What to Put Into a Hummingbird Feeder

Are wondering what to put into a hummingbird feeder?

It’s a great question when you’re new to feeding hummingbirds.

And you’re not alone, I get a lot of birdwatchers asking me this question.

It begins with a feeling that without the right food you won’t attract the hummingbirds. Then it leads to the dread of feeding them the wrong thing.

I’ve been there. Nobody wants to harm the birds they are trying to help.

You want to be able to provide food in your feeders that help the hummingbirds to survive their hectic days. And perhaps even to migrate through the year.

Well, worry no more. This guide has you covered.

I’m going to tell you all about what you should put in your hummingbird feeders. Plus I’ll answer some of the frequently asked questions about offering food to your backyard hummingbirds.

First, we’ll start by looking at what hummingbirds eat in the wild.

Ready? Then let’s begin.

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What do hummingbirds eat?

Hummingbirds have a really varied diet in the wild. Here are some of these things that Hummingbirds eat to give them the energy and nutrients they need.

1. Insects

Insects are the main food source for hummingbirds. Actually, around 80% of what hummingbirds eat is insect-based.

Now, we’re not talking about all insects. Think as in small insects such as spiders, harvestmen, aphids, gnats, and mites. They aren’t fussy and will eat most small bugs.

That’s because they have to eat as many insects as possible to keep healthy.

Hummingbirds will get vital protein, amino acids, and fats from insects that they don’t get from other food sources.

Having access o lots of insects not only feeds the adult hummingbirds but will help baby hummingbirds to grow and thrive.

The hummingbirds catch insects in the air, from plants, tree sap, or spider webs. They are a fan of eating insects’ eggs too.

2. Nectar

Flower nectar is the food you most associate with hummingbirds.

You’ll see hummingbirds flutter beside the flowers, sucking up the sugary nectar with their long tongues.

This sweet solution is packed full of natural sugars to give hummingbirds the energy to fly around all day long. Nectar also provides hummingbirds with a source of water to keep hydrated.

Basically, the nectar provides the energy for hummingbirds to hunt insects.

Hummingbirds love Pink, purple and red flowers filled with nectar including:

  • Foxglove
  • Petunia
  • Weigela
  • Honey Suckle
  • Bleeding hearts

3. Tree Sap

A natural alternative to flower nectar is tree sap. Hummingbirds tend to eat this when flowers are harder to come by. This may be due to too many hummingbirds or flowers dying off.

Tree sap sugar content is around 2% whereas flower nectar is around 20%. You’ll notice that the sap is not nearly as sweet as flower nectar. But, it does contain sugar that can provide energy, which is better than nothing.

Hummingbirds will usually stay close to woodpeckers who will drill holes in the trees. This gives them easy access to the tree sap the woodpeckers leave over.

Tree sap is a good source of water and mineral that can keep hummingbirds healthy.

4. Fruit

Hummingbirds as clever birds and will take an energy source when it’s offered.

Fruit is a good way for hummingbirds to get a sugar boost for catching more insects.

Hummingbirds tend to like overripe fruit as the sugar content is high. Offering up fruit at your birdfeeders will be sure to attract hummingbirds.

The other great thing about offering fruit is that it will attract fruit flies. The hummingbirds will thank you for the easy picking of fruit flies hanging around in your yard.

5. Mineral material

You may occasionally see hummingbirds eating strange things like soil, sand, dust, and ashes.

These will likely be female hummingbirds who are trying to build up their calcium sources. Calcium is essential for producing healthy, strong eggs. Other minerals found in these odd materials in clue potassium and magnesium.

The hummingbird will simply take these up from the ground with their tongues. They may even hang around after you’ve used your grill to scoop up the wood ash.

What to Put Into a Hummingbird Feeder

Right so now you know what hummingbirds eat in the wild. So you may be wondering if this is what you should put in your hummingbird feeder?

The simple answer is no.

All you need to put into your hummingbird feeders is hummingbird nectar.

You may also see this called hummingbird sugar water.

The idea is to provide hummingbirds with food that closely matches the flower nectar.

A constant supply of nectar in your feeders means the hummingbirds don’t need to waste energy searching for nectar-filled flowers. This frees up their time and gives them the energy to go hunting for insects.

Sugar water can be a lifeline if for hummingbirds who visit in winter. That because there are very few natural sources of nectar around at this time of year.

There are two ways you can offer up hummingbird nectar into your feeders:

  1. Make your own hummingbird nectar
  2. Buy Pre-made hummingbird nectar

You’re probably wondering which one is better homemade or store-bought nectar?

Well that all depend on your preferences.

Let’s take a look at each option, to help you make up your mind.

Homemade Hummingbird Nectar

Making your own hummingbird nectar at home is really easy.

It’s a simple sugar water recipe involving only 2 ingredients: sugar and water.

Check out my instructions on how to make your own hummingbird nectar.

The usual ratio is four parts water to one part sugar, this mimics flower nectar as close as possible.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of putting homemade Hummingbird sugar water in your feeders.

  • Easy
  • Quick
  • Cheap
  • Make in large batches
  • Takes longer than using pre-made
  • Can use wrong ingredients
  • Can use wrong ratios
  • Not always convenient

The truth is that you have to follow the recipe exactly using pure white sugar in the correct ratios.

Once you get it right, it’s simple, but it’s harmful to your hummingbirds if you try to use alternatives for the sugar.

What can you add to hummingbird nectar?

Because hummingbird nectar is so easy to make I always get asked if there are other things you can add.

The general rule of thumb is you shouldn’t add anything else to your hummingbird nectar other than sugar and water.

However, there is one exception to that rule.

Flavoring the water with a cinnamon stick before adding the sugar is a great way to keep ants off your hummingbird feeders.

Other than this, don’t add anything else to your homemade sugar water.

What you should never add to homemade hummingbird nectar

When making hummingbird nectar it’s important you don’t use sugar alternatives in place of pure white sugar.  This includes:

  • Brown sugar
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Honey
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Xylitol

You should also never add red dye to your homemade hummingbird nectar.

It’s simply not necessary. You may think adding red dye will attract the hummingbird.

Natural nectar is clear and not red. The hummingbirds will be attracted to the red on your feeders, not the dyed nectar.

And worse? The red dye may be harmful to hummingbirds. Although nothing has been officially proven. The ingredients in red dye are extra chemicals that can harm hummingbirds.

Premade Hummingbird Nectar

If you don’t want to make your own hummingbird nectar then you can always buy some premade.

These are usually concentrated liquid sugar or powder that you water down in your feeders.

Each product will have its own instructions on how to make up and store for safe use.

Let’s look at the Pro and cons of using premade hummingbird nectar

  • Convenient
  • Uses the correct sugar
  • Some brands have added nutrients
  • Expensive
  • May have red dye added
  • Some brand use wrong ratios

Best Hummingbird Nectar to Buy

Not all premade hummingbird nectars are the same. I’d suggest checking out any reviews of a product before you go ahead and buy it.

Personally, I would avoid any brand that makes up a red solution. These products may claim the dye they use is natural-based. The red coloring is not a necessity so you’re best to avoid any ingredients they use to achieve the coloring.

1. Kaytee ElectroNectar

The Kaytee electronectar is the bestselling hummingbird nectar on amazon. The reviews rave about this nectar and how much the hummingbirds go crazy for it.

The best part is that the brand makes a point of not adding red dye as a marketing gimmick.

There are added nutrients in the mix to help keep your hummingbirds healthy.

The ready-made and concentrated versions contain 64oz of nectar for your feeders.

2. Sapphire Labs Natural Fresh Nectar

The Sapphire Labs premade nectar is a great option if your nectar spoils easily.

That’s because it contains a low level of copper which keeps the nectar fresh. This additive has been scientifically tested and is safe for hummingbirds to eat.

One pack makes 96oz of hummingbird nectar.

Where to buy Hummingbird Nectar

If you’re buying online then I’d recommend you buy from Amazon. It usually arrives quickly and you can see the reviews of thousands of other birdwatchers that have used the products already.

If you prefer to buy in-store you’ll find hummingbird nectar in most pet or gardening aisles. Or any good pet store should have some premade nectar in stock.

Hummingbird Food FAQ

Can you put plain water in a hummingbird feeder?

Never fill a hummingbird feeder with just plain water.

The only thing you should put in your hummingbird feeders is hummingbird nectar.

That being said it is important to offer hummingbirds water to keep them hydrated. I recommend having a birdbath in your yard. This way you’ll be able to attract other birds to watch as well as hummingbirds.

Do hummingbirds prefer homemade nectar?

Hummingbirds don’t have a preference for pre-made or shop-bought hummingbird nectar. However, if the ratios are off with wither type it’s likely they will avoid eating it.

Some reviews suggest that hummingbirds don’t like certain brands of premade hummingbird nectar. This can be frustrating if you’ve spent money on something the hummingbird won’t eat. I find this happens more with the premade nectar which contains red dyes.

Is it ok to feed hummingbirds sugar water?

Sugar water is basically another word for hummingbird nectar. It is safe to feed hummingbirds the correct ratio of sugar water.

The recommended ratio is 4 part water to 1 part sugar.

Some recipes suggest making sugar water at a 3:1 ratio in winter to stop it freezing as easily.

You may also see a suggestion of 5 parts water to 1 part sugar to keep bees away from your hummingbird feeders.

Both adjusted ratios are unnecessary. There are other easier ways to deal with these issues than to go play around with the sugar content, which can be harmful to the hummingbirds.

Is store-bought hummingbird nectar safe?

Store-bought nectar is safe to buy. However, I would strongly recommend avoiding any ready-made nectar that contains red dyes.

The red dye is not necessary to attract the hummingbirds, as can potentially be harmful to them.

Do Hummingbirds eat pollen?

Hummingbirds don’t eat pollen. It may appear like they do as it often gets stuck to their beak and tongue when they are on a flower.

The hummingbird will indirectly eat the pollen as they eat the flower’s nectar. Pollen can provide hummingbirds with a small source of protein.

Final Thoughts

Learning what to put into a hummingbird feeder is essential for taking care of your backyard visitors.

Hummingbirds naturally eat insects, flower nectar, tree sap, fruit, and other minerals.

Offering a feeder full of sugary nectar is a great way to help give hummingbirds energy to find lots of bugs to eat. You can make hummingbird nectar yourself or buy it from the stores.

You need to make sure you make it up correctly and not add any non-essential ingredients that could harm the hummingbirds.

Just follow the instructions closely and you won’t go wrong. Your hummingbirds will be happy and healthy when visiting your yard.

If you found this guide useful please share it with your family and friends.

Let me know if you have any more questions about filling your hummingbird feeders in the comments below

4 thoughts on “What to Put Into a Hummingbird Feeder”

  1. I have enjoyed your articles on hummingbirds, confirmed somethings and I’ve learned a few. Thank you
    I have been feeding Anna’s hummingbirds year-round here in the Pacific NW. Started with 1 Feeder, now I have 8!
    When there is a mild freeze I have used beer cozies to wrap my feeders and slip in hand warmers if necessary.


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