Hummingbird Nectar Do’s and Don’ts

Hummingbird Nectar Do’s and Don’ts Featured Image

Hummingbird Nectar Recipe:
The standard formula for nectar is 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar. For example, to make enough to fill an 8-12 oz. feeder you would use: 1 cup water ¼ cup sugar Pour the sugar into warm tap water and stir until dissolved. Boiling the mixture is fine, but not necessary. You can make extra and store it in the fridge to make the next few fill ups quick and easy. Clean the feeder and replace the nectar every three to five days – sooner if the nectar gets a little cloudy. As tempting as it may be, you should never put anything other than sugar and water into a hummingbird feeder. Never add the following ingredients when making nectar at home:

  • Red food coloring – While hummers are attracted to the color red, adding red dye to their food is unnecessary and, depending on the chemical makeup of the dye, potentially harmful to their health. Most hummingbird feeders are already predominantly red so as to entice hummers to visit. If you think yours is not red enough, simply add a red ribbon to the hanger or place your feeder near a colorful flower bed.
  • Artificial sweeteners – Hummers do not need to watch their sugar intake, so never use any sweetener other than regular sugar when making nectar.
  • Honey or Molasses – When mixed with water, honey and molasses create a great breeding ground for potentially fatal bacteria and mold to grow.
  • Chili Oil or Powder – While not harmful to hummers if ingested, Chilies are not part of the normal hummingbird diet and therefore should be avoided. Hummers are strictly sweet nectar and insect-eating creatures – anything else might even cause them to quit using your feeder.

Now that the feeder is clean and filled with proper nectar, how do you keep the bees, ants and raccoons from helping themselves?   How to make sure your feeder only serves hummingbirds:

  • Bees – The Cole’s feeder does not drip so large bees can’t get to the sweet stuff.  Some very small flying insects will squeeze their way inside but will not hinder feeding by the birds.
  • Ants – The Cole’s Hummer High Rise feeder has a built-in ant moat.  Keep it filled with plain water and the ants will not be able to reach the nectar. Never put anything other than plain water into any ant moat device. Water alone will stop the ants.  Many other birds will stop and take a drink from the liquid in the moat, so poisons and repellents are a big No! Some people put cooking oil in moats which may not be harmful, but when rain or shaking spills the oil it definitely creates a big mess to clean up.
  • Raccoons – These crafty critters present a unique problem. They are everywhere, they are great climbers and they love sweets. You basically only have three ways to go.  You can bring the feeders inside each night, a lot of trouble but most effective. Another method is to mount a hanger under a porch roof or off of a wall where it is away from post and railings the raccoons might climb. Finally, if you prefer to leave your feeder hanging in the yard, use a tall shepherd pole equipped with a Tough Bird Feeder Guard or a good raccoon baffle. Never add ANY Chili oil or powder to your hummingbird nectar!

Hopefully these suggestions will ensure a fun-filled feeding experience and keep the birds safe and healthy!

Hummingbirds at feeder photo by Laura Taylor.


    • In a nutshell, yes. Especially if it’s during the hot summer months. If your nectar is cloudy that means bacteria is running rampant as the mixture begins to spoil. A good, healthy nectar will not contain preservatives and without refrigeration even the best nectars will eventually go bad as a result – with outside air temperature being the deciding factor as to how long it takes to spoil. That’s why we recommend changing your nectar every 3 days or so depending on how hot or cold it is outside.

    • Great question! The answer is no because powdered sugar (a.k.a. confectioners’ sugar) is not straight sugar. It is usually mixed with a couple other ingredients like calcium phosphate and/or cornstarch to help keep it dry and free flowing. So while it is great for decorating baked goods, we do not recommend using it to make hummer nectar.

  • I have metal feeders and a couple of them have rusted on the inside, are they harmful to the birds and is there a way to fix them without harming the birds?

    • Unfortunately, over time some metal feeders will rust, especially metal hummingbird feeders which are usually made more for looks than practical use. We recommend throwing out the rusted feeder and buying a new one. Hummingbirds are very delicate creatures and the fear of rust mixing with the nectar warrants starting over. Sorry we don’t have better news for you!

  • In minus 10 degrees Celsius, I use 2 parts water to 1 cup of sugar. Is this handful? The birds seem to come regularly to this amount of ratio.

  • My daughter has had as many as 20 birds on her feeder at a time. They definitely have personalities! We live in Dallas area.

  • Hidy yall
    I dont boil water nuthin special just use regular nectar and anywhere from 50/50 to even 75/25 —it seems as fall approches and my hummers make rdy for their trek to mexico or south america, they require stronger doses,we typically range anywhere from 10-20 hummers, fdrs only last 3 days b4 fills,seems as tho they live our interaction as i tell my honee i think one may hit me in the temple!!

  • When it becomes late in the summer, should the amount of sugar per water be increased to help them have more energy to fly south to Mexico?

    • Great question! It is not uncommon for hummer enthusiasts to slightly increase the sugar ratio in their nectar when the weather turns colder. Our resident hummingbird expert says that while it is unnecessary, it is okay to do. We suggest not going more than a 3:1 ratio for the fall and winter.

Join the Discussion

To ensure a respectful dialogue, please refrain from posting content that is unlawful, harassing, discriminatory, libelous, obscene, or inflammatory. Cole's Wild Bird Products assumes no responsibility or liability arising from forum postings and reserves the right to edit all postings. Thanks for joining the discussion.

Comments are closed.