9 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.

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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.

Plant Red Flowers

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 attract hummingbirds.

Offer Sugar Water

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.

Hummingbird perches on a feederCourtesy Cynthia Lockwood
Feeding hummingbirds means keeping the feeders squeaky clean. Change the sugar water every few days and clean weekly.

Keep Feeders Clean

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.

Make Feeders Easy to Find

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 hummingbird feeder with some bright red on it, and position it where it can be seen by birds flying past at a distance.

Give Hummingbirds Some Space

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.

Place Feeders in the Same Place as Last Year

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.

Feeding Hummingbirds Doesn’t Delay Migration

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!

An Anna's hummingbird mom feeds chicks in a nest.Courtesy Anne Winder-Steed
An Anna’s hummingbird feeds chicks in the nest.

Hummingbird Pairs Don’t Stay Together

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!

Be Patient for Hummingbirds to Visit

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.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.