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How to Make Hummingbird Food (Nectar) Recipe ~ Homestead and Chill

Hanging a hummingbird feeder is an excellent way to help support your local hummingbird population, and enjoy their presence in your yard. Come learn how to make hummingbird food (aka nectar) with this simple homemade hummingbird food recipe – without boiling!

It’s very easy and inexpensive to make your own hummingbird nectar. It’s also better for the birds than buying pre-made bottled nectar, which often contains chemical dyes and preservatives. Yet it’s important to follow the right steps so we don’t accidentally make our hummingbird friends sick!

This post will cover best practices to make homemade hummingbird food, including the right sugar water ratio, the best kind of sugar to use, what sugar to avoid, and other frequently asked questions.

Looking for the best hummingbird feeders? I personally love this blue glass feeder and this adorable cactus hummingbird feeder. Both are beautiful, durable, and easy to clean! Explore all of my favorite gifts for bird lovers here.

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What Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Hummingbirds need to consume a significant amount of food each day to support their incredible metabolism and energy levels. Their primary food source is nectar from flowers, which fuels them with the carbohydrates they need. Hummingbirds also occasionally dine on small flying insects, spiders, sap, and pollen – which gives them a little protein too!

Homemade Hummingbird Nectar vs Flowers

The sugar in homemade hummingbird food offers a similar boost of carbohydrates as natural flower nectar. So, hanging a hummingbird feeder is a great way to augment (not replace) their natural food supply. Feeders provide a valuable food source for hummingbirds in the off season when flowers aren’t in bloom, especially for migrating birds in search of a place to refuel.

However, nothing beats the real deal! Please consider planting plenty of flowers that attract hummingbirds too, focusing on native nectar-rich flowers that bloom in different times of year. If you want to take it a step further, look into turning your yard into a certified wildlife habitat like ours!

RELATED: If you’re a bird nerd like me, come learn how to attract birds to your yard or garden (beyond hummingbirds) with bird houses, water features, shelter, feeders and more.

A hummingbird perched high atop a California Sycamore tree. The bird has a black beard, whitish gray to green body with green and black wings.
A hummingbird perched high atop a California Sycamore tree. The bird has a black beard, whitish gray to green body with green and black wings.
A migrating male Rufous hummer, enjoying our black and blue salvia.

Hummingbird Food Recipe

Key Ingredients

  • Pure white cane sugar. Do not use brown sugar, raw cane sugar, or organic sugar (unless it is pure white in color) to make hummingbird food. Why not? Sugar that is not 100% white refined sugar may contain a small amount of molasses, which gives it a tan or brown tint. Molasses is rich in iron, and iron can be toxic to hummingbirds even in small doses! Do not use honey, agave syrup, or artificial sweeteners to make homemade hummingbird food either. Beet sugar is the only other suitable replacement for white cane sugar.
  • Clean fresh water. Un-chlorinated water, filtered water, well water, or spring water is ideal, but most city tap water is fine to use as well.
  • NO red food dye or preservatives! The colorful fake flowers that adorn hummingbird feeders is what get their attention. Therefore, you do not need to add red dye or other coloring to homemade hummingbird food. Rather, those unnatural substances can be harmful to the birds. 
Two wooden spoons are laid flat on a black surface, one is full of white sugar the other is full of brown sugar. The white sugar has a green check mark on it while the brown has a red x on it. Two wooden spoons are laid flat on a black surface, one is full of white sugar the other is full of brown sugar. The white sugar has a green check mark on it while the brown has a red x on it.
Refined white sugar only please!

Sugar Water Ratio

The standard hummingbird food recipe sugar-to-water ratio is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, or a 1:4 ratio. For example, 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water, ½ cup sugar and 2 cups water, or what we often make – just a ¼ cup sugar to 1 cup water. It is important to get the right balance because too much or too little sugar can be unhealthy, dehydrating, or otherwise harmful to the hummingbirds.

During the winter or cold weather, it is okay to to increase the sugar-to-water ratio to 1:3, or 1 part sugar to 3 parts water (but no more). This gives hummers some extra energy when they need help most. The slightly sweeter nectar also has a lower freezing point, preventing it from freezing as easily.

Instructions to Make Hummingbird Food

  1. Fully dissolve 1 part plain white sugar in 4 parts hot water (e.g. 1/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water) and stir until completely combined. You can do this by lightly heating a pot of sugar water on the stove, or by heating water in a tea kettle and then mixing it with sugar in a heat-safe bowl or glass. If your water gets really hot straight out of the faucet, you can simply mix hot tap water and sugar right in jar, glass, or bowl.
  2. Allow the nectar to cool down to lukewarm or room temperature before adding it to your favorite hummingbird feeder.
  3. Hang the feeder outside, and have fun watching your hummer friends enjoy their food!
  4. Store any extra leftover hummingbird food in the refrigerator and use within two weeks. 
  5. Keep in mind that it’s necessary to change and clean feeders at least weekly, and even more often during warm conditions. Therefore, it’s best to make hummingbird food in small batches (and don’t completely fill large feeders) to help reduce waste.
  6. Do not “top off” feeders with fresh nectar without emptying and cleaning them out first! If the food becomes moldy, cloudy, or otherwise grimy, immediately take down and clean the feeder. Moldy or contaminated feeders can be detrimental to their health. See more important maintenance tips and FAQ below.
FAQ: Do you have to boil hummingbird food?

No. Most experts say that it is not necessary to boil homemade hummingbird food. The most important thing is that the sugar dissolves completely in the water, so if you don’t boil it, simply be sure the water is hot enough to melt the sugar, and shake or stir the mixture thoroughly.

A metal pot is sitting on a gas stove range, the flame is lit on the burner that is directly below the pot. A metal pot is sitting on a gas stove range, the flame is lit on the burner that is directly below the pot.
Contrary to rumors on the street, you do NOT have to boil homemade hummingbird food. Just heat it enough to fully dissolve the sugar!

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I change my hummingbird feeder?

During moderate weather, it’s best to clean and sanitize hummingbird feeders at least weekly. Every four to five days is ideal. During hot conditions (over 90F) feeders should be cleaned even more often, every two to three days. Failing to empty and clean feeders regularly can be very harmful to (or even kill) hummingbirds.

How to clean a hummingbird feeder?

To clean a hummingbird feeder, completely take it apart and then disinfect it by soaking in either dilute bleach water or vinegar water. To use vinegar, combine 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water in a tub and allow the feeder to soak for at least an hour. Or, mix 1 part household bleach to 10 parts water and soak for 15 minutes. Use a small scrub brush to further clean the feeder, and be sure to thoroughly rinse off the bleach or vinegar with hot water after soaking.

Where should I hang a hummingbird feeder?

It’s best to hang hummingbird feeders at least 4 to 5 feet above the ground, out of the reach of cats and other predators. Choose a shady location if possible, since homemade hummingbird food spoils more quickly in the sun and heat. Do not hang feeders near a known nest. Finally, put it somewhere you can see to enjoy!

An image taken through the front window of a house at the hummingbird feeder that is hanging from the porch directly outside. A lone hummingbird is sitting at the feeder, only its silhouette is visible as it is shaded under the porch but bright sunlight shining in the yard beyond. The background contains a variety of plants, vines, shrubs, trees, and cacti growing throughout the yard. An image taken through the front window of a house at the hummingbird feeder that is hanging from the porch directly outside. A lone hummingbird is sitting at the feeder, only its silhouette is visible as it is shaded under the porch but bright sunlight shining in the yard beyond. The background contains a variety of plants, vines, shrubs, trees, and cacti growing throughout the yard.
One of our hummingbird feeders hung under the shade of the front porch eaves – where the nectar will stay cool and we can enjoy the view.

And that’s how to make homemade hummingbird food.

Thank you for your interest in supporting hummingbirds and local wildlife! I hope you’ll have plenty of magnificent little friends buzzing around your yard in no time. Fun fact: Did you know that hummingbirds can remember every flower they visit, and recognize the humans that tend to their feeders? So don’t be surprised if you’re met with a little sass if you don’t keep up with filling and cleaning them! Plus, gratitude when you do.

If you enjoyed this easy hummingbird food recipe, please spread the love and leave a review below!

Don’t miss these related articles:

Hummingbird Food (Nectar) Recipe

Follow this easy hummingbird food recipe to make homemade hummingbird nectar without boiling, including the best kind of sugar to use, sugar water ratio and more.

Cook Time5 minutes

Cooling Time5 minutes

Total Time8 minutes

Course: Drinks, Snack

Keyword: Hummingbird feeder, Hummingbird food, Hummingbird nectar, Hummingbird syrup

Servings: 1 cup of nectar

Cost: $1

  • Small pot or tea kettle

  • Hummingbird feeder

  • 1 cup water, un-chlorinated and filtered if possible
  • 1/4 cup refined white sugar* (do not substitute with other sugars or sweeteners, see notes below)
  • Completely dissolve 1 part sugar in 4 parts hot water. Scale up or down as needed for your feeder(s). For example, use 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 cups water, or 1/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water. During winter: increase the sweetness to 1 part sugar to only 3 parts water (1/3 cup sugar and 1 cup water), but no more sweet than that!

  • You can either lightly heat a pot of sugar water on the stove, or by heat water in a tea kettle and then mix it with the sugar in a heat-safe bowl or glass. If your water gets really hot straight out of the tap, you can simply mix hot water and sugar right in jar, glass, or bowl. You do NOT need to boil homemade hummingbird food, but do make sure the sugar completely dissolves.
  • Allow the sugar water to cool down to lukewarm or room temperature before adding it to your hummingbird feeder.

  • Hang the feeder outside in a shady location at least 4 feet above the ground, and have fun watching your hummer friends enjoy their food!

  • If you make extra, store any leftover hummingbird food in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize feeders at least weekly. Every 4 to 5 days is ideal, and more frequently in hot weather. Do not “top off” the feeder by adding more nectar before emptying it first. If the food becomes moldy, cloudy, or otherwise grimy, immediately take it down and clean out the feeder.

Regarding sugar: Do not use brown sugar, “raw” cane sugar, or organic sugar (unless it is pure white in color). If the sugar is not 100% white refined sugar, it may contain a small amount of molasses. Molasses is rich in iron, and iron can be toxic to hummingbirds in even small doses. For example, the organic raw sugar we usually use at home has a tan tint to it, so we don’t use it in this homemade hummingbird food recipe. Do not use honey, agave syrup, or artificial sweeteners. Beet sugar is the only other suitable replacement for white cane sugar.
 
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