Hummingbirds eat a variety of different things, but the food they are most attracted to in many birders’ yards is the basic hummingbird nectar recipe. This recipe approximates the natural sucrose content of top nectar-producing flowers and offers the birds a healthy, nutritious, easily digestible source of energy and calories.
Classic Hummingbird Nectar Recipe
Hummingbird nectar is a simple sugar water solution, but it must be made with the right proportions to attract hummingbirds and give them easily digestible food.
- Combine one part plain white granulated table sugar and four parts water.
- Slowly heat the solution for 1-2 minutes to help the sugar dissolve and slow fermentation.
- Allow the solution to cool completely before filling feeders.
Nectar Recipe Tips
While hummingbird nectar is simple to make, there are other steps birders can take for the safest, best nectar from a homemade recipe.
- If your tap water contains heavy chemicals, strong tastes, or odors, consider using bottled or purified water for purer nectar. Boiling the water before adding the sugar will help purify it, but double check the liquid amount after extended boiling to be sure you have not reduced the volume too far, which could make the sugar concentration much higher. Hummingbirds can enjoy sweeter nectar, but it will ferment more quickly and may clog feeding ports as the sugar crystallizes.
- Do not use honey, brown sugar, molasses, or artificial sugar substitutes for any hummingbird nectar recipe. Honey and molasses (brown sugar contains molasses products) are too heavy for hummingbirds to digest efficiently and can ferment more quickly, creating mold that is fatal to hummingbirds. Sugar substitutes do not have the calories hummingbirds need for energy and offer the birds no nutritional value.
- While boiling will help slow the fermentation of the nectar initially, the nectar in hummingbird feeders is contaminated as soon as it is sipped by a bird. Therefore, it is not necessary to boil the nectar once the sugar has been dissolved. If you use extra fine sugar or stir the nectar vigorously, no boiling or heating may be needed.
- The ratio of sugar and water can be slightly adjusted, but a solution that is too sweet will be difficult for the birds to digest and one that does not contain enough sugar will not be suitable to attract hummingbirds. The 4:1 water to sugar ratio most closely approximates the sucrose levels in the natural nectar of hummingbirds' favorite flowers.
- Hummingbird nectar must be completely cool before filling feeders. Hot nectar can warp or crack both glass and plastic hummingbird feeders, causing leaks. Warm nectar will also ferment more quickly once it becomes contaminated.
- Commercial hummingbird nectar products often advertise different flavors, vitamins, and other additives that are supposed to attract additional birds. These additives are not necessary for hummingbirds’ health and a simple sugar solution will attract just as many birds as more expensive commercial products.
- Unused hummingbird nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week before it begins to spoil. When making your own nectar, adjust the recipe quantity to only make enough for one week to eliminate waste and ensure birds have the freshest possible nectar to enjoy.
- Clean hummingbird feeders at least once a week and refill them with fresh nectar. In warm weather or when multiple birds are using the feeders and they are emptied more frequently, clean feeders more often.
Though it only takes a few minutes to make homemade nectar, if you don't have time to make your own hummingbird nectar, you can purchase powdered or liquid nectar concentrates to use as well. These concentrates often come in premeasured portions to fill a single feeder, depending on its capacity, and can be convenient for RV travelers, using at a campsite, or giving as a gift with a hummingbird feeder. If you do opt for commercial products, check ingredient lists to be sure the product does not contain unnecessary preservatives or dyes.
To Dye or Not to Dye
The use of red dye in hummingbird nectar recipes is a controversial issue. While hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors, especially red, some red dyes in the 1970s were found to be toxic and were subsequently banned from food products.
Today, red dyes found in food coloring and commercial hummingbird nectar are safe for both human and animal consumption, but the color is not necessary to attract the birds. Many hummingbird feeders have red bases, feeding ports, or decorative accents that will attract birds without risking the use of unessential dyes. If you want to use red to attract more hummingbirds to your feeders, consider planting red flowers nearby, hanging red ribbons from the feeder, or adding a red gazing ball near the feeder to help catch the birds’ attention rather than exposing these tiny birds to unnecessary chemicals.
Following the classic hummingbird nectar recipe is a great way to create hummingbird food that is far less expensive than commercial nectars or nectar mixes. With a few simple steps, you can fill your hummingbird feeders with attractively delicious sugar water all season long.