What Foods, How Often and How Much Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Birding experts discuss what do hummingbirds eat—and how often they eat it! A hummingbird's diet includes more foods than you may think!

hummingbird at sugar water feederCourtesy Alicia Casey
A hummingbird eats at a sugar water feeder

What Foods Do Hummingbirds Eat?

If you want to attract these majestic fliers, you need to know what foods hummingbirds eat. Hummingbirds consume a variety of foods in their diet. They drink nectar from flowers and sugar water for energy. Roger Emerick of South Glastonbury, Connecticut, asks, “Should I add anything to the sugar water for my hummingbirds to make it more nutritious?”

When you’re feeding them at your hummingbird feeder, there’s no need to put in additives such as red dye or honey. Offer hummingbirds the perfect meal by making this sugar water recipe.

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hummingbird photosCourtesy Sonja Puhek
Rufous hummingbird feeds on flower nectar

Nectar-rich tubular flowers are another way for backyard birders to lure hummingbirds to eat in your backyard. 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 forage for other food sources besides flowers and feeders.

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hummingbird eating a mosquitoCourtesy Jasmin Robinson
A ruby-throated hummingbird eats a mosquito.

Do Hummingbirds Eat Mosquitoes?

Hummingbirds also require protein to survive. They get their fill of it by eating small insects like fruit flies, mosquitoes and gnats. They eat spiders, too. Multiple food sources like sugar water, flowers and bugs are especially important as baby hummingbirds seek nutrition and prepare for fall migration.

Hummingbirds are so resourceful that they often forage for insects in the sap wells drilled in trees by sapsuckers.

Like many other hummingbirds, Anna’s eat insects like midges and leaf hoppers. The high-protein diet might help them tolerate colder conditions in gardens, parks and streamside areas all along the West Coast year-round. Allen’s hummingbirds pluck bugs and spiders off spiderwebs.

How Often Do Hummingbirds Eat?

what do hummingbirds eatCourtesy Elijah Gildea

Because they constantly burn energy while on the move, hummingbirds 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. This is why a hummingbird-friendly backyard is so important.

Anusha Shankar, a postdoctoral fellow conducting research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, explains why these birds are always eating. She says, “Hummingbirds need to eat constantly because they use up energy very quickly. If we had their metabolic rate, we’d need to eat 300 hamburgers a day to survive!”

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How Much Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Hummingbird foodCourtesy Barbara Reams
Ruby-throated hummingbird at a feeder

“I use about a gallon of sugar water a day. Is it possible to determine how many hummingbirds I feed by the amount of sugar water they drink in a day?” asks Marge Kaufman of Sigel, Illinois.

According to lab studies, the amount of sugar water consumed by a hummingbird will vary depending on the richness of the sugar concentration. With the typical 4:1 ratio of water to sugar, a ruby-throat probably won’t drink more than about 2 fluid ounces per day. A gallon of sugar water could feed about 60 hummingbirds in a day! The actual number of individuals could be even higher if some are just stopping briefly, or it could be lower if some of the sugar water is being lost to evaporation, dripping, insects, etc. It’s tricky to come up with solid numbers, but it’s still fun to ponder how many hummers might be out there.

Birds & Blooms reader Elijah Gildea of Redding, California, writes, “Every spring and throughout most of the year, 50 to 100 hummingbirds visit my 11 feeders. They drink about 2 gallons of sugar water per day! April is my favorite month. I’ve had as many as six species show up then—Anna’s, rufous, Calliope, black chinned, Allen’s and a single Costa’s.”

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. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.