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Hummingbird Food Preferences and Recipe

People love to put out hummingbird food to attract these little jewels, and for good reason. Not only are hummingbirds delightful to see in your garden, they also eat lots of bugs, so go ahead and give them some hummingbird food to attract them, and they’ll help out with mosquitoes and other insects while they’re visiting.

Audio Article – Hummingbird Food:

Dazzling Hummingbird Facts

In appearance, many hummingbirds sparkle like jewels of ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Here are some cool facts on these winged garden jewels.

Hummingbird Facts

  • Hummingbirds are amongst the smallest warm-blooded creatures on earth, averaging between .05-.16 oz, (the weight of a standard envelope is .169 oz).
  • The humming comes from wings rotating at 50-70 times per second!
  • Their top airspeed approaches 50MPH (in a dive). 1)
  • They fly in any direction in an instant or hover in place, their body practically still, their wings a-blur.
  • So tiny, they can fall prey to a spider’s web, large spiders, lizards, frogs, bass fish, and an assortment of predatory birds. 2)

Though dainty in appearance, hummers are voracious insect eaters.|

Hummingbird Food

Hummingbird Nectar

Hummingbirds consume about half of their body weight in nectar (sugar) daily and can eat as frequently as every 10 minutes. So, for an eight hour period, that’s up to 48 feedings. Also, one little hummer may ingest several hundred  fruit flies in just one day. 3)

Nectar for hummingbirds is akin to rocket fuel. Within a minute, they feed on multiple flowers. Their total daily intake ranges from three to seven calories. That number of calories sounds trivial, yet, if converted to human scale, that’s about 155,000 calories per day. It’s literally eat or die. Given this compelling need, they are quite territorial as they lay claim to flowers and feeders, vigorously defending their food territory—and thus, they rarely socialize. 4)

What Insects do Hummingbirds Eat?

  • Small spiders
  • Beetles
  • Gnats
  • Mosquitoes
  • True bugs
  • Aphids
  • Flies
  • Many more…

Hummers devour small spiders, (reportedly their favorite), as well as beetles, gnats, mosquitoes, true bugs, aphids, flies, and many other insects. They’re also known to tipple a little tree sap now and then. Sugary nectar is necessary to support their hyperactive aerial acrobatics, but more substance is required for minerals, proteins, and feeding their young.6)

I’ve seen hummingbirds pick captive insects from a spider’s web and also bust through a swarm of gnats like a shark through a bait ball.
~Coleman Alderson,

2 Female Hummingbirds Feeder Truce – 15 seconds

It was so much fun watching these two ruby red throated females first approach, scratch at and then bounce off each other. Then both backed off, and engaged in a seeming truce of being okay with feeding at the same time from opposite sides of the feeder.

A Fast 15 Seconds

The entire clip is a fast 15 seconds with the quick tousle at the beginning, followed by a feeding truce, so you may want to watch it on half speed.

Hummingbird Heart Rate and Metabolism

Hummingbirds have the highest rate of calorie burn of any other warm-blooded creature. They can’t even get a normal period of sleep. Instead, every night, they enter a form of suspended animation called “topor” as their heart rate decreases dramatically and their body temps plummet to about 1/15 their waking state. 7)
Hummers do rest, periodically perching on whatever’s handy to conserve energy. It’s estimated hummingbirds spend an average 75–80% of their time sitting and digesting and just 10–15% of their time feeding. 8)
Hummingbirds have the highest rate of calorie burn of any other warm-blooded creature.
Hummingbird perching on tree
Hummingbirds have the highest rate of calorie burn of any other warm-blooded creature. Image by

Here’s a photo of our old fashioned glass feeder, which we purchased from Amazon.

Hummingbird perched at rest on hummingbird feeder
Hummingbird perched at rest on hummingbird feeder. Image by

Hummingbirds are Good for Gardens

Hummingbirds are so much more than the dazzling miniature Cirque de Soleil aerial performers. Hummingbirds are super beneficial yard and garden workers. They consume lots of insects (including many garden pests and mosquitoes), and they are also prolific pollinators. So now, how to get hummingbirds to set up residence in your yard? There are a number of ways to do so.

Plants that Attract Hummingbirds

One way to attract hummingbirds is to plant a mix of inviting flowers, both annual and perennial types. Hummers especially like red flowers, and favor those with trumpet-like blooms.

  • Cardinal flowers
  • Day lilies
  • Honeysuckle
  • Bee balm
  • Hibiscus

Annual Plant that Attract Hummingbirds:

  • Red salvia
  • Scarlet runner beans
  • Petunias
  • Nasturtiums
  • Poppies 9)

And while hummers love red flowers, they also visit many other varieties including shrubs.

Shrub Flowers Hummingbirds Love

  • Butterfly bush
  • Mock orange
  • Potentilla
  • Spirea
  • Rose-of-Sharon
  • Viburnums10)

There are also many trees that attract hummingbirds.

Tree Flowers Hummingbirds Love

  • Crabapples
  • Tulip poplar
  • Redbud trees
  • Silk trees
  • Red buckeye11)

These are just a handful of examples. Check our references below for more extensive listings.  One general observation of their behavior in our garden is that hummingbirds go where the nectar is. So provide them flowers and nectar food and they will hang out in your garden.

Hummingbird Gardens

Seed companies often carry a selection specifically for hummingbirds. Mail order and local garden centers can advise and pick out the right plants as well. There is no apparent shortage of hummingbird enthusiasts on-line, among bird-watching communities, garden clubs, Master Gardeners programs, and local extension agencies.

What’s the Best Hummingbird Feeder?

Based on our own research, we determined red colored glass bottles would work best. There’s lots of advice in regard to not using the prepackaged red nectar due to concerns about red coloring. Though the hazards of red coloring are not fully vetted, it’s not necessary to have red liquid anyway. Plain water mixed with white sugar will do just fine (see recipe below).
Red glass feeders attract attention; glass is easier to clean and more durable than plastic.

Hummingbird Feeder with Ant Moat

We also installed an ant moat on our first feeder. Ants became a nuisance clamoring all up, down, and inside the feeder and no matter where we hung it, they always managed to get up there. Some went so deep that they drowned and could be seen floating in glass bottle. The dead and dying insects appeared to degrade the quality of the mix, so we found this handy device that blocks them.
Hummingbird feeder with an ant moat. These work very well! Simple yet clever.

Hummingbirds are Very Territorial

Speaking of blocking, we had one particular female lay claim to our first feeder. She would not only chase all newcomers away but you could hear them collide in mid-air. We get that this is natural behavior. I don’t speak their language, but when this little avian feeds, she occasionally chitters and chatters as if broadcasting the message, “Buzz off! This is my nectar bar.
Such exclusivity prompted us to procure another feeder–a pinched waist type already pre-fitted with an ant moat and bee guards. Placed some distance from the original, we’re now seeing more hummingbird visitors.
Pinchwaist hummingbird feeder
“Pinch waist” hummingbird feeder with built in moat and bee guard.
Whatever feeder you select, above all, make sure the feeder is easy to clean.
Feeders need regular change-outs, even when there’s still mixture inside. As temperatures climb, the nectar mix degrades more rapidly. You may need to replace it once a week or even more frequently. And with every changeout, a good hand washing with warm water and soap is recommended. Then, rinse repeatedly to make sure there’s no soapy residue.
These tiny birds are sensitive to molds, bacteria, and other contaminants that can spawn in unclean feeders and old sugar water.

The Best Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

As mentioned, regular white sugar and water made into a syrup of 25% sugar (1 part sugar to 4 parts water) is widely recommended for feeders.
Here’s a great recipe shared by folks in the know at The Hummingbird Society .

Recipe for the Best Hummingbird Nectar

Excerpted from The Hummingbird Society12)

1 cup of cane sugar
3 or 4 cups of  water

Directions & Tips
Dissolve the sugar in the water. No red food coloring! Unused mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

  • Refined cane sugar is best. Beet sugar is OK.
  • Do not use any other sweetener like brown sugars or molasses, and never use honey (it can lead to fungus) or artificial sweeteners.13)
  • Spring water is best, but most tap water is acceptable.
    NOTE: Some recommend boiling the water for a sterile and chlorine-free syrup.
  • If bees begin to crowd the feeder, increase the water-to-sugar ratio to 5 cups water/1 cup of sugar. However, a bee problem has more to do with the feeder’s design, so you might try another feeder, such as one with bee guards.
  • When fall arrives, and you’ve not seen a hummer for three weeks, then you can take your feeder down. This will allow passing migrants an opportunity to drop in for a feeding.  14)

It’s safe to take down your feeder in fall, three weeks after no hummingbird sightings.

What about Pre-Packaged Hummingbird Food?

Yes, you can buy pre-packaged hummingbird food mixes ready to pour into feeders. Some even tout added vitamins and mineral (which hummers likely get already from the insects, spiders, and tree sap they consume. And the commonsense economics are such that home made nectar works out to about 90 cents a gallon, whereas you might pay as much as 14 dollars a quart for the “store-bought”.

Homemade hummingbird food is much cheaper than store bought.

While researching this article, we came upon a very helpful guide to attracting and feeding hummingbirds. It’s a free download packed full of information.

Learning Increases Our Fascination

One thing about hummingbirds that’s so captivating, is that there’s so much to learn about the many different species (356 and counting), how they adapt to so many different habitats, and their amazing abilities. 15) The more we learn, the more fascinated we become and the more grateful we are to have these dazzling, daring creatures adorn our garden.

Send us your comments and questions and hummingbird photos, we read them all!

 GardensAll, your garden gathering place.

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