The Best Way to Feed Hummingbirds in Warm Weather

Anna on columbine

Scorchingly hot weather is upon us in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s understandable to want to feed hummingbirds, but here’s the thing: Hummingbirds have no sense of smell and cannot tell if the sugar water in a feeder has gone bad. Deadly toxins can contaminate a sugar solution rather quickly in very warm weather—as fast as 24 hours—especially if the feeder receives some sunlight. Hummingbirds may become ill (and consequently more subject to predation) and even die from feeding at unattended feeders. And I don’t even want to think about a mother hummingbird’s nestlings who might starve to death after she’s been sickened by fermented sugar water that’s rich in mold and bacteria. So if you cannot keep your feeder fresh and clean, please don’t feed them via artificial feeders. 

Anna on Penstemon ovatusReal flowers are best
To avoid all these potential dangers, I strongly recommend growing plants (preferably native to your area so that other species benefit as well) that provide natural nectar which contains micronutrients, unlike refined sugar. Besides the nutrition and safety of real nectar, you won’t have to deal with unwelcome insects at feeders. Hummingbirds may also consume a sugary liquid from trees and often forage where woodpeckers called sapsuckers create sapwells from which hummers feed. I’ve also seen them at ripe fruit on my fig tree.

Also keep in mind that these amazing little birds do not live on nectar alone: their diet and that of their young includes a surprisingly large amount of tiny insects (and spiders) for protein, and the best way to provide it is, again, with native plants, which supply drastically more insects than non-native plants. And, needless to say, fresh water is essential for all birds and your yard should be free of any pesticides.

Feeder recommendations
If you do feel a need to feed hummers via artificial feeders, here’s a handy chart for how often to clean and refill your feeder, courtesy the Wild Bird Shop:

Daily high temp in shade / Frequency of cleaning/refilling
61-70º                                4 – 5 days
71-80º                                3 days
81-85º                                2 days
86º+                                   daily

♦ Refill with just the amount of sugar solution that will be consumed in the time period according to the temperature range.
♦ Keep feeders in the shade.
♦ Choose feeders that don’t have tubes or removable parts, which are very difficult to keep clean. I like the HummZinger feeders, which are VERY easy to clean. Rinse well after cleaning with hot soapy water (no bleach).
♦ Stay away from the colored, pre-mixed commercially available solutions—natural nectar is colorless, and adding red dye and preservatives is adding unnecessary, unnatural, and possibly harmful chemicals to the birds’ food. If your feeder doesn’t have red on it, simply hang a red ribbon next to the feeder.
♦ Only use white cane sugar in a ratio of 4 parts water (preferably filtered, w/o chlorine) to one part sugar. No honey, molasses, or syrups.



© 2017 Eileen M. Stark

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24 thoughts on The Best Way to Feed Hummingbirds in Warm Weather

  1. So they drink tree sap. So what about using all natural, real maple syrup with no preservatives as it is, basically, concentrated tree sap

  2. We have been breaking all the rules for years! But have had many hummingbirds. we are going to change to the correct way and see what happens.

  3. I’m worried about Arizona temps and the feeders overheating.. any recommendations to keep the feeders cool?

  4. the temps have been 95 plus for 3 days. I have been rotating the feeders. keep one out for 2-3 hours – then bring warm one in to refrigerate and put refrigerated one out. I assume birds do not want to drink hot water.

    1. That’s a good idea, but consider growing native flowering plants for them and you won’t have to worry about it. 🙂

  5. Thank you for the fantastic article and attention you gave to the importance of real food/flowers being the best source as well as the reality that artificial feeders with commercial sugar solutions often cause more harm than good. No to red coloring indeed. Unmentioned were the other synthetic additives used as preservatives: sodium benzoate, benzoic acid, BHT and BHA all of which are commonly found in store bought solutions and shouldn’t be given to wildlife. Personally speaking,I’m constantly reminded that when it comes to most things including food natural is almost always the way to go.

  6. The Audubon Society’s website says not to use organic sugar due to possibly lethal amounts of iron.

    1. Thanks for that tip! Since I rely mainly on plants to feed them I wasn’t aware of that.

    1. Not a silly question at all! Honey is not plain sucrose; it ferments very quickly and can contain the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. There are warnings not to feed honey to human infants under 12 months; older children and adults have the intestinal bacteria that suppresses development of C. botulinum. I imagine that hummingbirds lack this. So, it’s best to feed what is most natural and safe for the birds: real nectar from real plants. Thanks for your question.

  7. I feed 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup water with great success, organic cane sugar from my health food store. I have a water feature that they land in to drink and bathe in as well.

  8. So glad I have bee balm (monarda), russian sage, honey suckle, crocosmia, and salvia blooming in this hot weather. My resident Anna’s have been frequenting them in the past few weeks…..the Rufous left about three weeks ago when their babies were old enough to migrate.

    1. I just saw a male Rufous hummingbird this morning for the first time since March/April, so they must be on their way south. I wish them all the best—their terribly long migration must be so hard on the young ones. Thanks for your comment!

  9. I use a clear Kaytee electo nectar. There are no directions regarding how often to change the nectar.

    1. I looked up the ingredients of that product and it contains a preservative. Please consider growing plants that will provide natural nectar, w/o chemicals, plastic bottles, etc. Thanks for your concern!

  10. A caution against using honey, too, please! Thanks for the article.

    1. Yes, and when we grow plants for them we don’t even have to think about sweeteners. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Nice article.
    Would have liked to have seen a warning against using the red humming bird sugar solution that is sold in so many places. It is harmful to hummingbirds.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I was mainly focusing on sugar solutions going bad in warm weather (which can affect them very quickly), but I will add a warning about the dyes, too.


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