Hummingbird Nectar Recipe: Best Ratio & Tips

Bring wild hummingbirds to your home with this classic and safe nectar recipe

hummingbird drinking nectar

​The Spruce / Sarah Crowley

Hummingbirds eat various things, but the food they are most attracted to in many birders’ yards is a basic hummingbird nectar recipe. This recipe approximates the natural sucrose content of top nectar-producing flowers. You can add it to a hummingbird feeder to offer the birds a healthy, nutritious, and easily digestible energy source and calories.

Classic Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

The best solution to fill a hummingbird feeder is making nectar from a simple sugar water solution. You must make it with the right proportions to attract hummingbirds and give them an easily digestible food source. You may find recipes online with varying hummingbird nectar ratios or sugar-to-water proportions. Some recipes call for a 3-to-1 ratio or a 5-to-1 ratio. What is the correct ratio of sugar to water for hummingbirds?

The other ratios work, but the most consistent balance is 4-to-1 or 1 cup of water to 1/4 cup of sugar. A 3-to-1 ratio is sweeter and can be used during cold, rainy, or foggy conditions when birds need more energy.

Following the steps below, you can easily create a safe and healthy supply of hummingbird nectar.

The Spruce / Catherine Song

  1. Combine Sugar and Water

    Combine one part plain white granulated table sugar and four parts water.

    combining sugar and water in a saucepan
    The Spruce / Sarah Crowley 
  2. Heat the Mixture

    Slowly heat the solution for one to two minutes for slow fermentation and to help the sugar dissolve.

    dissolving mixture over heat
    The Spruce / Sarah Crowley
  3. Let Cool

    Allow the solution to cool completely before filling feeders.

    filling feeder once mixture has cooled
    The Spruce / Sarah Crowley

The Best Hummingbird Nectar Recipe Ever

Hummingbird Nectar Recipe Tips

While hummingbird nectar is simple to make, consider these tips for ensuring it is safe for the birds coming to your garden.

Can I Make a Hummingbird Nectar Recipe Without Boiling?

While boiling will help slow the fermentation of the nectar initially, the nectar in hummingbird feeders is contaminated as soon as a bird sips it. Therefore, you do not need to boil the nectar once the sugar has been dissolved. Nor do you have to heat or boil the mixture If you use extra fine sugar and stir the nectar vigorously,

Is It Safe to Use Tap Water?

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.

Why Can I Only Use Plain White Granulated Sugar?

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. Sugar substitutes do not have the calories hummingbirds need for energy and offer the birds no nutritional value.

Is a 3-to-1 Ratio OK for Hummingbirds?

You can slightly adjust the ratio of sugar and water in this hummingbird nectar recipe. Still, 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-to-1 water to sugar ratio most closely approximates the sucrose levels in the natural nectar of hummingbirds' favorite flowers.

Can I Use Warm or Hot Nectar in the Feeder?

Hummingbird nectar must be completely cool before filling feeders. Hot nectar can warp or crack glass and plastic hummingbird feeders, causing leaks. Warm nectar will also ferment more quickly once it becomes contaminated.

Do Hummingbirds Prefer Homemade Nectar?

Compared to commercial hummingbird nectar products, homemade nectar is better for hummingbirds. Commercial products advertise different flavors, vitamins, and other additives that are supposed to attract additional birds, but these additives are not necessary for hummingbirds’ health. A simple sugar solution will attract just as many birds as more expensive commercial products.

How Long Can I Store Hummingbird Nectar in the Fridge?

Unused hummingbird nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week before it begins to spoil. When making your own, adjust the recipe quantity to only make enough for one week to eliminate waste, save money, and ensure birds have the freshest possible nectar to enjoy.

How Often Do I Add Fresh Nectar to the Feeder?

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, ideally every time they are refilled.

When to Buy Commercial Hummingbird Nectar

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. Depending on their capacity, these concentrates often come in premeasured portions to fill a single feeder. They can be convenient for RV travelers, used at a campsite, or given as a gift with a hummingbird feeder. If you 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 toxic and were subsequently banned from food products. Today, red dyes found in food coloring and commercial hummingbird nectar are safe for 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, 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 pre-made commercial nectars or powdered or liquid nectar mixes.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. How to Make Hummingbird Nectar. National Audubon Society.

  2. Hummingbird Feeders. PennState Extension.

  3. Hummingbird Feeders 101. Colorado College.

  4. Attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to Your Yard. New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers.

  5. Coloring that can’t be beet: New food process replaces synthetic dyes. Cornell University.