There are several reasons to attract hummingbirds to your yard. Hummingbirds are super pollinators in the garden, and they're efficient at ridding a garden of unwanted insects. Plus, they're fascinating to watch when they feed on nectar from a flower or a feeder while hovering in mid-air.
Hummingbirds don't need anything fancy in their feeder. They require a simple nectar to attract them — a simple syrup to be exact. It's so easy to make you'll never think about purchasing hummingbird nectar again. Simple syrup is a mixture of sugar and water, and for hummingbirds, the ratio is one 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.
Here's how simple it is to make hummingbird nectar to fill a hummingbird feeder.
- Bring four cups of water to a boil.
- Add one cup of sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Store in the refrigerator.
To dye or not to dye
There are store-bought hummingbird nectars and DIY recipes that contain red dye. The red nectar is supposed to attract hummingbirds more than clear nectar, but studies have shown that hummingbirds gravitate toward clear nectar in brightly colored feeders as easily as red nectar.
The Red Dye #40 that's used in most hummingbird nectar has been proven to cause cancer and tumors in rats and mice as well as decreasing reproduction rates, according to Bird Watcher's Digest. No scientific tests have been done on hummingbirds and Red Dye #40, but there's anecdotal evidence from hummingbird rehabilitators that have seen increased skin and bill tumors on the birds, presumably from a steady diet of nectar containing red dye.
Since the dye is unnecessary and possibly harmful to hummingbirds, leave it out of your homemade nectar.
More tips to attract hummingbirds
Follow these tips to keep that are helpful in keeping the hummingbirds plentiful and happy in your yard.
- Change the nectar in a feeder every couple of days to keep it fresh.
- Wash the feeders regularly using vinegar and hot water. Rinse well.
- All that sugar will attract ants. The best way to keep the ants from crawling all over the feeder — and discouraging hummingbirds from feeding — is with an ant moat, a container of water that sits between whatever the ant uses to crawl toward the nectar and the nectar itself. The moat is filled with water, and ants are unable to cross over the water to get to the nectar. You can buy an inexpensive moat or make your own hummingbird feeder ant moat.
- In addition to putting out hummingbird feeders, you're chances of attracting hummingbirds may improve by planting nectar producing plants in full sun. The Old Farmer's Almanac suggests brightly-colored tubular flowers that hold nectar like bee balm, columbines, daylilies, foxgloves, impatiens and petunias.
- Use a variety of plants that flower at various times throughout the season to create a continuous stream of attraction in your yard.
- Don't use chemical pesticides in your garden that will eliminate one of the hummingbird's food sources — insects — or may make the hummingbirds ill.
- If the bright colors on your hummingbird feeder are fading, touch them up with inexpensive nail polish. Make sure the polish is completely dry before putting the feeder back out for the birds.
- Give the hummingbirds a bath. A birdbath is helpful, but what hummingbirds really like is a steady mist. Turn the mister on your garden hose when there are hummingbirds around, and they may just shoot in and out of the spray.
Why you shouldn't hand-feed hummingbirds
You've probably seen plenty of videos and photos on the internet of people feeding hummingbirds by hand. While you may be tempted to try it yourself, here's why you shouldn't.
Sheri Williamson, author of "A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America," spoke with The New York Times and warns that hand-feeding hummingbirds can make them more vulnerable to other humans who may shoo them away and injure them.
Also if hummingbirds come to see humans as their food source, they may ignore flowers nearby. For example, nonmigratory hummingbirds in the tropics don't pollinate flowers well in areas with year-round feeders.
So in the long run if you want to attract hummingbirds to your yard, it's best to maintain your feeders and plant hummingbird-friendly flowers while observing from afar.
"They will remember your yard on their next journey, and you’ll end up with a loyal and growing clientele if you do everything right," said Williamson.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally posted in May 2018.