Attracting Hummingbirds to Your Yard

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
It's that time of year again.  The hummingbirds have started showing up here in Ontario and throughout North America.  They are a little earlier this year with the warmer weather, so it is even more important to provide our little hummingbird friends because many of the flowering plants they rely on during their migration are not flowering yet or just beginning to flower.  Below is a post from 2011 that I'm re-posting all about back hummingbirds. 

It's one of my favourite times of the year. Our smallest Ontario birds, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, are migrating back to Ontario. Since they have only just started to trickle in, it’s important to get your hummingbird feeders up as soon as possible so that they can find it right away and to help to assist them on their long migrations. You can following along with hummingbird migration sightings in Ontario on the Ontario Hummingbird Project website or across North America at the website. 

I always hear people say that they have difficulty attracting hummingbirds to their yards, so in preparation for their arrival I thought I would give some tips on attracting these little gems.
  • Put up your hummingbird feeders early (Mid-April in Ontario): Not as many flowers are open this time of year (in Ontario at least) and this extra help is appreciated on their long journey.
  • Put your feeders close to flowers and perching areas in your yard: I put my feeder near the back of the garden where the Bee Baum and Foxglove grow. The hummingbirds love these flowers and frequent both the flowers and the feeder. Flowers help to attract the hummingbirds to the area around the feeder. Also, nearby shrubs and trees give the hummingbirds a place to perch and rest in between feedings. A feeder nearby trees could also encourage the hummers to nest near your yard.
  • Shade is good: Shade helps to keep the nectar fresh longer.
  • Use bright coloured feeders: Hummingbirds are attracted to bright colours like red, orange and yellow. Most feeders come in bright colours and this helps to encourage hummingbirds to visit your feeder; however it is not true that they only feed from plants of these colours.
  • Have multiple feeding stations available: Hummingbirds are highly territorial and fight over feeders regularly. The more stations on the feeder the better. My feeder is small and has only 4 stations, larger models have up to 8 separate feeding stations with perches.
  • Buy a feeder with insect filters: Some feeders come with caps or filters to put on the feeding tubes to filter our wasps, ants and other insects. This prevents the food from spoiling and from attracting insects to your feeder.
  • Get the nectar right: It's easy to make mistakes when making hummingbird nectar. Below I have provided a recipe and tips for making hummingbird nectar. It’s also available for download by clicking here.
  • Make sure the food fresh: Sugar water spoils quickly. In the summer time feeder food should be changed at least once every 3-4 days. Mould and bacteria can grow fast and cause harm to hummingbirds. If the nectar does goes bad and a hummingbird visits the feeder in this time, it may discourage them from feeding from your feeders in the future.
  • Wash your feeders: In between changing the food make sure to wash your feeders with a mild dish soap and hot water. This will discourage any new food from spoiling from old leftover sugar water.
  • Be patient: It can take some time to attract hummingbirds to your feeder. It took me over a month to attract one and to my feeder when I first started feeding hummingbirds. Then it was several weeks before I saw the next one. However, during the fall migration we had several stop by, sometimes many at once fighting with each other for a spot on the feeder. Keep the nectar fresh and don't give up!
Hummingbird Nectar Recipe
In the wild hummingbirds drink flower nectar for energy and eat bugs for protein. Flower nectar is made up of 21-23% sucrose (sugar), so it's very easy and inexpensive to make. While we only have the one species of hummingbird in Ontario, Canada, for those of you in the tropics lucky enough to have 5, 15 or even 40 species of hummingbirds this nectar recipe is suitable for your hummingbirds as well. In fact, this nectar recipe is perfect for all species of hummingbird. Just be sure no matter where you live that you keep your feeders clean and the food fresh. Here is our hummingbird nectar recipe:
  1. Mix 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar in a pan. For example, use 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. For smaller feeders use 1/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water.
  2. Put the pan of sugar and water on the stove and bring to a boil.
  3. Stir it while it is heating until all of the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Remove from heat after the sugar has dissolved. Don't boil it for long because that will change the ratio as water is boiled off. The reason for boiling is to eliminate the chlorine in the water and to kill mould and yeast spores that might be in the sugar (not to make syrup). This will help make the nectar last longer both in the feeder and in your refrigerator.
  5. Cover and allow it to cool before using or pouring into the storage bottle.
  6. Optional: You can make a larger batch of nectar and store it in the refrigerator (for up to two weeks) in a clean bottle or jar. This makes refilling your feeder easy.

Extra hummingbird food stored for later use.

What not to do!
  • Do not use honey, maple syrup, Jell-O, brown sugar etc. Use real white sugar only.
  • Do not use artificial sweeteners. Putting hummingbirds on a diet will kill them. They burn huge amounts of energy for their size and need real sugar.
  • Do not use red food coloring. It is unnecessary and can harm hummingbirds even in low concentrations because they consume such large amounts of nectar. If your feeder isn't red, tie a red ribbon onto it.
  • Do not add anything else that you might think of. Just sugar and water, that's it!
I have just put my hummingbird feeder up today (April 17, 2011) with fresh food. I will be sure to report my first feeder sighting as soon as it happens. In the meantime enjoy the below hummingbird photos and remember if you live in Ontario make sure to log your hummingbird sightings on the Ontario Hummingbird Project website

To download our hummingbird nectar recipe and feeding tips click here.

My hummingbird feeder (with 4 stations).

Close-up of the feeder. Notice the perches, hummingbirds don't need perches but will use them.

This is a close-up of the underside of the flower at each station. This feeder came with small plastic caps that are placed over top of the feeding tube to avoid wasps, ants and other bugs from getting into the feeder. I highly recommend finding a feeder that includes these caps or other filters to discourage insects from the feeders.

Hung up on April 17, 2011 on the arbor where the bee balm grows.

Last year this young male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird frequented the feeder a lot (blurry photo).

Here he is perched on a fruit tree in the yard.

A hummingbird feeding station in Costa Rica. All of these feeders had one or more hummingbirds on them at a time. The hummers were swarming like bees.

Two Green-Crowned Brilliants at one of the above feeders.

A Violet Sabrewing at another one of the above feeders.

Various hummingbirds at another feeder in Costa Rica.

A Stripe-Tailed Hummingbird from Costa Rica.

Violet-Bellied Hummingbirds at a feeder in Panama.

Happy Birding!

~Kristen Martyn

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