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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Making homemade hummingbird solution (and a few random hummer tips)

We were up visiting my father-in-law and his wife on Father's Day. Their gardens are absolutely beautiful. Late in the afternoon, the gardens were swarming with hummingbirds, reminding me that I needed to get the hummingbird feeder out of storage and out into our garden. Several years ago we received one of those gorgeous, blown-glass feeders. They can be a bit tricky to use, at first. But with just a few tricks, they are easy to keep drip-free and attracting those hummers.

The ideal food for hummingbirds is the nectar found in the plants they visit. However, there are times when the attractive blooms are either not ready or just passed, and you'd like to keep the hummingbirds around your place for viewing. A sucrose solution is just the thing those hummers need for fuel for their amazing metabolisms. A quick feed will give them the energy to hunt down some insects for protein.

A popular hummingbird feeding location can mean going through gallons of sugar solution every month. The store bought stuff is really an unnecessary expense.

I make my own solution with a blend of 4 parts water and 1 part white cane sugar.  Some speculate that cane sugar is more attractive to hummingbirds than beet sugar. So, to get a good viewing of hummers, I stick with the cane.

I use regular tap water (not softened, too many salts for the birdies). And I make only a week or two's worth at a time (even sugar water can grow mold).

I use the boil method, to prolong the refrigeration life of my solution, and store in a sterile jar (I just add a jar to my sterilizing kettle when I'm making jam or yogurt).


Place 1 part sugar and 4 parts water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 2 minutes. Turn stove off and cool before filling the feeders.

If you are hanging a feeder in your yard for the first time this season, or ever, you can also do a 3:1 ratio of water to sugar, as an attractant for the first fill-up. Then switch to the standard 4:1 for the next. 

This 4:1 formula has actually been studied and determined to be an ideal solution for the hummer's metabolism, and most closely approximates the ratio of flower nectar that hummingbirds normally feed on.

Store any leftovers in a sterile jar in the fridge and use within 2 weeks. Throw out any cloudy or discolored solution, or solution with mold growing on it. 

If you want to make a large batch ahead of time, you can freeze leftovers in portions necessary for each fill-up. Bring to room temp before adding to your feeder.

  • Check your feeders daily, for refilling or tossing out old/cloudy solution.
  • Don't add red food coloring, salt or anything other than the plain tap water and white cane sugar. Don't add honey (can spoil rapidly once water is added), or sugar in the raw (too high iron content for hummingbirds).
  • You don't need red nectar, or a red feeder, just something on your feeder near the port where hummers feed that is red. A red end, or even a piece of red plastic tape wrapped near the end should be enough to attract hummingbirds.
  • Hang in a partly shady spot, near shrubs and trees to which hummingbirds are naturally attracted. If you're using a glass globe, or other gravity feeder, solution heated up in the sun will be more likely to leak. As well, wasps and bees seem to prefer being in the sun, and you'll have fewer insect problems with your feeder, by placing it in partial shade.
  • If bees and wasps persist, try increasing the water in your formula to a 5:1 ratio. It's less appealing to flying pests.
  • Wipe the outside off with a damp cloth after hanging. Syrupy stickiness seems to attract wasps and bees.
  • And just an FYI, it can take a few days for the hummers to find your feeder. Be patient. If no hummers have found yours after a week, try moving it just a bit closer to some bright red or purple flowers.
  • Once a week, clean out your feeder with warm water (no soap), a bottle brush and pipe cleaner (to reach inside feeding tube). If mold has become an issue, you can also soak in equal parts white vinegar and water. Then, follow-up with a hot water rinse. This should also be done once per month, to disinfect the feeder.

Do you have one of those difficult to use, but simply beautiful, glass globe feeders like ours? A big complaint is that they leak. Mine did too, at first. With a few tweaks mine was made leak-proof. First, I shoved the straw all the way up to the top of the stopper. Then I filled the globe to the brim, so much so, that when I pushed the stopper in as far as I could, a bit of syrup oozed out. Taking it outside, I quickly turned the whole thing over, and voila -- no leaks.

Next month, our garden club has an expert coming to speak on hummingbirds. I'm excited to hear what she has to say! I'll relay any info I glean from this meeting.


  1. We usually have a lot of humming birds that come for our flowers. However, last year we didn't. I've thought about getting a feeder, so maybe this will spur me on.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I wonder why you didn't get as many hummingbirds as usual last year? If the insect population was down, the hummers wouldn't have much reason to stick around. Or their migratory pattern could have been disrupted in some way. But, in any case, having a feeder does allow for more viewing. It may just be the same couple of hummers feeding over and over (they can feed every 5 to 6 minutes, each!), but at least you get the pleasure of sightings.

      The best feeders are actually the cheapest ones -- WalMart $5 specials. The one that I think woks especially well, and is easy to clean, is the plastic type with small yellow flowers (that are the feed ports) around the base. These feeders are flat on the bottom and can rest on a deck railing or other surface. Hummingbirds seem to just love this model.

  2. My Mom was just telling me every time you fill your hummingbird feeder to take off all the flower bits if you have that style and wash it out really well with an old toothbrush as there are tiny black mites that reside there that crawl into the hummers nose and ride on to the next meal that way. She said you can actually see them. Gross I know but something to watch out for.

    1. Hi Cheapchick,
      Yuck! But good to know! Thanks for this tip!

  3. Thanks for the reminder. Like you, this is something that has been on my "to do" list for several weeks.
    Here's hoping we both get lots of hummingbirds in our yards.

    1. Hi Jayne,
      May your yard be swarming with hummingbirds in no time!

  4. The Audubon Society says you can also do a 3:1 ratio in winter if you live where it is cold/snowy and there are limited flowers available!

  5. Why does my hummingbird nectar turn yellow after its freshly made? And will it harm the birds.


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