For any bird watcher, backyard gardener, and nature lover, hummingbirds are one of the coolest birds in North America (as well as many species in other parts of the world)., and one of the easiest to feed. Making a simple syrup is cheap and simple. Feeding hummingbirds provides a reliable food source for them. this is especially important during their migration times, when food sources may be limited.
The general rule is 1 part sugar (the white, granulated, not so healthy for human kind) to 4 parts of water. Although I have just heated water in the microwave and dissolved the sugar, I find the hummers like it even better is the water just simmers on the stove for a bit, and the dissolved sugar makes a thickened sticky simply syrup. Make sure the syrup has cooled before filling feeders and putting it out.
What about other kinds of sugar? Cane sugar is okay, though it gives the syrup a slightly colored appearance. Don’t use any other kind – no turbinado, or brown sugar. No artificial sweeteners. No agave sugar, molasses or honey. Just plain old white sugar is the safest and best for our hummer friends.
Hummers can be susceptible to mold and bacteria in feeders, so it’s best to change the solution at least weekly, and more often if the feeder hangs in the sun. Wash it well, don’t forget the base. I make at least 1/2 gallon of syrup at once, and store the leftovers in the refrigerator after feeling the feeders. It will easily keep for a couple weeks; mine seldom lasts that long. Take the syrup out for 1/2 hour or so, and let it warm up slightly before filling and hanging out a feeder.
I hang out several feeders, some in the front of the house and some in the back. Some of these little guys and girls can be very protective of the feeder that they claim as “theirs”.
Feeders come in a wide variety of styles. Individual hummers also have preferences: some like feeders with posts to light on like this or this Perky Pet feeder, others will just hover, no post needed, like this one. And while there are even feeder that mount on window glass , I don’t recommend them. Hummers that fly into glass risk severe injuries that may result in death, or at least being severely stunned (I’ve seen this happen several times).
Since we all know hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, there are feeders that come with red glass or plastic, rather than being clear. Do avoid using the packet of red colored mix that comes with some feeders though, the dyes cannot be good for the little birds. I know they are listed now as safe, but why take a chance?
Hummingbirds arrive and leave about the same time of year, I can usually guess the right week. It seems like once I hang out a feeder in the last week of April (here in the northeast USA), I have a hummer arriving within 24 hours. Same when they leave – first week in September. In the fall though I will leave out feeders into late September, because there are always some stragglers leaving for Mexico and South America late in the season, and many of the flowers with nectar they depend on have died off. They have such a high metabolism and need so much energy, a feeder can be just the food source they need for travel.
For more about hummingbirds in general, attracting them, the different species, and migration, visit the Audubon website .
What do you do to attract hummingbirds, and what species do you see? In NY, I only have the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.