Sugar Water for Hummingbirds 101

Learn how to make sugar water for hummingbirds. Get the hummingbird sugar water recipe and ratio to attract more of these tiny fliers to visit your feeders.

Hummingbird Sugar Water Ratio and Recipe

If you haven’t memorized the hummingbird sugar water recipe yet, then now is the time. Here’s the ratio: Combine four parts hot water to one part sugar. Mix it up until it’s completely dissolved. Once it cools to room temperature, it’s ready. Follow these expert tips to attract hummingbirds.

Do I Need to Boil Sugar Water for Hummingbirds?

“Is it necessary to boil the sugar water mixture for hummingbird feeders? I just stir until the sugar is dissolved. I’ve always wondered if it’s safe to make my hummingbird food recipe without boiling,” asks Amy Kernes of Brea, California.

Opinions differ on the importance of boiling the hummingbird food mixture. We always do boil the water to neutralize some impurities that might be in the water or sugar. Besides, sugar dissolves more easily in hot water. But as soon as the feeder is outdoors, contaminants will get into the water anyway, brought by hummingbirds, insects or just a breeze. So at best, boiling the mixture keeps it fresh a little longer. If your water is good and your time is limited, washing the feeder thoroughly and often is more important than boiling the sugar water mixture.

Using really hot water will usually suffice to dissolve the sugar. However, if you plan on making extra hummingbird sugar water to store in the fridge or you have so-so water quality, then it’s best to boil.

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Hummingbird lands on sugar water feeder.Courtesy Marc Fahringer
Ruby-throated hummingbird

Stick to White Sugar

It’s always best to stick with real white sugar in your hummingbird feeders. Say no to sugar substitutes and brown sugar. Check out the essential guide to hummingbird food.

Don’t Add Honey to Hummingbird Sugar Water

Some people like to come up with creative ways to sweeten sugar water for hummingbirds water without sugar, and the most common stand-in is honey. Honey can make your sugar water mixture ferment more quickly. Skip the honey, and stick to sugar.

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Skip the Red Food Coloring in the Sugar Water Recipe 

Though hummingbirds are attracted to red, clear sugar water works just fine—skip the red dye. The birds will still find your feeders. Even though every bird expert seems to agree that you don’t need red dye, people still add it to their sugar water. You also see companies offering pre-made hummingbird sugar water that is red. If this is you, don’t feel bad—but it’s time to break this habit once and for all. You don’t need red water to attract hummingbirds. In fact, the food coloring could be bad for the birds (scientists are still figuring this one out). Either way, it’s not worth the risk.

Hummingbirds love these red flowers.

Keep Sugar Water for Hummingbirds Clean

Hummingbird sugar water eventually goes bad, unless you’re lucky enough to have a busy feeder that the hummingbirds quickly empty. You should be in the habit of changing it every few days or even sooner if it’s really hot outside. Also, don’t forget to clean your feeders regularly. Mold can collect, so you want to make sure you’re offering hummingbirds clean, safe sugar water.

Need clever tips for cleaning the nooks and crannies of hummingbird sugar water feeders? Our readers can help. “I rinse my feeders with vinegar, and they stay clean. I rinse them every time I change the food. It’s so easy and works well,” says Mattie Stillwell of Tenaha, Texas. “I keep a box of parakeet gravel on hand to clean my feeders. Put a couple teaspoons in the feeder with warm water, then swirl and rise. It cleans the toughest mold,” says Sally Brovold Kulm of North Dakota.

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Choose Sugar Water Feeders Wisely

When selecting a feeder, pick one with a wide opening to make cleaning easy. Scrub it once every few days, more often in hot weather. And look for red! Hummingbirds are particularly drawn to the color, so choose a feeder with red features to draw extra attention. Purchase a feeder with perches to give hummers opportunities for a brief rest, but keep in mind that orioles—also sugar-water lovers— may stop by, too.

Add a Second Hummingbird Feeder

Add another sugar water feeder in late summer when migration increases. This will help keep territorial male hummingbirds from fighting for space. Psst—we found hummingbird feeders and accessories your birds will love.

Block Bugs from Sugar Water for Hummingbirds

Certain insects, like yellow jackets and ants, are drawn to sugar water. To help keep them at bay, install nectar guard tips or ant moats. Also hang feeders in shadier spots to discourage bees from taking over, as they prefer sunny locations.

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Molly Jasinski
Molly Jasinski is a writer, editor and social media manager for Birds & Blooms. She enjoys watching the robins, cardinals and occasional goldfinch seen around her apartment.