The Best Way to Feed Hummingbirds in Warm Weather

Anna on columbine

Scorchingly hot weather is upon us in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s understandable to want to feed hummingbirds, but here’s the thing: Hummingbirds have no sense of smell and cannot tell if the sugar water in a feeder has gone bad. Deadly toxins can contaminate a sugar solution rather quickly in very warm weather—as fast as 24 hours—especially if the feeder receives some sunlight. Hummingbirds may become ill (and consequently more subject to predation) and even die from feeding at unattended feeders. And I don’t even want to think about a mother hummingbird’s nestlings who might starve to death after she’s been sickened by fermented sugar water that’s rich in mold and bacteria.

Anna on Penstemon ovatusReal flowers are best
To avoid all these potential dangers, I always recommend growing plants (preferably native to your area so that other species benefit as well) that provide natural nectar which contains micronutrients, unlike refined sugar. Besides the nutrition and safety of real nectar, you won’t have to deal with unwelcome insects at feeders. Hummingbirds may also consume a sugary liquid from trees and often forage where woodpeckers called sapsuckers create sapwells from which hummers feed. Keep in mind, too, that these amazing little birds do not live on nectar alone—their diet includes a surprisingly large amount of tiny insects (and spiders) for protein, and the best way to provide that is, again, with native plants (and no pesticides, of course!). And, needless to say, fresh water is essential for all birds.

Feeder recommendations
If you do feel a need to feed hummers via artificial feeders, here’s a handy chart for how often to clean and refill your feeder, courtesy the Wild Bird Shop:

Daily high temp / Frequency of cleaning/refilling
61-70º                   4-5 days
71-80º                   3 days
81-85º                   2 days
86º+                       daily

♦ Refill with just the amount of sugar solution that will be consumed in the time period according to the temperature range.
♦ Keep feeders in the shade.
♦ Choose feeders that don’t have tubes or removable parts, which are very difficult to keep clean. I like the HummZinger feeders, which are VERY easy to clean. Rinse well after cleaning with hot soapy water (no bleach).
♦ Stay away from the colored, pre-mixed commercially available solutions—natural nectar is colorless, and adding red dye is adding an unnecessary, unnatural, and possibly harmful chemical to the birds’ food. If your feeder doesn’t have red on it, simply hang a red ribbon next to the feeder.
♦ Only use white cane sugar in a ratio of 4 parts water (preferably filtered, w/o chlorine) to one part sugar. No honey, molasses, or syrups.

HummZinger

 

© 2017 Eileen M. Stark

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15 thoughts on The Best Way to Feed Hummingbirds in Warm Weather

  1. Nice article.
    Would have liked to have seen a warning against using the red humming bird sugar solution that is sold in so many places. It is harmful to hummingbirds.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for your comment! I was mainly focusing on sugar solutions going bad in warm weather (which can affect them very quickly), but I will add a warning about the dyes, too.

      Reply
  2. A caution against using honey, too, please! Thanks for the article.

    Reply
    1. Yes, and when we grow plants for them we don’t even have to think about sweeteners. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  3. I use a clear Kaytee electo nectar. There are no directions regarding how often to change the nectar.

    Reply
    1. I looked up the ingredients of that product and it contains a preservative. Please consider growing plants that will provide natural nectar, w/o chemicals, plastic bottles, etc. Thanks for your concern!

      Reply
  4. So glad I have bee balm (monarda), russian sage, honey suckle, crocosmia, and salvia blooming in this hot weather. My resident Anna’s have been frequenting them in the past few weeks…..the Rufous left about three weeks ago when their babies were old enough to migrate.

    Reply
    1. I just saw a male Rufous hummingbird this morning for the first time since March/April, so they must be on their way south. I wish them all the best—their terribly long migration must be so hard on the young ones. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  5. I feed 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup water with great success, organic cane sugar from my health food store. I have a water feature that they land in to drink and bathe in as well.

    Reply
    1. Not a silly question at all! Honey is not plain sucrose; it ferments very quickly and can contain the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. There are warnings not to feed honey to human infants under 12 months; older children and adults have the intestinal bacteria that suppresses development of C. botulinum. I imagine that hummingbirds lack this. So, it’s best to feed what is most natural and safe for the birds: real nectar from real plants. Thanks for your question.

      Reply
  6. The Audubon Society’s website says not to use organic sugar due to possibly lethal amounts of iron.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for that tip! Since I rely mainly on plants to feed them I wasn’t aware of that.

      Reply

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