VCU HR Well-Being blog

Giving VCU employees the wellness resources they need to be healthy both on and off campus

I love Spring and seeing all the birds return from their vacations down south! One of my favorite, the Hummingbird, is back.

Here are some Hummingbird Feeding hints:

  • Put feeders up by mid-March to attract early migrants–a week or two later in the northern U.S. and Canada, a week or two earlier along the Gulf Coast (see average arrival dates at Migration Map). DON’T wait until you see your first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring, which may be well after the first ones arrive.
  • Early in the season just fill a couple of feeders one-third full; no need to waste sugar water until hummers start draining the feeders. Likewise, as the season winds down, re-load each feeder with less sugar water.
  • Maintain feeders all summer; take most down by 1 October, but leave one or two up until Thanksgiving (or even later if you can keep the mix from freezing); stray hummingbirds from the western U.S. may wander in and stay all winter (see Winter Hummingbird Research). NOTE: Leaving feeders up will NOT influence when healthy Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate south; their departure (and spring arrival) is linked to photoperiod.
  • In cool spring or fall weather, you may be able to go a week without changing the mix, but if it gets cloudy, throw it out.
  • Clean and refill feeders at least twice weekly in hot weather. You wouldn’t feed your house pets or your children moldy food, so follow the same policy with your hummingbirds.
  • A mild solution of white vinegar may be used to kill mold in feeders for week-to-week cleaning. Invest in a curved bottle brush that can reach all parts of your feeders; it’s also useful to have a pipe cleaner or small brush that will fit into the feeder holes. Recent research indicates that bleach and other alkaline cleaners can release toxins from polycarbonate plastics (e.g., Lexan) used in some feeders; thus, we no longer recommend chlorine bleach as a cleaning agent. HINT: Glass feeder bottles do not collect as much mold as those made of plastic.
  • If you go on vacation or miss a week putting out feeders, don’t feel sorry for the birds; Ruby-throated Hummingbirds know other food sources for at least a mile in all directions. It’s egocentric to think the hummingbirds can’t survive without you.
  • Hang feeders in the shade when possible, but put them in full view of a window–especially one near your breakfast or supper table!
  • There is evidence that hummingbirds seldom hit windows if the feeders are as close to the glass as possible. When birds get a flying start they’re likely to run into the glass.
  • If two or more feeders are used, put them where birds at one feeder can’t see the other. (We recommend at least three feeders per yard.)
  • Several 8- or 16-ounce feeders are far better than one or two large ones.
  • Don’t worry if Ruby-throated Hummingbirds spend a lot of time drinking artificial nectar; they also visit flowers for natural nectar and also catch small insects. It is unnecessary to buy fancy prepared mixes with vitamins and other additives; besides, these mixes cost as much as 20 times more than regular table sugar, and many of them contain preservatives that hummingbirds don’t need to be ingesting.
  • Do NOT use insect spray or pesticides to keep bees and wasps off feeders; these chemicals may be fatal to small hummingbirds. A shallow saucer of 1:1 sugar water in the sun will often lure these insects away from hummingbird feeders. Ants can be deterred by an “ant moat. (See Bees & Ants at Feeders.)
  • NEVER use any petroluem-based product (Vaseline, Tanglefoot, Vicks, Metholatum, etc.) to keep insects away from feeders. These products are water-insoluble and can gum up the feathers of hummingbirds.
  • Try hanging your hummingbird feeder from a coat hanger wire, as illustrated in the drawing (above right). Straighten the hanger except for the hook, which will hook over your roof gutter. Then bend the last 10″ at the other end of the wire at a right angle, but leave a small dip where the feeder will hang. Coat hanger wire seems to be just the right diameter for a Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s foot, so hummers often will perch on it and allow extended views and close-up photograph



  • Pour four cups of hot tap water into a large pot or pan (glass, enamel, or stainless steel, if possible; try not to use aluminum or soft plastics).
  • Add one cup of table sugar (DO NOT use honey, artificial sweeteners, or other sugar substitutes).
  • Stir until all sugar has dissolved.
  • Let mix cool and pour into in well-cleaned feeders.
  • Boiling, which slightly retards mold growth, is NOT necessary if your hummingbirds are draining the feeders within three days.
  • Red food coloring is unnecessary, especially after birds have found the feeders; besides, modern hummingbird feeders all have red plastic bases and/or yellow flowers the birds can easily see. (NOTE: There is no scientific evidence that food coloring currently available in grocery stores or in commercial hummingbird nectar mixes is harmful to humans or to hummingbirds, but it IS an additive, so don;t use it.)
  • Store excess mix in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (check for fermentation or mold; if the mix is cloudy, discard it). Some people freeze their mix and safely store it for much longer periods. In any case, let mix warm to room temperature before filling feeders.
  • The water:sugar ratio of 4:1 is typical of the sugar concentration found in many flowers used by hummingbirds.There is no concrete evidence stronger sugar concentrations will hurt hummingbirds, but even a 3:1 mix spoils much faster than 4:1, and 2:1 is too syrupy and a real waste of sugar. In hot weather when energy demands are not as high for hummingbirds, you can even cut the mix back to 5:1 or 6:1 and save even more money on sugar.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.