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 :-)

    • 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!

  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.

  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.

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