Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tutorial: Make Your Own Hummingbird Nectar

My love of nature extends to the animals that live around our home—even the silly looking groundhogs that help themselves to my summer squash each year.  Oh, and the deer that force me to choose deer-resistant plants or surround my vegetables in eight-foot deer fencing.

When it comes to birds, my favorite birds to attract are hummingbirds.  They’re cute, tiny and fast—and they don’t yank my seedlings out of the ground (bonus!).  I purposefully choose plants to attract them, such as Bee Balm, cardinal climbers, tangerine sage, butterfly bushes, cleome and red salvia—and I make my own hummingbird nectar to attract them right up to my deck.

I love sitting quietly on the deck in the early morning or at dusk waiting for them to appear.  Their unique telltale buzz lets me know they’re here, and I try to turn my head or position my camera with the least amount of movement possible so I can catch them in action.  I don’t know how many I’ll actually get to see this year when Nathan’s outside with me, but that’s okay.  It’s still worth the effort.

It’s best to put your feeders out early in the season—in the northeast, that’s about mid-May.  That way, hummingbirds will find you as soon as they migrate north—and they may stick around all summer when they find your feeder.  Also, I think it’s important to provide a food source early in the season when there aren’t very many flowers in bloom for them to drink from.  (I still don’t know why they come so early, but I’m not complaining!)

Here’s how I make my own hummingbird nectar:

1. Gather your materials:

a two-quart saucepan with lid
white sugar (don’t substitute with brown sugar or honey)
liquid measuring cup
wooden spoon
clean hummingbird feeder (sterilizing isn’t necessary)
sink or basin less than half-filled with ice water
clean container for storing extra nectar (optional)

2. Hummingbird nectar is one part white sugar to four parts water. For this recipe, measure four cups of water into the saucepan and stir in one cup of sugar (using the same measuring cup you used for the water, not a measuring cup for dry ingredients).

3. Bring to a boil and boil for 1-2 minutes, stirring occassionally. This helps the sugar dissolve while killing off any mold spores that may be in the sugar and any bacteria that may be in the water.

4. Remove from heat, place the lid on the saucepan and immerse it into the cold water bath.  It’s best to cool the nectar as quickly as possible and with a lid; the lid keeps out contaminants, such as mold spores in the air, which helps the nectar stay fresher longer in the feeder and in your refrigerator.

5. Once the nectar is cool, fill your feeder and store leftover nectar in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to two weeks.  A glass jar with lid or an empty lemonade or soda bottle works well.

6. Hang your feeder somewhere outside where hummingbirds can find it and you can see it from your deck or patio or through a window.  I hang my feeder from a shepherd’s hook near my deck stairs, in the flowerbed where my bee balm and cardinal climbers grow.  If the feeder doesn’t attract their attention, the bee balm and cardinal flowers certainly will.  This year I’m also hanging a feeder directly over my deck, hoping to draw the hummingbirds closer to our viewing area. 

Hummingbirds will be able to find your feeder if it’s somewhere out in the open and in the sun.  The nectar will last longer in the shade, but it’s less likely that hummingbirds will find it there.  Having hummingbird-attracting plants nearby is a bonus.

7. Check your feeder daily for mold growth.  Mold can KILL hummingbirds.  In cooler weather, you can probably leave your feeder out for up to a week; in blazing hot weather (especially if you keep the feeder in the sun), you may only get two to three days out of a batch of nectar.  Once you see mold starting to grow, take the feeder down right away and wash it with warm, soapy water and a bottlebrush.  Even if you don’t see any mold growing, you should still wash the feeder at least once a week and refill it with fresh nectar.

Good luck attracting more hummingbirds to your yard!


  1. We love the hummingbirds that come around the farm. There were more hummingbird visits when our gardens were thriving (that would be pre-renovation). Perhaps we'll see an increase in these magical visits as we reclaim the gardens.

    Thanks for the tutorial!

  2. That sounds like so much fun! I'm going to ask my mom if we can make some soon!


  3. I'm visiting from TT&J!

    My MIL loves hummingbirds, I can't wait to share this with her! And I had no idea about the mold, thanks for sharing that tip and the tutorial! (And for making me the new favorite daughter in law haha!)

  4. is there any need to add like red food dye because i heard the color attracks them but i am not to sure if it is true.

    1. Hi Ashley,

      There's no need to add red food coloring, and in fact, food coloring could be harmful to the hummingbirds so it's better to skip it. Typically hummingbird feeders have red on them, but I've seen hummingbirds go for flowers and feeders without red, as well.


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