference is the temp outside and it its directly in the sun. I have 4 feeders, 2 in shade and 2 in sun, and I can see such a difference in location. Sun of course being the worst…but for sum reason they like it better…go figure!

    • Basil says

      Also PLEASE remember that if you boil the nectar solution to let it cool thoroughly before you put it out.

  4. Carla Lee says

    We live in Western WA. We had a hummer all winter, Second year this little bird has stayed all winter. It even guarded that feeder, sitting on a dried geranium plant. Darling bird.

    Question, for about two weeks the hummer disappeared, and now it’s back. Was this because it was hunting for a mate, or nesting?

    Thank you Carla

  5. says

    Great information here that can really be used to set up a good feeding and H2O station for hummingbirds. The picture of Honey Boo Boo’s Mom blowing kisses up at the top right however made it too nauseating to read the entire article without wrenching. You might want to get rid of that trash.

  6. Carla Christopherson says

    I’m so tired of reading, “Don’t add color to the nectar.” When I stopped adding red food coloring, all my hummingbirds went away (and I’ve tried this more than once). When I start adding the color again, they come back.

      • Sue says

        Try changing feeders. I put one out and they didn’t like it, although my neighbor had them right next door. I bought another one to try and they love it! Just make sure your feeder is bright red and the solution is fresh. Good luck!

    • says

      The food coloring is damaging to their kidneys. The red features on the feeders. In Ohio I put them out on April 15th. You can also use deep throated flowers even orange Trumpet vine.

    • Laura H. says

      I agree. I’ve tried multiple feeders with the clear and colored nectar and they don’t come to the clear nectar or not nearly as often. People say that the red dye is damaging to them (and to people as well) but hummingbird nectar has been red my entire life. There has been a stink about red dyes since the 1970;s and I’d think if they were that dangerous, they’d have been banned from food products by now. JMO.

  7. Rose Kuhn says

    I would like to caution everyone that has a red plastic emergency handle on their garage door. It dangles from the chain drive and is very tempting to hummers and will draw them inside when the door is open. Just put a strip of black electrician’s tape over the red, and it will keep them from entering your garage and getting so confused that they are stuck in the building. This happened to us a couple of times before we figured out what the problem was.

  8. Carol says

    Do you know if chipmonks eat humming bird eggs.
    I have more chipmonks this year and less hummingbird babies?

  9. Linda says

    Sugar question: should I use cane sugar or beet sugar? I don’t want the hummers to be drinking GMO sugar.
    I don’t use food dye as there is research finding red dyes can cause issues for people.

  10. dsf says

    I was attracted to this page after noticing that they are creatures of habit. The one that has gained access to my feeder stops by at just before 8, around 9, and again around 1 pm. Everyday. and takes off and heads in the same direction each time. Quite fascinating and gives me a heads up when to watch. There was a battle early in the spring where he fought off another hummingbird (even though they called a truce and fed from opposite sides of the feeder). But he/she is only one since then, so I feel like he must have “won” something. To the commenter above, I have a third floor balcony and he is a regular visitor.

  11. dsf says

    I also inadvertently picked up petunias in a mid-summer clearance sale and now he briefly checks those out too. I might look into producing healthier petunias that are nectar rich so that they will feed from those too.

  12. Barbwire says

    Ohio here and have my feeders up but frost will hit tonight. Will do my best to keep them good for as long as it takes.

  13. says

    According to renowned entomologist Doug Tallamy, a hummingbird’s diet is 80% tiny insects and spiders which means that a variety of native plants (which attract and host insects) are a must in the garden. Also, a man made ‘nectar’ feeder is good but planting the natives our ruby throated hummingbirds evolved with is even better. Plants like cardinal flower/Lobelia cardinalis,coral honeysuckle/Lonicera sempervirens, and Eastern red columbine/Aquilegia canadensis — and choose the species, not the cultivars. The double flowers of columbine cultivars do not provide nectar. If you have the conditions for all three of these plants, the more power to you and your hummers!

  14. Deborah Mindick says

    I have a window feeder that I place on my slider door that does not move, I have several Hummers that continue to come – one even flew in my house – it took me hours to finally catch it. It wore itself out so much – that I had to hand feed it! Then we let her go outside.
    Funny thing, the hummers do not like the hanging feeder on the deck – BUT it is close to my other feeders, could that be why?

  15. Colleen says

    Have moved to TN from OH–will put up feeders on porch, but also have a small empty flowerbed. What native flowers should I plant?

  16. Becky says

    I have 2 or 3 hummers that return every year. I have them feed from my hand also. When it is late summer the bees take over and I can’t seem to get rid of them. Any suggestions?

  17. S Davidson says

    Can someone please tell me where I can find a faucet feeder like above, I love it and would look great in my garden.

  18. says

    I had family members, that feed so many hummers at one time you thought a swarm of bees was coming at you. As soon as the feeders, at least 4,would be put out it was hard to count them all. I saw hummers sitting on his finger and feeding while sitting on the porch in amazement.The hummers knew this was the place to get a good meal.

Add a Comment

Want to attract more birds to your backyard?

Get ideas and answers to your toughest birding questions with our free Birding newsletter!

Enter your email address: