Hummingbird feeders? I can’t handle the commitment



I’ve been reading up on hummingbird feeders and have learned that there’s a RIGHT way to use them:

  • Mix one part sugar with 4 parts water, boil to
    dissolve.  Or use baker’s sugar, which dissolves in cold water.  (Is that the same as confectioner’s?)
  • Or you can buy "instant nectar," which comes in flavors.  (But why?)
  • Clean really well, before using, with Qtip and vinegar-water.
  • Replace and clean every 2-3 days or more, depending on how hot it is.
  • To remove black mold spots, advice ranges from special cleaning concoctions to doing something with sand that made no sense to me.
  • Use an ant guard AND a bee
    guard to keep them from – I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s bad.
  • Hang them in partial shade so the
    nectar doesn’t ooze out, which attracts ants, which we’ve established is bad.
  • Not much action?  Add a red ribbon to feeder, though some people say any color will do.

Here’s what NOT to do:

  • Do NOT use food coloring or honey – bad for the  birds
  • Do NOT use honey – it ferments, and that’s bad for the birds.
  • Do NOT use artificial sweetener – it has no nutritional value.

Replace and clean as often as every other day?  Only for my cats would I go to that much trouble.

OR how about just growing a few colorful plants and maybe adding some water?  I’m lusting for some bloomers to climb up the pillars of my front porch – crossvine and American honeysuckle, and maybe the tropical annual tacoma I’m hearing good things about. 

Reading up, I’ve seen a few plants I already grow recommended as attractants, but I’ve never seen hummers feeding from them – petunia, columbine, azaleas, butterfly bush, and weigela.  Y’all have any luck with them?  What plants work for you?

I love this video, though I can’t help worrying that the little guy might be slurping up red food coloring, which we know by now is a no-no.  But guess what – he’s not drinking this stuff by sucking.  I found out that hummers are actually LICKING.  Really, really fast. 


These folks seem to know how to do it – with a red pipe-cleaner wrapped around a solution-filled tube.

Once I started watching, I couldn’t stop.  This next one shows one feeding its babies.

Photo credit: University of Alberta.


  1. I might add to your recipe — don’t use turbinado sugar either. There are also some manufactured foods that are colored naturally with hibiscus petals. The favorite hummingbird food in my garden is salvia guarantica ‘black & blue’. The hummingbirds can’t get enough of it, so I’ve added a lot more plants in my garden.

  2. My mom always has hanging baskets of red impatiens with her feeders suspended just under them. In SW GA and now in NW FL, she has great luck – it’s a virtual hummer diner. I don’t know if they go to the impatiens or the red is just an advertisement for the feeders. I’ve grown a type of red salvia called “Hummingbird” which has been a great attractant. Pineapple sage is also a great draw.

    A number of years ago, my mom walked into her garage and saw a hummer on the floor. The garage door had been closed for hours, so the hummer must have been trapped. It was barely alive. She picked it up and put it in a shoebox and took it in the house. She mixed up sugar water and dipped her finger in it, and the hummer lapped it off her finger. She did it over and over, then let the little bird rest. Then she did it again multiple times. The hummer perked back up, so she took the box out on her covered deck and opened it. In a little bit, the hummer flew out. She said it was like it knew she was trying to help, and it showed no fear of her.

    Another story from a scrapbook magazine. A lady used to take her 5 year old daughter out on their deck to comb out her long blonde hair after washing it. At the end of the summer, when a bush near the deck lost its leaves, they found a tiny hummer nest, and the nest was lined with her daughter’s hair. She took a photo of it with a dime for size comparison and made a scrapbook page. The nest was a work of art.

    Thanks for the info, Susan. I’ve had such a problem with ants, even with ant guards, that I gave up. I’ll have to try again next year.

  3. I’ll have to check and see what the variety is, I have a huge salvia (had to move my viburnum, it couldn’t compete) and last weekend we were having a nice brunch outside and saw either two hummingbirds or the same one twice, but still an accomplishment considering my garden used to be a total desert (no weeds, even)! I planted a bunch more salvias so I am hoping it (they?) will return. I also have a honeysuckle that I unfortunately planted too far away and I have seen one coming to and from the corner it is in (so I planted another right where it was really easy to see – it hasn’t flowered).

  4. The sugar solution in hummingbird feeders grows mold, and the mold causes fatal infections in hummingbirds. That’s why they need to be scrubbed out every few days.

    Bee guards are there to keep bees, hornets, and wasps from hogging the feeder, especially hornets which will aggressively drive away hummingbirds (and humans).

    Ant guards keep sugar ants from trooping up to take nectar, and later trooping into your house for more. Some Vaseline on the cord or chain hanging the feeder works pretty well, too. It’s hard to keep the solution from dripping, though — you can put a planter or, better yet, a water garden in a large ceramic jar right under the feeder. Or hang it out a little way away from the house so sugar ants don’t set up housekeeping too close.

    If it’s all too much trouble, plant plenty of nectar plants: fuchsias, agastache, red salvia, columbine, monarda, penstemon, Zauschneria, lantana, native honeysuckle, etc. These will provide nectar all season long, as well as attract the miniscule spiders and insects that hummingbirds eat for protein.

    In most areas, hummers are around for summer only when these plants are in bloom, then migrate to the tropics for the winter. Here in the PNW, the big Rufous hummingbirds usually migrate, but the smaller Anna’s hummingbirds come down out of the mountains and overwinter in the river valleys. They appreciate having feeders out all year.

  5. Our big hummer attraction is agastache. We have two feeders and about five summer resident birds, but life is a constant squabble as each one tries to keep both feeders for himself.

  6. I don’t use bird feeders for any birds – we have cats – but the hummingbirds love my bee balm which grows right near the house. I think they have no fear of my old cats. I do have many trees and shrubs to feed the birds, but when they feed there they also have good shelter and protection.

  7. I saw my first hummingbird here the day I returned from evacuation. I’ve been planning to pull up these weedy cannas with the small red flowers which push out everything else. That is what attracted a hummingbird. So, I guess I’m keeping some. At least they require no care (aside from controlling that rampant growth).

  8. I stopped using feeders when my Salvia clevelandii got big enough to be a main feed supply. It’s the favourite of our local hummingbirds (Ana’s) and usually has three of them sipping from it all day long.

    They also like Salvia spathacea (hummingbird sage, appropriately), and most other salvia. And they like swooping through the spray of the lawn sprinklers. And since their primary protein source is insects, they prefer gardens with lots of those, too. As with most natural things, an ecosystem that suits them is the best way to attract and maintain them in your garden.

  9. We have the hodge-podge approach to gardening–and proudly display our National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitat sign–and the hummers go to everything from wild growing evening primrose, evening lychnis, showy goldenrod (surprised the heck out of me!), butterfly bushes, mullein (common), but their favorite is and remains Mexican sunflowers, which are beautiful, bushy, self-seeding annuals (mine have gotten as tall as 9′) with bright orange flowers. This year the Mexican sunflowers did not grow as well as in the past due to the excessive rain and cool summer through July, but they really came on in August when the temps heated up and the rain let up for a while (I’m in Indianapolis, IN). Thanks for a great blog. I’ve been lurking for a while. 🙂

  10. red flowers or trumpet shaped flowers will attract hummers. I git excited one evening to see what I thought was a hummer at my hosta…………..
    then I noticed little antennae….
    it was a hummingbird moth!

    The (tricked again) TROLL

  11. Love the story about the nest lined with hair! Once when I was on vacation in Maine, I was walking past a shop which had a big glass window with a windowbox of red geraniums below it. As I passed, a hummingbird flew into the window and knocked herself out. She fell to the ground (a rubythroat female) and because I knew there were several large cats around, I picked her up. I cupped my palms around her for a few minutes — it was amazing! Her little heart was going like mad, and she was incredibly hot. At last she began to stir, so I opened my hands and she flew to my shoulder, sat there for a couple more minutes, then hovered in front of my face briefly and flew away. I like to think she was thanking me. I will never forget it!

  12. I have at least 5 hummers hanging around my Tennessee garden this year. I decided that feeders were way to much trouble and did not put out any this year. The hummers in my garden are happy with the flowers. They really like the red flowered salvias (Pineapple, Texas Hummingbird, and Fire Cracker). They also like Gold Flame Honeysuckle. The Gold Flame is great because it starts blooming early, about the time the hummers show up. And it keeps going until after they leave. But best of all it smells amazing.

    Yesterday I had an amazing hummer encounter. As I was watering, a hummer started buzzing around the water coming from the hose. She stuck her beak into a spray of water and took and sip. Then she made several attempts to sit in the streams of water. Finally she flew right into the water and then flew away. Maybe she needed a bath.

  13. Many plants attract them… 2 of the best are Cardinal Flower and Royal Catchfly… as soon as they bloom, hummers show up!

    Also…Blue Lobelia, Penstemon, Columbine, Butterflybush… Any trumpet-shaped flower, with red an additional attraction.

  14. I plant red salvias in my window boxes and cardinal vine on the railings of the back porch. They enjoy both of those choices plus the buddleia bushes that have taken over much of my backyard.

  15. Hair-lined nests and thankful hummers – wonderful stories! Thanks for sharing.

    Initially, I thought I’d add feeders to my garden. Then I did a little honest self analysis: would I really change and clean the feeders as often as required? Nope. I went with flowers and I’ve never regretted it. In my garden, hummers visit the usual suspects, such as fuchsias, Agastache, Salvia, Oregon-grape, evergreen hucklberry, and red-flowering currant. But they’ve also surprised me by regularly visiting my Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’. The first time this happened, I was standing on a ladder trimming back errant branches on my camellia. I was inches away from the hummer as it fed. I think my heart was beating almost as quickly as its was.

    The key for me is to plant to have nectar-rich flowers year-around (we get to do that here, sounds like bragging but really it’s not).

  16. I’m with those of you who’d rather have flowers than feeders. This year we had no hummingbirds until mid-summer–did anyone else in the Midwest notice this?–but then we had regular visitors at a scarlet honeysuckle and a red beebalm. As soon as the beebalm started to fade, the Lobelia cardinalis started to bloom and that was their favorite. The royal catchfly seemed to be a second choice. In other years they’ve come earlier and gone for regular old coral bells, native columbine, Salvia ‘Mainacht’ and Siberian iris. When I lived in California I noticed that they really seemed to like Abutilon, even non-red ones.

  17. The hummingbirds come for the red-flowered cannas in my yard, and then they poke around, checking out the bee balm and the nasturtiums.

  18. Let me just add this:the first time a Hummingbird flies around your face as if to get a closer look is amazing.I use both Flowers and Feeders to attract them.Yes,the constant cleaning is demanding,that’s why I always have a double Set of Feeders.One is always clean that way,but watching these tiny Birds when I am working outside makes me smile every time.

  19. Just to pass on a little extra information from the carnivorous plant front, but many sundews and butterworts specifically produce flowers that attract hummingbirds. No, they don’t try to eat them: in fact, both put their flowers up on long scapes to prevent the possibility of catching pollinators, which would be a bit counterproductive. Several species, including the sundew Drosera adelae and the butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris, do such a good job of attracting hummingbirds that I had one big ruby-throat trying to get through a window at a batch of D. adelae in a propagation tank.

    To top off the mix and arrange a road trip, you might want to talk to Peter D’Amato of California Carnivores, north of Los Angeles. He gets so many hummingbirds going after his butterworts that he doesn’t even try to make sure that the seed from his plants is purebred. Instead, he propagates the seed and sells the hybrids as “Hummingbird Food”, because some of the hybrids do a better job of attracting and feeding hummingbirds than their parents.

  20. No one has said (or if they did, I missed it) and I forgot to add that a big part of hummingbirds’ diet is insects. It’s not just sugary nectar they need but protein, too. Help feed these winged charmers by planting insectary plants and avoiding the use of pesticides.

  21. I attracted two males and two females this summer with two feeders here in Dallas. I did see them feed at a few of my flowers where I have the feeders in one of my beds. They REALLY love Mexican Firebush. I also saw them feed on my butterfly bush and on my zinnias.

  22. I generally feed a HORDE of hummers every year, can’t tell you how much pleasure they bring me. I will be attempting to put in lots of new hummer attracting plants this year to try to cut down my feeder expense (I bought sugar in huge quantities last year!)

    One word of caution, if you are like me and love all of Nature’s critters, be aware that hummers can get caught in large spider webs. Here in So.Texas, we have big garden spiders that weave very large and interesting webs. I came home one afternoon to find that a female had become ensnared in one of these and had died. So, now, if I see a web going up around my feeder area, I take it down and relocate the spider farther from the feeders.

Comments are closed.