Skip to Content

How To Make Sugar Water For Hummingbirds

Whether you’re 9 or 90, there’s something magical about seeing a hummingbird! Maybe it’s their tiny bodies, long beaks, or bright colors…but there’s there’s nothing quite like seeing one up close. Today I’ll show you how to make sugar water for hummingbirds and how to keep your feeder clean.

I actually bought a hummingbird feeder last year and didn’t get around to filling it. Had I known how simple it was to make a sugar water solution, I would have done it sooner and enjoyed seeing these tiny, amazing birds up close. Truly all you need is WHITE SUGAR, and WATER.

Read on to see how to mix this up and how often to change out your hummingbird nectar to keep bacteria away.

White sugar, a pan, and hummingbird feeder used to make hummingbird sugar water recipe

What kind of hummingbird feeder is best?

There are many designs out there. This is my feeder.

You’ll want to look for one with red on it, as that’s the color that attracts hummingbirds. If your feeder has red (usually plastic), then there’s no need to use red dye to attract the birds which is not good for them anyways.

Size is another consideration. But remember, you can always fill your feeder less full. This is a good idea until your hummingbirds discover where the food is, or else you’ll find yourself wasting sugar water between cleans.

Where’s the best place to hang your feeder?

Up close to a shaded window is ideal for viewing! If not, anywhere the feeder gets more shade is better than less shade.

Otherwise, the heat will ferment the sugar much more quickly and your sugar water won’t last as long!

Is it ok to feed hummingbirds sugar water?

Yes! Using the ratio below, your sugar water will closely mimic nectar from flowers and will not disrupt the birds migration patterns.

We love seeing our birdies up close and it’s become a fun part of nature study in our homeschool. We will be starting a Calendar Of Firsts and I’ll aim to record the first hummingbird of the year when I see it.

A field guide to hummingbirds in your area

If you don’t yet have an identification guide or know the types of hummingbirds in your area, I recommend treating yourself to a field guide. This goes way beyond what to feed them, and you’ll learn so much!

Peterson’s hummingbird field guide has 31 North American species with 250 color pages, migration patterns, maps, tips for attracting them to your yard, behaviors and habits of hummingbirds…it’s really a comprehensive guide!

Basic Hummingbird Food Ratio To Make Sugar Water

  • 4 parts water to 1 part white sugar

How to make sugar water for hummingbirds

There are a few ways to do this, but I don’t think it needs to be complicated. You can boil, or not. Either is safe for the hummingbird.

If you don’t boil, warm the water slightly to make it easier to dissolve the sugar. This can be done on the stove or microwave!

Many birders no longer boil because the benefit isn’t necessarily noticeable and it takes longer to cool if you boil.

Mixing the hummingbird sugar water

  1. You can boil 4 cups of water first, then add 1 cup of sugar. Or you can add the sugar and water together before bringing to a boil.
  2. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Let the sugar water cool to room temperature before filling your bird feeder.

Why would you boil your hummingbird nectar?

You don’t NEED to boil your sugar water. Some do, some don’t. You probably don’t have much bacteria in your tap water, but that’s why you might boil in the first place.

Boiling kills bacteria present which helps the sugar water last longer outside before it ferments. Especially if the nectar will be in the heat where bacteria grows more quickly.

Fermenting happens when the bacteria uses up the sugar, creating byproducts like alcohol and lactic acid which isn’t good for the hummingbirds. So starting out with less bacteria and microbes (via boiling) will slow that process.

If you have other impurities in your water that don’t boil out, you can use filtered water. However, from what I’ve found on main birding websites, most tap water is just fine.

If you choose not to boil, you may want to at least heat up the water enough to help the sugar dissolve faster. The flip side is you’ll have to wait for it to cool to room temp to put it in your feeder.

Is it ok to use honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, or artificial sugars for hummingbird food?

No, never ever add honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, artificial sweeteners, or even red dye to your bird feeders.

It can harm or kill your birdies. And send your bird loving friends into cardiac arrest! 😉

There’s really ONE best recipe I’ve found after reading scores of birding sites to most safely mimic real nectar found in flowers…that’s white sugar and water.

Why you shouldn’t use honey for hummingbird nectar

While honey in it’s original form does have antimicrobial properties, when diluted with water and out in the warm air it can quickly grow bacteria that can be deadly to birds. Here’s a helpful article that explains all the dangers of using honey in hummingbird food.

Why you shouldn’t use brown sugar for hummingbird nectar

Brown sugar is not a good substitute for white sugar, as the molasses in brown sugar is unsafe for hummingbirds. It is rich in iron, which is good for humans but a toxin to these birds when it’s anything but a tiny, tiny amount.

Why you shouldn’t use red dye, and what to do instead

First of all, nectar is actually clear in nature, not red.

Hummingbirds ARE attracted to red, which is why you’d want to get a hummingbird feeder with red on it. However, adding dye could be bad for the birds, and isn’t necessary to add especially if you just get a red feeder.

Better to be on the safe side and leave it out, in my opinion.

How often should you clean your feeders?

While I love seeing hummingbirds up close…I don’t love extra things to clean on the regular….and this is one of them. Keeping a hummingbird feeder clean is going to be an extra chore!

The Nation Audubon Society recommends cleaning it twice a week in warmer months, once a week in cooler months, or every time it’s emptied if sooner.

If you don’t do this, your feeders can grow harmful bacteria (and mold) that will actually hurt the hummingbirds instead of help them.

They say to avoid using dish soaps which can leave behind chemicals that harm the birds. Warm tap water is enough, or a weak vinegar water solution.

Will feeding hummingbirds hurt their migration patterns?

If you are worried about the birds sticking around too long due to an easy food source, don’t be. The National Audubon Society, the authority on all things birds, says hummingbirds are programmed when to leave. Even if you provide easy food, they’ll know it’s time to head south and will still do so at their normal time.

Learn to watercolor a ruby throated hummingbird!

We’ve been doing some beginner watercolor tutorials of birds as a family, and one of them was the Ruby Throated Hummingbird! You can see how we do that here.

Hope you’ll start your bird feeders and enjoy watching them from your window soon! Don’t do what I did and put it off a year!

Subscribe to Blue and Hazel on YouTube!


Friday 8th of September 2023

Why do hummingbird nectar that is sold on the market alway have red dye in it?


Friday 8th of September 2023

It's often in commercial hummingbird nectar because hummingbirds are attracted to the color red. But it's not necessary because all hummingbird feeders are made of red plastic to attract the birds. Since it's not necessary and potentially even harmful, I'd avoid hummingbird with red food dye and make my own. Here's a statement from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on the color red in hummingbird nectar: