Are you confused about what to put in hummingbird feeder? You are not alone! Hummingbirds are a bit of an enigma. Their diets and taste preferences can differ from those in the wild, yet they still need some necessities such as nectar or jelly (or both!). So, if you’ve never fed hummingbirds before, here’s a primer on what you should know.
When Should You Fill Your Feeder?
If you want your hummingbird visitors to come back again and again, then you need to provide them with plenty of food when they arrive. This is especially true for birds with little energy reserves, such as ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris).
These small ruby-throats often come to your feeders in winter when they have little energy to spare. If you’re lucky enough to live near a garden, it’s probably best to fill your feeder early in the morning or late at night, so the hummingbirds will have time to get their fill before going off hunting.
How Often Should You Fill it?
The amount of nectar or sugar water you give your hummingbirds depends on several factors, including how many hummingbirds visit your feeder each day and how long they stay there. Some people set up multiple feeders throughout their yard and try to keep all of them filled at once, but this isn’t necessary. The more feeders you place around your property, the more likely a visiting bird will find one of them.
To determine how many hummingbirds visit your feeder each day, look at the empty feeder after you’ve removed any previous visitors. Then count the number of droppings left behind by the birds.
If you see two or three droppings, this means that a couple of hummingbirds per day are visiting your feeder. If you only see one, then you’re attracting a single visitor per day.
What Type of Nectar Should You Use?
Nectar is the primary source of energy for hummingbirds. They eat nectar to satisfy their thirst and because it helps them survive cold weather. For example, ruby-throated hummingbirds prefer nectar made from the flowers of various plants called milkweeds.
There are hundreds of milkweed species, and each has its characteristics. Some types produce nectars that are sweeter than others. Also, some flowers have more pollen than others, which makes them more nutritious for hummingbirds. So, it’s essential to experiment with different kinds of nectar until you find the right combination for your yard.
How Much Sugar Water Do You Give Them?
Hummingbirds don’t have large bodies, and they don’t store fat. So, they need to replenish their energy stores regularly. And the easiest way to do that is to drink lots of nectar. However, most hummingbirds can’t handle too much sugar water.
So how much sugar water you give your hummingbirds depends on several factors, including the type of nectar you use, the size of the hummingbirds, and the weather conditions.
Some hummingbirds have special needs, though. For instance, Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) are adapted to low-sugar nectar, so they’ll need less sugar water than other hummingbirds. Other species may require slightly more sugar water to compensate for the higher pollen content of certain flowers. But even with these differences, most hummingbirds can handle two to three teaspoons of sugar per cup of nectar.
What Kind of Plants Will They Eat?
In general, hummingbirds like flowers that have brightly colored petals. Most of the nectar you see at hummingbird feeders comes from blue, red, yellow, and white flowers.
However, some species prefer flowers mottled in black, purple, or brown colors. These flowers contain nectar rich in carotenoids, which are pigments that protect the plants from ultraviolet radiation.
Blue flowers are excellent sources of nectar, but there are many other options. For example, you can also feed hummingbirds flowers with long tubular corollas. These flowers are often called trumpet-shaped since their blossoms resemble the mouthpiece of a trumpet. A few species of hummingbirds, such as the Allen’s hummingbird (Mellisuga alleni), will also take sunflowers.
What About Insects?
Insects are another possible problem for your hummingbird feeder. Some insects will try to get inside the feeder and eat the nectar, while others will land on the nectar surface and suck up the sugar water. If you notice insect damage, you should check your feeder daily.
If you see evidence of ants or cockroaches, you should thoroughly wash the container with hot water and soap.
What Else Can You Feed Them?
If you want to attract a broader range of hummingbirds, you should offer them a variety of foods. Many hummingbirds are omnivorous, meaning that they can eat both nectar and insects. The best way to provide a wide variety of food is by using suet blocks, which are solidified animal fats.
Suet blocks are great because they don’t spoil quickly, and you can store them in your freezer until you need them. You can also buy artificial suet blocks in feed stores, although they’re usually expensive.
Do You Need to Clean Your Feeder?
Most hummingbirds don’t seem to mind whether their feeder gets dirty, but if you live in an area where mosquitoes are prevalent, you should clean your feeder every week. Mosquitoes can carry diseases that can be harmful to hummingbirds, and they also sometimes lay eggs in the feeder itself.
If you see any signs of mosquito activity around your feeders, such as dead mosquitoes, larvae, or eggshells, you should clean them immediately.
How Long Should They Stay?
When you fill your hummingbird feeder, you’re providing the birds with a constant supply of food. But what you’re doing is permitting them to hang out in your yard. You can leave the feeder unattended for a few hours, but if you plan to let your hummingbirds stay overnight, you should remove the water after 4 p.m. Otherwise, the birds might wake up and find themselves in a strange environment.
Also, if you live in an area where hummingbirds are common, you should put your feeder in a sheltered spot away from direct sunlight. This will help protect the nectar from evaporation, preventing the hummingbirds from dehydrating.
What If I Don’t Have Any Nectar?
If you’re having trouble finding a source of nectar, you could try substituting honey for the sugar water. Honey is a good alternative because it’s high in sugar, and it doesn’t evaporate as quickly. You can also mix water and sugar to make a similar solution to nectar.
An Easy Nectar Recipe for Hummingbirds That You Can Make at Home
Here’s a simple recipe for making your nectar:
- One part sugar water (four parts water to one part sugar)
- Two parts honey
Mix the ingredients and allow them to sit for at least 30 minutes before feeding. This will ensure that the mixture is well mixed.
If you’re new to hummingbird feeding, you may feel overwhelmed by all the information above. Try different things until you find something that works best for you. Just remember that these are guidelines, not rules.
Also, it’s essential to keep in mind that hummingbirds are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. If you change your routine too frequently, they may stop coming back. So, if you want to attract hummingbirds, you should wait until you see a steady flow of them before you start experimenting.