Garden of Eatin'

Simply Perfect Hummingbird Food Recipe: Why You Should Always Make Your Own

The best and easiest homemade hummingbird food recipe + what not to do

Watching hummingbirds flit from flower to flower in my garden is one of the simple joys in life, and I’m always trying to find ways to invite more of them into my yard.

Every year, I grow specific varieties of flowers just for them—hummingbirds are attracted to some of the same flowers that bees and other pollinators love.

I also like to hang hummingbird feeders throughout the yard to encourage them to stick around, as well as offer a source of food in early spring or late fall (when most flowers are either not in bloom yet, or have faded for the season).

But instead of buying commercial hummingbird food, I make my own—and it couldn’t be easier. Homemade hummingbird food (hummingbird nectar) is inexpensive and so simple to make, and it’s infinitely better than store-bought hummingbird food that’s filled with artificial dyes and preservatives.

Want to know how to make your own and beautify your garden too? Keep reading!

Two hummingbirds drinking from a pink flower

Homemade hummingbird food (nectar) recipe

My recipe for hummingbird food is super simple and closely mimics natural flower nectar. All that’s needed are two household ingredients and two pieces of equipment.

What you’ll need

  • 1 cup plain white sugar 
  • 4 cups hot water
  • Large spoon
  • Mixing bowl (preferably with a pouring spout/lip)
  • Funnel (optional)
  • Hummingbird feeder

Method

  1. Stir the sugar and hot water in your mixing bowl until the sugar is dissolved. (What you end up with is a light simple syrup.)
  2. Let the syrup cool down to lukewarm or room temperature.
  3. As soon as the syrup has cooled, carefully pour it into your hummingbird feeder of choice (using a funnel if needed). Store any unused syrup in a lidded container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

You can make this recipe as often as needed. Just be sure to wash the feeder thoroughly before your next batch.

Hummingbird feeding from a hanging feeder in the garden

The ideal hummingbird food sugar-to-water ratio

When making your own hummingbird food at home, the ideal ratio of sugar to water is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.

This formula can be scaled up or down accordingly, as long as the ratio remains the same. Too much or too little sugar can be harmful to hummingbirds, so avoid deviating from this recipe.

The one exception to this rule is during wintertime, when a ratio of 1 part sugar to 3 cups water gives hummingbirds a much-needed boost of energy and helps keep the syrup from freezing.

If you have a small feeder, you can make hummingbird food by combining just 1/4 cup plain white sugar and 1 cup hot water. This reduces waste since hummingbird food has to be changed out frequently, and large batches should be stored in the refrigerator for no more than two weeks.

Close-up of hummingbird in mid-flight

Can you use brown sugar for hummingbird food? 

No! Please do not use brown sugar in place of plain white sugar for homemade hummingbird food. Brown sugar is not suitable for hummingbirds.

You should also avoid honey, agave nectar, demerara sugar, caster sugar, confectioners sugar, and “raw” cane sugar—anything that is not 100 percent white refined sugar.

I also advise against using organic sugar unless it’s pure white in color, since organic sugar may contain small amounts of molasses (giving it that familiar off-white to brownish tint). Molasses is rich in iron, and iron can be toxic to hummingbirds even in small doses.

This is one of the few times where using an otherwise good and healthy natural sweetener is not good or healthy at all (when it comes to hummingbirds, that is).

Do you need to add food coloring to hummingbird food? 

No! You do not need to add food coloring to any homemade hummingbird food. Artificial dyes and colors can be harmful to hummingbirds since they cannot digest the chemicals in them.

Hummingbirds are attracted to color, but your hummingbird feeder should do a good job at attracting them with its bright colors and designs.

Hummingbird flying to a hanging feeder in the garden
Disclosure: All products on this page are independently selected. If you buy from one of my links, I may earn a commission.

What’s the best hummingbird feeder to use?

For the most part, all hummingbird feeders are created equal. The best feeder to use is the one that suits your personal style and space!

You can find beautiful hummingbird feeders made from handblown glass, feeders that look like mason jars or antique glass bottles, fun designs like cacti and textured balls, minimalist feeders that fit into any modern garden setting, compact feeders that suction to a window (if you don’t have a tree limb to hang one from), and even tiny feeders that you can wear as a ring! (Imagine a hummingbird landing on your hand to take a sip? It’s a hit with kids especially!)

Many hummingbird feeders have an 18- to 32-ounce capacity, but there are smaller feeders that hold just 4 ounces, 8 ounces, or 12 ounces of nectar (perfect if you have a small space or balcony garden).

I’ve gathered my favorite hummingbird feeders below, or you can see them all in my Amazon store right here.

How often should you change a hummingbird feeder? 

To maintain freshness, change out the hummingbird food at least once a week, though best practice is to wash and refill the feeder every four to five days. In very hot weather, you may need to change out the hummingbird food even more frequently.

If the homemade hummingbird food in your feeder becomes goopy, cloudy, or moldy, take down the feeder, dump out the nectar, wash with hot water, and fill with fresh nectar.

Always empty, clean, and fill your hummingbird feeder with fresh homemade hummingbird food—don’t just top it off when it becomes low.

Dirty, contaminated food can be detrimental to hummingbirds.

How to clean a hummingbird feeder

Between refills, wash your hummingbird feeder with hot water (and a mild detergent, if necessary) to remove any sticky residue. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the feeder so no soap remains inside.

A bottle brush is handy for more effective cleaning, and for any small, tight areas (like fake flowers), a toothbrush can be used to scrub them clean.

Some hummingbird feeders are even dishwasher safe, so be sure to check the instructions that came with the feeder.

At least once a season, or before I leave on a long trip, I disinfect my hummingbird feeders in a vinegar solution to help keep them clean.

Related: Top Tips for Taking Care of a Garden While You’re Traveling

To do this, disassemble your feeder and soak all the parts in a bucket or sink filled with 1 part vinegar + 2 parts water for at least an hour. Swish the parts around to ensure every surface makes contact with the vinegar solution, then drain and either towel dry or air dry.

Hummingbird feeder hanging under a covered porch

Where to hang a hummingbird feeder

Personally, I like to hang my hummingbird feeders where I can see them—not only for the pleasure of seeing these playful birds dance in my garden all day, but also to remind me to fill and clean them each week.

After all, a neglected (or forgotten) feeder, hung in an out-of-the-way area of your yard, will do more harm than good.

When choosing an ideal spot to hang your feeder, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Homemade hummingbird food spoils more quickly in the sun and heat, so try to avoid hanging your feeder where there’s direct sun all day.
  • Hang the feeder in a shady or partially shady location that’s sheltered from wind and rain (on a tree with a large canopy, or under an eave or covered porch, for instance).
  • Hang the feeder at least 4 to 5 feet above the ground to help keep it out of reach of pets, predators, and other garden critters. If you don’t have a high enough tree branch or structure, you can use a tall, sturdy shepherd hook like this one.

When to hang (and take down) a hummingbird feeder

Hummingbirds start arriving in the garden in spring as temperatures warm up. But exactly when you should hang your hummingbird feeder depends on where you live.

In the United States, people in the north can generally put out their feeders by late April. Southern states can aim for late February to early March. All other states fall somewhere in between.

It’s best to hang your feeder before you see any hummingbirds in your garden, since you want the food to be ready and available for those first early arrivals.

In winter, leave your hummingbird feeder up for at least three weeks after you see the last hummingbirds, since you never know when a hungry straggler may migrate through your yard.

If you live in a climate with year-round hummingbird populations (like California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida), then your feeder should stay up all year, except maybe in peak season when you have a wide variety of flowers in full bloom (which provides the hummingbirds with plenty of “wild” nectar to feed on).

Hummingbird feeder in winter, wrapped in red knit sweater for insulation

How to keep hummingbird nectar from freezing

If cold weather has arrived in your garden but the hummingbirds have not quite left yet, you can keep your feeder going until the very last drop (and visitor).

The standard 1-to-4 sugar-to-water solution for hummingbird nectar freezes at 29°F, but starts to get slushy at around 27°F.

However, using a 1-to-3 ratio of sugar to water lowers the freezing point of the syrup, which helps delay (or prevent) your homemade hummingbird food from freezing.

If your location is prone to cold snaps overnight, bring the feeder in each evening to keep it from freezing. Just remember to hang the feeder again early in the morning, as hummingbirds often begin to feed before sunrise.

Location matters: a hummingbird feeder in a protected area, away from wind and close to the house, is less likely to freeze than a feeder that’s out in the open.

You can even wrap your hummingbird feeder in incandescent holiday string lights (not LED lights) for a festive look that does double duty by keeping the feeder (and nectar) just warm enough in winter.

In a pinch, hand warmers will work. These are the single use, disposable hand warmers you find in sporting goods stores. Most require you to shake them up to activate the heating element. You can tape these hand warmers to your feeder and let the gentle heat warm your feeder overnight.

And finally, insulation is key when it comes to keeping hummingbird nectar from freezing. You can use many different household materials to wrap around your feeder, including items that might otherwise be recycled or discarded. Some simple ideas for insulation include:

  • Bubble wrap
  • Burlap
  • Garden frost cloth (this is a good way to repurpose an old or damaged one from last season)
  • Oven mitts
  • An old sweater, cut and sewn to size (or you can knit a new one specially for your feeder)
  • An old tube sock with the toe cut off, stretched to fit over a feeder
  • Foam pipe insulation, cut to size and secured with rubberbands, tape, or zip ties

For more ideas, this page has lots of pictures sharing clever ways to keep hummingbird food from freezing in winter.

You might also find these posts helpful:

Yield: 4 cups

Homemade Hummingbird Food (Nectar)

The best and easiest homemade hummingbird food recipe + what not to do

Homemade hummingbird food (hummingbird nectar) is inexpensive and so simple to make, and it's infinitely better than store-bought hummingbird food that's filled with artificial dyes and preservatives.

Prep Time 3 minutes
Active Time 3 minutes
Total Time 6 minutes
Difficulty Easy

Materials

  • 1 cup plain white sugar
  • 4 cups hot water

Tools

  • Large spoon
  • Mixing bowl (preferably with a pouring spout/lip)
  • Funnel (optional)
  • Hummingbird feeder

Instructions

  1. Stir the sugar and hot water in your mixing bowl until the sugar is dissolved. (What you end up with is a light simple syrup.)
  2. Let the syrup cool down to lukewarm or room temperature.
  3. As soon as the syrup has cooled, carefully pour it into your hummingbird feeder of choice (using a funnel if needed). Store any unused syrup in a lidded container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Notes

Avoid using honey, agave nectar, demerara sugar, caster sugar, confectioners sugar, and "raw" cane sugar—anything that is not 100 percent white refined sugar.

I also advise against using organic sugar unless it's pure white in color, since organic sugar may contain small amounts of molasses (giving it that familiar off-white to brownish tint). Molasses is rich in iron, and iron can be toxic to hummingbirds even in small doses.

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

1 Comment

  • Rebecca
    August 8, 2021 at 7:23 am

    Thanks so much for the recipe. I just love watching the hummingbirds as they flit around our garden.

    Reply

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