The Dos & Don'ts of Hummingbird Feeding

Thursday, May 20, 2021
It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, I'm not talking about the holidays.. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are back! Time to dust off the feeders and stock up on sugar to prepare for this long-awaited season. But there is more to hummingbird feeding than just mixing some sugar and water together and hanging a feeder. To ensure our hummingbird friends stay safe & healthy, we must take on the role of responsible backyard bird feeders and learn the dos and don'ts of hummingbird feeding. 

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding from WBU High Perch Hummingbird Feeder

DO keep your nectar fresh
In hot weather, the sugary nectar that we offer hummingbirds can cloud or grow mold quickly, causing illness in the birds. It is recommended to change your nectar every two to three days, or more in extreme heat, to avoid spoilage. Adding Nectar Defender, an all-natural solution to stop spoilage, to your feeder can also help to extend the expiry date of your nectar. To give your birds nectar as close to nature as possible, follow our simple recipe below, or purchase one of our dye free pre-made mixtures

Simple hummingbird or oriole nectar recipe:
  • Add 4 parts boiled water to 1 part white table sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool before filling feeder. Nectar can be stored in the fridge for one week. It is important to use only white table sugar (no substitutes; brown sugar, organic sugar, etc) as this is what is most similar to sugars found in natural nectar. 

DON'T use nectar with artificial colouring
Red dye has been included in commercial hummingbird nectar mixes for years, with claims to better attract hummingbirds to your feeder. While the colour red certainly is an attractant, adding it to the food is unnecessary and harmful. There have been no official studies published on the effects synthetic dyes have on hummingbirds, but there is enough information about their negative effects on humans that it is best to err on the side of caution and ditch them all together. Instead, opt for feeders like the WBU High Perch Hummingbird Feeders that have red on them, and include red-coloured native flowers in your gardens. Many ornithologists and wildlife organizations around the world, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology, condemn the use of synthetic dyes in hummingbird nectar. "There is no research that proves red dye is safe for hummingbirds, and very compelling anecdotal information from experienced, licensed rehabbers that hummers who have been fed dyed food have higher mortality and suffer tumors of the bill and liver." - Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female) feeding from a WBU High Perch Hummingbird Feeder

DO clean your feeders as often as possible
All bird feeders should be cleaned and disinfected regularly to help mitigate the spread of illnesses, but hummingbird feeders in particular can become death traps very quickly if not properly maintained. Hummingbirds are highly susceptible to illness from mold spores and fermented nectar, which can cause tongue swelling which ultimately leads to death by starvation. Hummingbird feeders should be inspected and cleaned every time the solution is changed, even if there is no visible mold or build up on the feeder.

To properly disinfect a hummingbird feeder, first disassemble your feeder completely. Next, soak the feeder in a 10% bleach solution for at least 10 minutes. Use a brush or sponge to thoroughly scrub and clean each piece of the feeder, use a small port brush or toothbrush to clean inside of the nectar ports. Once cleaning is complete, rinse thoroughly in hot water for at least 15 seconds. Allow to completely air dry before refilling and hanging for use. 

DON'T use pesticides in your yard
Pesticides and insecticides pose huge risks to hummingbirds. Chemical build up in the environment eventually affects all species, large and small, but impact hummingbirds more quickly because of their size and feeding habits. Hummingbirds consume and come into contact with chemical sprays while drinking nectar from contaminated flowering plants, and can easily become poisoned from exposure to high levels of these toxic chemicals. Pesticides and insecticides also eliminate insects, which make up the bulk of a hummingbird's diet. Hummingbirds (and most other Ontario-native species) rely on insects such as ants, mosquitoes, and beetles, as their protein source and main diet for their young - who are fed every 20-30 minutes! In addition to feeding on insects, hummingbirds also use silk from spiderwebs in nest construction, using it as thread to anchor to a foundation. 

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding on Jewelweed

DO plant native plants
Native plants are truly the foundation of any wildlife-supporting habitat. Why choose native over non-native? Native plants know the land. They know our wildlife, and our wildlife know them. They co-exist with our natural species, rather than compete with them. Native plants also help to stabilize soil, and typically require less water and management in comparison to non-native plants so they make for lower maintenance gardening. Planting a mix of native flowering and non-flowering plants in your yard is a great way to support insect populations for hummingbirds and other birds to feed on, and also to provide natural sources of nectar to attract hummingbirds to your yard.

Hummingbird favourites include:
  • Cardinal Flower, Wild Columbine, Wild Bergamot, Haskap, and Jewelweed (pictured above). Visit Home - Bird Gardens to learn more about your growing zone and the best plants to grow in your yard. 

Last but certainly not least, DON'T feed hummingbirds if you are not willing or able to keep up with frequent nectar changes and feeder cleaning. 
This one may sounds harsh, but it's true. Bird feeding can be a rewarding hobby for both parties involved when done properly. We get to see the birds up close, and they get easy access to supplemental food when they need it. But bird feeding can also be a selfish hobby if our interests take priority over the best interests of the birds we're offering food to. Sometimes life gets busy and we forget about our feeders, understandably. If that becomes the case, just take the feeders down and try again when you're able to commit the time to proper feeding and feeder maintenance. Rest assured that if you are unable to continue feeding for any reason, the birds will survive on their own. 

Help our hummingbird populations thrive by practicing responsible bird feeding & enjoy the splendors that this exciting season has to offer!
- Shayna

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