7 Important Things to Know About Your Hummingbird Feeder
Attract more of nature’s flying jewels by hanging and maintaining your hummingbird feeders the right way. Here’s what you need to know.
If you live in the eastern half of the United States, ruby-throated hummingbirds may be paying you a visit this springtime. For those living in the west, varieties such as black-chinned, Costa’s, Allen’s, rufous, and Anna’s hummingbirds could migrate through your yard. Either way, if you’re lucky enough to live in an area frequented by hummingbirds, you might enjoy encouraging a close-up visit by hanging hummingbird feeders in your garden. These tiny birds need to consume an astonishing amount of daily calories to fuel their incredibly fast metabolisms. In fact, hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rates of any animal on earth.
While hummingbirds do eat tiny insects, sap, and pollen, the majority of their diet is the sugary nectar secreted by flowers that depend on them and other pollinators, like butterflies and bees, for seed propagation. You can attract hummingbirds to your garden by planting their favorite flowers, which include lantana, zinnia, salvia, flowering tobacco, petunia, and foxglove, to name a few. But, for a real show, it’s hard to beat the appeal of a hummingbird feeder hung where you can easily observe it from a nearby window or garden bench.
Here’s what you need to know about hanging and maintaining your feeders to attract the biggest crowd of hummingbirds.
Related: 4 Tips for Attracting Hummingbirds
1. Hang more than one feeder.
Don’t let their tiny size fool you—what hummingbirds lack in stature, they more than make up for in spunk and spirit. It’s not at all uncommon for one hummingbird, usually a male, to claim a feeder as his own and aggressively chase away all other would-be visitors. While it’s entertaining to watch their aerial hijinks, as they swoop and swirl while chattering madly, chances are you’d like to have as many hummers as possible visit your feeder. The solution is simple: Hang at least two feeders (preferably more), spacing them at least 10 feet apart from each other. This way, the dominant bird can still defend his turf, but you’ll be able to enjoy other visiting hummingbirds as well.
2. Provide a nearby water source.
Although they don’t drink much water, as the nectar they sip provides enough to keep them hydrated, hummingbirds do need water for bathing, just like other birds. The splishing and splashing helps keep their feathers in good condition by washing away any sticky nectar residue that might have dripped while drinking. Bathing also helps remove pests and dust. But unlike many other backyard birds, hummingbirds rarely visit traditional birdbaths. What they do love, however, is mist. To attract more hummers to your yard with a misting water feature, install a very shallow fountain with a solar-powered bubbler, like the OKMEE Solar Fountain, set to the finest spray. Position the fountain where it’s fairly close to the feeder and also to a shrub or tree where the hummers can safely perch while their feathers dry.
Related: Wing It: 14 Approaches to a DIY Birdbath
3. Ward off ants and bees.
Ants, bees, and wasps unfortunately all enjoy sugar water just as much as hummingbirds. If these pests raid your feeders, you’ll need to take steps to ward them off. One trick for keeping ants away is to hang your feeders with sturdy fishing line, which is difficult for ants to climb. You can also attach an ant moat, like this one from Hummers Galore, directly above the feeder. Once filled with water, ants cannot cross the moat to reach the nectar.
If bees and wasps are a problem, you can discourage them by hanging saucer-shaped hummingbird feeders instead of those in the traditional bottle shape. Saucer feeders, such as this version from Juegoal, are easy for hummingbirds to use but difficult for insects, so you can enjoy watching your feathered visitors without fear of a sting from an uninvited bee or wasp. As a bonus, saucer feeders are far less prone to dripping than traditionally shaped feeders.
4. Thoroughly clean all feeders regularly.
Mold and bacteria grow quickly in the sugary nectar that hummingbirds love, and both can sicken birds who sip the spoiled fluid. Therefore, it’s crucial to give your hummingbird feeders a thorough scrubbing at least once per week—more often when it’s hot—to help keep your feathered friends healthy.
Many hummingbird feeders are dishwasher-safe; if that’s the case with yours, pop them in the dishwasher regularly. If not, soak the disassembled feeder in soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and scrub away any mold or grunge with a bottlebrush for the body of the feeder. Then, use an old toothbrush or pipe cleaner to scrub the ports and any other hard-to-reach spots. Rinse everything completely, and let all parts dry before reassembling your feeder, filling it with nectar, and rehanging it in your yard.
5. Change the hummingbird food frequently.
Nectar spoils quickly, particularly when the weather is warm. Because hummingbirds can become dangerously ill from drinking spoiled nectar, it’s very important to provide them fresh food regularly. At a minimum, replace the nectar twice per week during cool weather and every other day (or even daily) when temperatures are 80 degrees or above. You can also help maintain nectar freshness by positioning your feeders away from direct sun. However, avoid deep shade, which makes the feeders harder for passing hummingbirds to spot. Instead, choose a spot with dappled shade or a location that is shaded during the peak heat of the afternoon.
6. Skip the red food coloring.
Hummingbirds are highly attracted to bright colors, particularly red, orange, pink, and purple. In fact, don’t be surprised to find a curious hummer hovering nearby to inspect you if you venture into the yard wearing a shirt in one of their favorite hues. However, it’s not true that hummers require red coloring in their nectar to find it. In fact, some wildlife experts feel red food coloring is possibly harmful to hummingbirds’ health. As long as the feeder itself is red and hung in a location easily sighted from above, the birds will spot it. So go ahead and fill the feeder with clear commercial hummingbird food, or mix your own with a solution of one-part white table sugar to four-parts water.
Related: How To: Make Hummingbird Food
7. Keep the feeders up from spring through fall.
In some areas of the west, especially in Southern California, hummingbirds stick around all year long. But in most of the country, hummingbirds only visit during the warmer months before making their way back down to South America for the winter. As a general rule, hang your feeders in mid-March if you live in the south or a mild-winter area and in early-to-mid April if you live in the north or anywhere with very cold winters.
It’s not true that leaving your feeders up will discourage the hummers from migrating in the fall, but there’s no point in keeping up feeders if the birds are gone. As a rough guideline, take down your feeders 2 weeks after you’ve stopped seeing visitors. That’s generally in mid-to-late October in the north and early-to-mid November for the south.
If you live in Southern California, or another area where hummers remain all year, it’s fine to keep your feeders up year-round.