Your Essential Guide to Hummingbird Food

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Quick! Fill your feeders with hummingbird food for the best chance to attract these amazing birds. Learn how to make the homemade hummingbird food recipe.

Hummingbird foodCourtesy Barbara Reams
Ruby-throated hummingbird at a feeder

Hummingbirds zip, zoom and dart through gardens, woodland edges and parks from one food source to another. Because they constantly burn energy while on the move, they may eat up to three times their body weight in a day. To find that much nectar, one bird might visit hundreds of flowers per day, which is why a hummingbird-friendly backyard is so important. They also visit hummingbird feeders. Here’s everything you need to know about hummingbird food, including the homemade recipe.

Hummingbird Food FeederVia

Best Feeders for Hummingbird Food

Attracting hummingbirds is easy when you cater to their sweet tooth with hummingbird food. A sugar water feeder is the quickest way to jump-start your hummingbird haven. Buy a basic red plastic feeder from any birding store or online. Choose one with a built-in ant moat and yellow bee guards to keep the pests away and your fast flying guests safe.

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It can be helpful to offer more than one feeder because hummingbirds can get protective or territorial in summer. Help defeat a bully male hummingbird by hanging feeders in a couple of locations. Always clean your hummingbird feeders at least once a week. This is another reason some people like to have an extra set of feeders to swap out.

Homemade Hummingbird Food Recipe

Here’s how to make the hummingbird food recipe. Mix four parts water to one part white table sugar (do not use honey, brown sugar or artificial sweeteners). Boil and let it cool before filling your feeders. Heating the water helps dissolve the sugar. Store any extra in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Although hummingbirds love red, it’s not necessary (and may even be harmful) to dye your mixture red with food coloring. Clear sugar water gets the job done just as well.

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How Often to Change Hummingbird Food

Make sure you replace the food every couple of days (and more often in hot weather) to keep contamination and mold growth down. Placing feeders in shady areas may slow down the growth of gunk, too, but you should still refill with fresh hummingbird food regularly. If the feeder is empty, the birds will look for food somewhere else.

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Readymade Hummingbird FoodVia

Pre-Made Hummingbird Food Mixtures

Some stores also sell pre-made hummingbird food, which can be a convenient time-saver. Just make sure to avoid any hummingbird food mixtures with additives or artificial colors.

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Check out frequently asked questions about attracting hummingbirds.

When to Start and Stop Feeding Hummingbird Food

In spring, hummingbirds reach the Gulf Coast by late February or March. They typically arrive in northern states by mid-May. As hummingbirds move south in late summer and early fall, they need food sources to fuel their migration. Males tend to start the trek first, sometimes heading south as early as July.

To make sure you feed any stragglers, a good rule of thumb is to leave your feeders up for a week or two after you see the last hummingbird pass by. In milder climates, you may have hummingbirds all winter!

Other Hummingbird Food Sources

Nectar-rich tubular flowers are another way for backyard birders to lure hummingbirds. Bee balm, salvia, coral honeysuckle and fuchsia are popular flowers with hummingbirds, offering the vibrant colors they love and easy access to nectar. However, the sweet stuff covers just one dietary need. Hummingbirds also require protein to survive, and they get their fill of it from small insects, such as mosquitoes, gnats and fruit flies. They eat spiders, too. Food sources like sugar water, flowers and bugs are especially important as young hummingbirds seek nutrition and prepare for fall migration.

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Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten is the content director of Birds & Blooms. She's been with the brand in various roles since 2007. She has many favorite birds (it changes with the seasons), but top picks include the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak. Her bucket list bird is the painted bunting.