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Making your own hummingbird food is easy and much cheaper than buying the concentrate. Plus you can make it without the red dye, as it is generally unnecessary for attracting hummingbirds to your feeder.
I didn't realize making hummingbird food was so simple. Thank you. I will make some and place it near the Lobelia Cardinalis I have growing to attract hummingbirds. When the Lobelia blooms, I should get some good pictures for ThriftyFun with this double whammy!
After attending several lectures by the Hummingbird Bird expert in Christoval, TX (that feeds 3 1/2 gallons of food per day), I have learned some helpful information regarding feeding hummers. The mixture is 3 parts water to 1 part sugar. There is no need to boil the water, just use hot water, mix and stir. Add a tiny drop of red food coloring (so you can see when it is empty).
Do not remove feeders in fall, as the passing through hummers are looking for food. They will leave when they are ready and should. In hot weather, the food spoils quickly.
By jbennett from San Angelo, TX
I have looked at at least 25 sites about how to make hummingbird nectar and every single one except this one says to use a 4 to 1 mixture. One site said that making it sweeter than this makes it difficult for the birds to digest it.
I have always used one part sugar to four parts water and it works for me. Clean out your feeder every time you change the food and you will eventually get hummingbirds. Some suggest boiling the water and then adding the sugar, but I find it is not necessary. I just use the hottest tap water and add the sugar and it works just as well.
By Elaine S. from Near Cedar Rapids, IA
All Hummingbird Specialists Will Tell You: Boiling the water is necessary to avoid mold in the water and air that can easily kill hummers. Four parts water and one part sugar is fine, however, then bring the water to boil, boil two full minutes, let cool, and store in the freezer to avoid mold development. We store about 1/2 cup food each in zippy bags in the freezer. Then we use one bag every four days to refill the feeders. After four days, the food in feeders will start growing mold from exposure to air inside and outside the feeder.
Each time you refill the feeders, clean them thoroughly with soap and water or vinegar. Rinse very well. You can not see the mold, however, it grows rapidly and kills hummers very quickly! All this precaution is to avoid the mold that kills the hummers.
This is a guide about canning homemade hummingbird food. One way to have homemade hummingbird nectar on hand whenever you need it, is to make large batches and can it.
This mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for about 1 week.
This is a guide about feeding hummingbirds. These beautiful birds enjoy a liquid feeder. Most red flowers will invite hummers to your garden.
Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.
Is it OK to substitute stevia for sugar in hummingbird nectar?
By Amber from southern Ontario, Canada
I would not do that! The sugar provides calories for energy, and stevia is popular with humans as it is so low calorie. Also, it may not be metabolized safely by the hummers. Stick with ordinary table sugar.
No! Stevia is a sweetener for couch potatoes who can't resist sweets; it has almost no calorie value for hummingbirds, who work and need energy. Even greener stevia is close to calorie-free.
And yes, avoid the 'safe' food colors. Color the feeder.
How much sugar do I add to 2ltrs of water to feed my hummingbirds?
Ditto on the above - 1 cup (white) sugar to 4 cups water. I don't even boil the water - just stir til the sugar dissolves. I keep any extra in the fridge and let sit a bit before I put it out to take the chill out of it - Although nowadays the hummers would probably appreciate a bit of a chill. Good luck!
There are two suggested ratios given: 1 part sugar to 3 parts water, or 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Since you're using 2 liters (or "Litres") of water, then you would either add: 1/2 (.5) liter of sugar (for the 1:4 ratio) *or* 2/3rds (.666) liter of sugar (for the 1:3 ratio.)
Apparently no one else realized you were on Metric, but the math should have translated just the same.
Some friends are using a mixture (of what I call harmful) of 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. This does really attract the birds, but I know that it must be very harmful for the birds. Am I correct?
By Joan from Signal Mtn., TN
4 cups water to 1 cup sugar is correct.
No need to add red food coloring. Some "birders" say that if it isn't good for humans,why should we give it to birds? I agree. The bird feeders usually have a red base anyway.
We have 4 feeders 3 in our yard and one just outside the wall to the Path Garden. We have 3-4 butterfly bushes and a couple of cape honeysuckle bushes near by. This week a young father and his child said he counted 9 hummers at the garden feeder.
We also have a couple of orioles that sneak a drink from them. Just be sure to check for mold during the week. GG Vi
It's like everyone saying 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Thanks, 'Cookie"
When making hummingbird nectar at home, my solution turns golden before it comes to a boil. Is it being burned? I used medium-high heat and it takes forever to come to a boil (electric ceramic stovetop). Any suggestions?
By Mary D.
Correction: Humming Bird Nectar Recipe. Boy,I got a Good Laugh at myself when I realized what I wrote & posted the 1st time. No I don't eat humming birds! LOL.
Making humming bird nectar is so easy. I cup of water to 1/4 cup of sugar. Just add the sugar to hot water and stir. Let it cool and put in feeder.
Is using red food coloring in homemade nectar harmful to the hummingbirds?
I agree, and love my hummers! They don't need the red dye. Usually they come to my home in the middle of April for early birds I start putting my feeders out by the first week in April, no red dye but I do add a large red bow to my shepherd's hook for symbolic reasons I think like the song "tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree" ) I sing to my hummers (hehe) it's been one whole year and I do miss thee (hehe)
I read once in Birds n Bloom that the same hummers will come back to your yard every year, anyone else read that? Also I read that hummers can fly 500 miles without stopping, wow, now that's a strong little flyer! :)
@ Chloelizabeths comment: I was thinking the other day about making my mix a little stronger too. I'll try yours after all your only adding a 1/2 cup more and if they didn't like it you can be sure they won't drink it and yours are so thank you that's what I will do with my next batch. I love my hummers and soon will be missing them!
I agree with those who say no red or any color dye. Hummers can see the clear solution. I disagree about the amount of sugar to water ratio. Hummers also need protein they get by catching small flying insects (gnats, etc.). If too much sugar is in the solution, they may not feel the need to catch the nutrients/protein since they have empty calories.
I read this in Birder's Magazine. The recommended ratio is 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup water. Too much sugar can also lead to other problems. You can go to Wikipedia or a birders web site to confirm this.
On the nectar you buy in the store, the package directions say 3 parts water to 1 part water. What are they meaning? 3 cups water to 1 cup of nectar? Please help me clarify this. I'm not sure what that means? Can anyone help asap?
I have always used 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (white only). Also it's not necessary to use any food coloring as the feeder will attract the hummers as well as any flowers nearby.
Whenever you see the words 'part to parts, it means measures, for example as you wrote, three cups to one cup (or 3 parts to 1 part). As another reply noted, it's often written as 1:1, 1:3, 3:1, etc.
Another way to think of it is that if you use 1 part and the measure you've chosen to use is a full cup, you need to follow the directions for your other parts as being cups also.
The measure can be anything, tea or tablespoons, litres, gallons, quarter cup, half cup, full cup, and so on.
For example, when I make up a vinegar and water solution to clean kitchen in bathroom I use a one to one parts ratio (1:1) and I decide the size or volume of my measure according to the amount of cleaning solution I want to make up.
If I'm filling a spray bottle, I use a half cup of vinegar to a half cup of water; if I'm mixing up a larger amount I adjust upwards in measurement-one full cup to one full cup for a small basin, pints and sometimes even gallons to fill a bucket.
The important thing to remember is that the word 'part' and 'parts' means nothing more than measures.
My hummingbird nectar (4 parts water to one part sugar) gets moldy after about one week. Am I doing something wrong or is this normal and what can I do to prevent it?
Necter should be changed every 3-4 days, sometimes more frequently in the heat/humidity of the summer.
Moldy Hummer feeders and nectar are a real problem and can cause harm to the hummers. Clean feeders with fresh nectar should be hung more frequently. I live in Georgia and we have a lot of heat and humidity ---- both causes for mold. My "rule of thumb" is that when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, change the feeders and nectar every 3 to 4 days. If your feeder is in direct sun, change it every 2 to 3 days or a little more often. Nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for several days making re-filling more convenient.
It's always good to have a spare feeder/feeders. This will make it easy to have a clean feeder at all times. Once you take down a used feeder, wash it and be ready for the next refill. Happy Humming :)
Is is OK to substitute brown sugar for white sugar in nectar?
By Bridgitte J
Brown sugar contains molasses, whereas white sugar doesn't. I would stick with white sugar only.
Agree with MCW. I have herd of other people asking about substituting white cane sugar in hummingbird feeders and many people say don't do it. Someone asked about using sugar substitutes like Sweet and Low. Others have asked about using honey. The answer is always the same... stick to normal sugar and water at a 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water ratio.
Does diluted pancake syrup make ok hummingbird food?
NO! Use only a mixture of sugar and water as given above.
An easy way to make hummingbird food: 1 cup water, 1/4 sugar, in a glass measuring cup. Microwave to a boil, and boil until sugar is dissoved. Cool. The ratio is 4 to 1. If this is the first time you've fed hummingbirds at that location, add some red coloring to the mix. Once they become used to looking for the feeder, you won't need to color it anymore.
Why does my hummingbird food turn cloudy during the cool down time. I've been making it for years with the same sugar and bottled spring water. They don't like city water even after we boiled it. Now it is turning cloudy even before it's cooled. What do I need to change?
By Dan T.
ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.
What happens if you put too much sugar in the water to make the nectar? Can it harm the birds?
By Phyl from MD
We did that once. The hummingbird passed out. We found him on the ground and put him in a safe place. Later he recovered and flew off. Too much sugar is not good for the little guys. (08/21/2010)
I have made it stronger than recommended many times, without any problems. Just don't use red food color, that is not needed. Also, don't leave the same sugar water in more than a few days, it starts to grow bacteria and molds/fungi that can be harmful to the birds. Be sure to wash your feeder before refilling, rinsing it very well. Also, the bulk of a hummingbird's diet is insects! The sugar water/nectar is enjoyed for energy, but they get nutrition from other sources. (08/21/2010)
You can add water appropriately to get a more balanced mix. The ratio should be 4 to 1, i.e. 4 cups water to 1 cup of sugar. And the water does not have to be hot to add more water, it would need to be reheated to add more sugar. (08/21/2010)
Recipes for hummingbird nectar call for a water to sugar ratio of 4:1. But some people who keep hummingbird feeders insist on making stronger concentrates either from the belief that more is better, or they mix a stronger solution only in late summer and autumn under a widespread, but misguided belief that this will "fatten 'em up" for their migration.
The unwavering rule is: "Never mix nectar stronger than the 4:1 ratio, or you may be doing injury to the hummingbirds." A friend who refused to believe her old practice was harmful finally changed her policy (of providing stronger autumn concentrates) when I wrote her the following commentary.
I doubt you're doing great harm since late-season hummers will be transient visitors and won't eat often of the unhealthy concentrate. You'd hurt them more giving them too concentrated a nectar when they are nesting, as they'd be using nearby feeders too regularly during that time. But overly sugared nectar can be harmful at any time if too often encountered, and in no case does increasing the ratio strengthen them for their winter journey. Here's an overview of why it's bad for their health:
Sugar water may supplement hummingbird diet, but if they are so fond of sugar water that they neglect their natural diet of flower nectar and small insects, they will become deficient in scores of minuet, but essential nutrients. Too much sugar might actually hamper their search for the more appropriate natural nectars. Ideally sugar-water feeders are not the only things the hummers find in a garden which will be full of trumpet-shaped spring and summer flowers, or for summer and autumn such things as sage-blossoms, especially in reds, either planted in the garden or set about in pots. Providing potted plants in autumn bloom would be much more of an energy-boost than more concentrated sugarwater for their autumn/winter journey. A big abelia will be in full flower through all of autumn, a favorite for hummingbirds that are still hanging about.
Some hummers actually reject over-sugared artificial nectars, and good thing they do since it is unhealthy for them. But others will favor feeders with the most sugar in the water and they may come from greater distances from their nests to feed, overlooking more healthful flower-sources along the way, knowing where they can get the bigger, but mineral-deficient sugar load. These hummers become sickly and neglect their nests and are away from their nests too long at a stretch.
Those hummingbirds fed too much sugar can develop calcium deficiencies, muscular weakness, and bone malformations similar to rickets. Their eggs are apt to be soft-shelled and will not hatch. Some hummingbirds appear to show signs of illness resembling drunkenness when feeders contain too much sugar.
Over sugaring their nectar also encourages rapid bacterial growth in the feeders and will attract bees, wasps, and bee-flies.
Too much water is less harmful than too much sugar, though both can be harmful, as too little sugar could cause some hummers to not get their daily caloric requirement.
I have always had more hummingbirds at my feeders than everyone else until they switch to my ways. The very first feeder I hang out in early spring (before seeing any hummingbirds) I use a 1 to 4 part sugar/water (no food color). As soon as I see a couple of hummingbirds at the feeder I switch to a 1 to 5 part sugar/water. Hummingbirds return to the same feeders each year. If they drank from your feeder last year and you don't have it out in time you will see them buzzing around that same spot looking for the feeder. By not getting it out early in the spring you will lose some of your impatient little customers to other feeding sources. Putting it out early keeps the same ones coming back and also helps to add new hummingbirds each year. Also putting 2 feeders out helps. They tend to prefer zooming back and forth as opposed to staying at just one feeder. (10/22/2010)
With regards to the hummingbird feeders they say no red dye, do they mean red food coloring?
By Kimberly from Tenmile, OR
Correct! You don't need anything more than sugar and water for the nectar. The feeder's red parts, or a red fake flower or even a piece of ribbon will catch their eye. Once they know the feeder is there, they will happily patronize your little "cafe" with clear nectar. (05/15/2010)
Our feeder came with instructions on making the nectar. 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. No dye needed. Our feeder is red with little yellow flowers to feed from. Our first hummingbird showed up last week so now is the time to get the feeders out (at least in Tennessee). (05/15/2010)
We usually put one drop of red food color in the first feeder filling for the year. This year we tried something different. I noticed that the mandarin oranges come in a red netting. We used the netting to cover the feeder. We only have the hummers from March until August, but certainly enjoy them while they are here. We have an 8 hole feeder and have had 16 hummers feeding (2 per hole) and a cloud waiting their turn. We have a one quart feeder and fill it nearly every day.
From Corrie on the Olympic Peninsula, WA (05/18/2010)
If you are like we are, we have several hummingbird feeders around our yard. Yes, you can buy the hummingbird food, but this get costly and there is not much in the packages. I labeled a pitcher to keep in the refrigerator with "homemade hummingbird food". This is so much cheaper than the purchased kind.
Bring 4 cups water to a boil and stir in 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve. When cool, pour into the pitcher and refrigerate until needed. As I refill the feeders, I make another batch for the next time. You do not need to add food coloring. In fact, I understand it is not good for the little hummingbirds.
By Jodi from Gary, TX
We have lots of hummingbirds. I start off the season with a 1 sugar to 4 water, boiled a few minutes to make sure the sugar has changed. Never use honey. Later on, I go to a 1 to 5 ratio as it is closest to nature's syrup in flowers. Aren't they amazing little birds? I just love them. (03/19/2007)
It is "not" okay to use a red dye in hummingbird food just because it is FDA approved. Red dye is cancer causing, especially if a lot of it is used and very often. Think of a hummingbird's size. Just a little bit of the red dye will overpower the little bird's liver.
Please do not use red dye.
Aimee, Master Herbalist student (07/09/2007)
I have always, always been told and read that hummingbird food mixture is 4 to 1. That would be 1C of water to 1/4 cup of sugar. For larger amounts 4 to 1 could mean 4C of water to 1C sugar. Too much sugar kills and/or rots their beaks. (04/09/2008)
By Marigold Mama
I would think that even using just plain sugar without the color would be detrimental to the health of hummingbirds. I contains none of the trace minerals and vitamins that natural nectar contains. So, wouldn't it be better to use a pre-made mix? I want to attract hummingbirds, not kill them. (04/18/2008)
Last year, I didn't boil my water and it didn't seem to cause any issues. However I read that the reason you boil the water is to reduce the amount of chlorine which is harmful to hummingbirds. I am going to start boiling it this year as our water is very chlorinated. (04/22/2008)
I read this on Wikipedia:
Other things to avoid using in feeders include artificial sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet'N Low), aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and stevia. Though hummingbirds might drink feeder solutions containing these sugar substitutes, they will be starved of the calories they need to sustain their metabolism.
So I would suggest sticking to plain white sugar, or better yet plant a hummingbird friendly garden. If your friend wants the hummers near a window how about a hanging basket full of fuchsias? (05/01/2008)
No red dye, buy a red feeder.
I have used for years the 4 to 1 and it works great. I put a little bit of red Kool Aid in my water to color it and it seems to work fine.
I so love to watch these little birds they are great and fun to watch. (05/29/2008)
Obviously you don't need dyes, And the FDA will tell you just about anything. Then recant their statement and say its gonna kill you. Like everyone has said either boil the water to extract chlorine or let stand 24 hrs that's what I do. And no red dyes. (05/29/2008)
I ran across this pretty quickly doing a search to see what is recommended about replacing some of the sugar with corn syrup. I haven't found a credible answer yet, but some postings here concern me.
Do not use food coloring. Even if the jury is still out about the effect on the birds, it does absolutely nothing to make them want to use the feeder or the food you make. Why risk it?
Boiling the water is not optional. It either needs done or it doesn't depending on your supply.
It is unneeded to dissolve the small concentration of sugar. But if there is danger of pathogens or mold it must be done. Know your water and know your sugar. Boiling flashes off chlorine, which may or may not be harmful, but many other chemicals can be concentrated by boiling. This danger is real for you as well as the birds you like to watch. As a rule well water should be safe. (07/17/2008)
By Ray the hummer watcher
I use the same formula, but without the red I do not attract the birds. But by mixing the juices of strawberries and raspberries to the mixture they have been coming in droves. A pleasure to watch. (08/04/2008)
By Michel Emond
The red water makes absolutely no difference. We have always used plain unboiled water and white sugar. Just a reminder, the sugar water is for energy only, they get their nutrition other ways. Also, I've noticed that our feeders with perches are most more popular. They don't expend precious energy hovering and tend to hang around the feeder a few extra seconds. (08/19/2008)
I don't know if it hurts them or not, but I do know that it makes a difference with or without the red coloring. I ran an experiment by placing one with on one side of my yard, and one without on the other and then switched them the next day. They fought over the one with the red coloring, and hardly a one came to the one without. I'm not for or against the coloring, just stating a fact. Try it for yourself. By the way, it was purchased mix at Walmart. I didn't put the food coloring in myself. (09/09/2008)
Everyone seems to have what they say works for them when in reality, no one really knows the long term effects of natural sugar, unboiled water or red food color. Why not try the original idea? Buy hummingbird food from the store. Yes, it costs more than if you make it yourself, but stores have used it for years and years. It has already been tested and proven. (09/29/2008)
Two years ago we began feeding hummingbirds. We used the store bought red stuff. I sat out every afternoon and evening and didn't see any hummingbirds. My hubby told me to give up we don't have any here. I said no. I want to see one. I can't give up yet. So every 3 days I put out new nectar and washed the feeders. Then I ran out, so I found the recipe to make my own on the internet.
And I'm telling you after 10 minutes of the clear nectar being in there I saw my first hummer. I was so excited I couldn't breathe. When it left I called in to tell my husband and I could barely speak. I have made my own ever since.
Check out this site and bookmark it; a live close up hummingbird nest. I think this is last clutch of the season. I have watched her for 2 years. This nest is in California.
I am just starting the hummingbird feeder in the back yard. I used to feed them 50 years ago and didn't remember the recipe. We always used the red dye. I consulted this web site to gain the sugar water ratio and learned its no longer acceptable to use the dye. I wanted to attract the birds so I added beet juice and got wonderful red color. Once the birds are established with the feeder I can stop the beet juice. (08/09/2009)
Be sure to use non-chlorinated, non-fluoridated water to make the solution. These water additives aren't good for wildlife (plants or animals). (08/18/2009)