Hummingbirds are among the most delightful of Mother Nature’s creations. Their fluttering, darting, often juvenile movements are often among the first signs of summer. Hummingbird feeders placed prominently about one’s yard can help attract these harbingers of warm weather. Hummingbird food is often sold as cheap commercial byproducts likely harmful to hummingbirds and the environment. We’re going to cover some safe and easy DIY hummingbird food recipes to help avoid such nasty alternatives.
Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds on Earth, with the smallest being the bee hummingbird which weighs in at only 2 grams! These birds are named for the humming sound that is made by the rapid flapping of their wings. During active hover states these birds are capable of flapping their wings in excess of 80 times per second among smaller species!
What do Hummingbirds Eat?
With all that fanciful flapping it’s safe to assume these featured Heralds of Summer work up quite the appetite. Hummingbird food is often sold as a sugar-rich nectar meant to mimic the naturally-sweet nectars produced by flowering plants. Many people are unaware that hummingbirds actually eat a variety of insects such as fruit flies, gnats, aphids and even mosquitoes! Having hummingbirds around isn’t only an amazing experience but also a great way to help reduce unwanted pests.
When do Hummingbirds Migrate?
Like many other birds, Hummingbirds migrate towards warmer weather as cool temperatures of Fall begin to set in. In North America hummingbirds migrate to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbeans. Some species such as the Annas and Ruby-throated hummingbirds will remain in the warmer areas of Southern California and Florida for the Winter, though they are among the minority. In the Spring, the Northern migration of hummingbirds occurs largely in mirrored response to the resurgence of insect species and flowers which are on the menu. This typically begins around March but can be seen peaking as late as late April and early may.
Types of Hummingbirds
North America is home to many different species of hummingbirds. Some of the most-common types of hummingbirds are the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, the Broad-Tailed Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. Depending on which State one lives in, a wide variety of different hummingbird species might be seen. These different species are often characterized by unique markings, size, and even speeds and behavior.
Hummingbirds love sweet things that remind them of plant nectars. They are able to find sources of these types of food without much help so you don’t have to go to great lengths to attract them. Generally, all one needs to do to attract hummingbirds is to place a feeder (or several if you’ve a large population) somewhere outside your home. The ideal places are those which are easy to get to when you need to refill or clean your feeders. Some popular locations are on plant feeder hooks, porch-mounted plant hangers and also on window sills. You don’t need to go overboard on finding the best hummingbird feeder in the world, but avoiding super cheap ones can help not only provide your birds with easier access but also help reduce cleanup times (and messes!). One of our favorites is this Vintage Hummingbird Feeder. While this feeder is very affordable and looks quite nice—plastic feeder are often a bit more durable. Once you get your feeder, all you need to do is fill it up with some hummingbird food and sit back while they find it!
Hummingbird food is sold at nearly every garden center in North America. Unfortunately these foods are generally just super cheap commercial sweeteners and food coloring (like this one). It’s a matter of preference for the most part but we recommend avoiding any products that contain food colorings and dyes. These are just unnatural chemicals that serve no purpose to the hummingbirds—they will also make a huge mess when spilled! Bright colors do attract hummingbirds, but most feeders have some bright red or yellow bases to accomplish this. Hummingbird food is basically just two things: water and sugar.
- 1 Part Sugar (sucrose, glucose, and fructose)
- 4 Parts Water (use Spring water to ensure proper mineral content)
This recipe is far from complicate and requires only that sugar be mixed with water. Many resources advise boiling the water before, or after, adding sugar to help avoid harmful bacteria. This certainly won’t hurt things but really isn’t necessary. Unless you have reason to believe the water you are using is contaminated with a bacteria or other harmful compound, boiling water is actually pretty unnecessary. The simple steps are just to get 4 parts water and 1 part sugar and mix them together. Before you toss in whatever you’ve got laying around and fill it up in your sink—consider the following tips:
- Using distilled waters or boiled water can remove some of the natural minerals that are beneficial to hummingbirds (and people). If you are on well water, you should feel confident that the water from your sink will provide these nutrients. For those on city water, buying spring water to make hummingbird nectar is the easiest way to ensure you are providing all the essential minerals possible.
- Hummingbird nectar is best made using a 4:1, water to sugar ratio to ensure proper sweetness and viscosity. This helps ensure hummingbirds are getting attracted and that your feeder isn’t clogging up. If you add too much sugar there is a chance that things will thicken up and clog your feeder. This will prevent the birds from easily feeding and also increase the amount of time needed to keep things clean and bacteria free.
- Don’t use Honey, Molasses, sugar substitutes, or other sweeteners you might have lying around. Plant nectar is almost pure sugar, also containing water, minerals, vitamins and some amino acids. There are some reports of hummingbirds not responding well to beet sugars, so to increase your odds of success make sure you are using cane sugar. This is what the majority of common white table sugar is made of. If you are uncertain, read the label to confirm the only ingredients consist of either sucrose, glucose, fructose or a combination of these ingredients.
- Make sure you let your hummingbird food cool completely before putting it in the feeder. If it’s really hot it can do damage to your feeder or harm the birds. Generally speaking, hummingbirds are expecting a sugary nectar that is the same temperature as the ambient temperature outside your house. It’s best to make a batch of hummingbird food at night and let cool while sitting on your counter until the next morning. This helps take the tension out of waiting and ensures proper cooling.
Hummingbird food is one of the simplest ways to attract one of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring creations. These fast-flapping furls of fury will come from miles around to feed on the sweetness of the recipe mentioned here. While making your homemade hummingbird food and hanging up your hummingbird feeders take note to consider your stance on using dyes. Most commercial hummingbird nectar come in brightly-dyed red colors in an effort to be more attractive to hummingbirds. We’re not sure if there was ever any science to back this up or if it was just a trend that snowballed out of control. In the late seventies there was an uproar over the health impacts of red food coloring being consumed by people. Since then, it’s generally considered that food dyes are safe for human consumption and likely so for hummingbirds as well. All things considered however; to be certain you aren’t causing any harm to hummingbirds it’s a good idea to avoid dyes all together. Not only will you be sure your birds are as healthy as can be but you’ll also minimize cleanup.