Sunday, April 26, 2020

Top 5 ways to get hummingbirds to come to your feeder

There are many ways to get hummingbirds to come to your feeder. The top 5 things you can do that have the most impact are these:
  1. Keep your feeders full
  2. Clean every time you refill
  3. Change the style of your hummingbird feeder
  4. Add flowers to your yard
  5. Place multiple hummingbird feeders



Photo of male Rufous Hummingbird at feeder
Male Rufous Hummingbird
Photo by Greg Gillson
You bought the best hummingbird feeder you could find. You found the best place to hang it. You filled it with delicious nectar. Your first hummingbird showed up. Hurray!

But then, not much. Every once in a while a hummingbird stops by. But you'd like more. Every day.

Hummingbirds are so beautiful. So active. I love watching them zip around the yard, chasing each other. I love to see the dominant male sits on his perch in the sun, surveying his kingdom. That jeweled throat flashing in the sun is so amazing. Don't you just love it? How wonderful! If only hummingbirds were more regular in your yard.

What can you do to get even more hummingbirds to come to your feeder?

In this article I discuss 5 things that will help your yard be that neighborhood hummingbird magnet. It will be your yard where you will hear passersby saying, "I wish my feeders attracted so many hummingbirds."

So, how do we get started? Follow these guidelines to get hummingbirds to come to your feeder. Lots of hummingbirds!

1. Keep your feeders full


It seems obvious. But it's so hard to do on a consistent basis. I look out the window and my hummingbird feeder is empty! I just filled it up 2 days ago. It was then that I made extra of the hummingbird mixture. It's in the fridge.

I have hummingbirds zipping around regularly. A family of Allen's Hummingbirds are using my feeders regularly. This is the first year for that. Usually I only get the big Anna's Hummingbirds. They fight each other all day, defending the feeder. But in the evening twilight I see all 5 feeder ports with a hummingbird on each. Before dark they tolerate each other and drink down as much sugar water as possible.

That's where I lose the most hummingbird water--in the evening twilight.

Okay. Okay. Let me interrupt my writing and go refill my feeder....

There. That's done. And 3 minutes after I hung it back out there's already a young Anna's Hummingbird is drinking the hummingbird mix from the feeder.

When I say to keep the hummingbird feeder full, I don't mean filled up completely. I mean, don't let the feeders go completely empty for long. As soon as there is no hummingbird food those little guys will go looking elsewhere for their needed sugar.

As a reminder, here is the recipe to follow for hummingbird food.

Later I'll discuss how to keep from ever running completely out of nectar. Next, though, something very important.

2. Clean every time you refill


Don't "top off" your hummingbird feeders. They've been sitting for a couple of days out in the sun. Hard-to-remove black mold is starting to form on the glass and the crevices of the plastic parts of the feeder. Though you can't see it yet, strings of bacteria are thriving on the sugar nutrient. These could make the hummingbirds sick.

Think of it this way. Would you drink from it? No? Then it needs to be cleaned and refreshed!

When the feeder is empty or the hummingbird nectar is cloudy, take it down and clean it. Immediately!

If you clean your feeder every couple of days when refilling, then it may not need vigorous scrubbing. Wash it out with hot water and dish detergent. Rinse it thoroughly. If you want to wash it with vinegar, instead of detergent, that's okay. Some people recommend that. I haven't noticed that hummingbirds are put off by any "soap taste." Detergent easily rinses away. Human taste buds and sense of smell is probably better than a hummingbird's. Wash the hummingbird feeder as you would your own dishes and it'll be fine.

Every third time you refill, or if you see mold or cloudy water, give it a good scrubbing. Buy various sizes of pipe cleaners and small scrub brushes to reach all the nooks and crannies of the feeder. Take extra time to get it really clean.

The plastic parts of hummingbird feeders are not dishwasher safe. Even if it says they are, they likely really aren't. If you want to wash the feeder in the dishwasher, well, be prepared to buy new feeders more regularly. That's not all bad. After all, I know a place where you can buy a new one! (My favorite brand that doesn't drip and is easy to clean is available from this affiliate link on Amazon: Ruby, Garnet, and Diamond models.)


Photo of female Costa's Hummingbird on feeder
Female Costa's Hummingbird
Photo by Greg Gillson

3. Change the style of your hummingbird feeder


You should experiment with different styles of feeders. What are those styles?

Well, there are two main broad categories of feeders: inverted and saucer.

You are probably most familiar with the inverted type of hummingbird feeders. These feature a glass or plastic bottle that you fill and then invert. Gravity pulls the liquid down, but a vacuum keeps it from all pouring out at once. As the hummingbirds drink, air goes into the bottle and a bit more hummingbird food is released.

Some of these are quite artistic. Many drip or leak as the sun warms and expands the air inside. They may leak as they sway in the wind. Leaking hummingbird feeders draw ants and bees.

Some of these inverted hummingbird feeders have "pinched waist" or other shapes which are difficult to clean. Some of the plastic feeder ports do not come all the way apart. These trap mold or are otherwise difficult to clean.

Yes, there can be problems with these inverted feeders. But most of these manufacturers have some models that are much better than others. Look for wide mouth bottles. Look for feeders that come completely apart for easy cleaning. Look at online reviews to see if there is a problem with leaking or cleaning.

The saucer type feeders keep the hummingbird nectar in a small bowl. Feeder ports are in the lid. The hummingbird tongue reaches down to the liquid. The hummingbird water will not leak out unless, perhaps, the feeder swings and tips in the wind.

These are often easy to clean and refill. They don't hold very much liquid, though. So they need to be refilled more frequently.

Bees have a harder time reaching the liquid in these saucer type hummingbird feeders. However, these may be easier for ants to enter.

Why change feeder designs?

Well, keeping your feeders clean and disease-free is important for the health of your hummingbirds. If your hummingbird food goes bad, the birds will not return. It could appear that there aren't hummingbirds in the area. But they may have learned that your feeder doesn't taste good. So you need a feeder that is easy to clean.

Bees and ant pests can drive off hummingbirds. If they get into the food they quickly foul it. Thus, you should choose a feeder that keeps these insects away with bee guards and ant moats or the design itself. Yellow is said to attract bees. Thus, many feeders have white "flowers." And leaking feeders attract insects. So the design is important.

You may have to experiment with a couple of different feeders to find one that the hummingbirds like and the insects can't get into. But there are other reasons to have more than one feeder. We'll talk about that below. But first, how about some flowers?


This video discusses 5 flowers that grow well in Idaho that attract hummingbirds. Check your local nursery to see if there is a variety of these flowers that grows well where you live.


4. Add flowers to your yard


Of course, real flowers are probably better than feeders to attract hummingbirds. The sugar in the flowers is not going to get mold and bacteria as hummingbird feeders can if neglected. And you don't have to replace them every three days!

Flowers also attract small insects and spiders that hummingbirds love to eat. Hummingbirds don't just eat nectar! But you can have flowers and hummingbird feeders. All those bright flowers will catch the attention of the hummingbirds from far and wide.

The key to flowers for hummingbirds is to find some that hummingbirds like. Then you need several types so that one or another is blooming all through the year. This is especially important in early spring when hummingbirds are first arriving. You want to grab the first hummingbirds while they are looking for a feeding territory before nesting. You want to grab any hummingbirds just passing through. They can fuel up for a day or two and then continue on their migration.

What are some flowers that attract hummingbirds? The video above mentions Agastache (giant hyssop or hummingbird mint), Zauschneria (California-fushcia or hummingbird flower), Monarda (bee balm or horsemint), Nepeta (catnip or catmint), Buddleja (butterfly bush). Other recommended flowers include Lonicera (trumpet honeysuckle), Lobelia, Salvia (sage).

You should check with your local nursery to find native flowering plants that attract hummingbirds. Hummingbirds naturally go together with tubular flowers.

Consider hanging baskets of flowers early in the spring. Early migrant hummingbirds (February or March on the West Coast and southern states) can see them from farther away. You can bring them in at night during frosts. A hanging basket of flowers next to a hummingbird feeder is both attractive and practical.

In the mountains of Oregon, I noted that patches of Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush) always hosted hummingbirds in summer. It is the State Flower of Wyoming. But I don't know if it grows well in gardens. Here in southern California I notice Nicotiana (Indian tobacco) is very attractive to hummingbirds. It is described as sprawling, but I've noted it as more a thin tree-like bush 6-8 feet tall with huge yellow trumpet flowers. I've only seen them in the wild, never cultivated. But I must admit to knowing very little about flowers, in general.


This video discusses interesting facts about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. At about timestamp 3:15 it discusses ways to attract hummingbirds to get them to come to your feeder.

5. Place multiple hummingbird feeders


Having more than one hummingbird feeder has several advantages. I'll name just two benefits.

First, there is always a dominant hummingbird at the feeder. This is natural. The males, especially, defend a feeding territory. Not a nesting territory. A feeding territory. That often includes a reliably-filled hummingbird feeder. This dominant bird stands guard from a prominent perch.

Having more than one feeder allows more hummingbirds to get in. The dominant, or bully, hummingbird can only chase one hummingbird away at a time. This allows other birds to get into the feeder.

Second, you can stagger the filling of hummingbird feeders so that only one feeder at a time runs low. When the first is empty, the second is still half full. Fill the first feeder (cleaning it first, of course!) and it will still be half full when the second is out of nectar. If you want more hummingbirds it is important not to let all your feeders go completely empty!

With multiple feeders you can experiment with locating them in different areas of your yard.

If you want more information on the benefits of multiple feeders, please read my article: Get more hummingbirds with 2 or more feeders.

Want more hummingbirds? Give hummingbird feeders as gifts to your immediate neighbors! This works especially well if you really don't see any hummingbirds in your neighborhood. It may take a group effort. And it may take a couple of years. People take social cues. If several people start putting up hummingbird feeders, more will--just like solar panels! More feeders will eventually bring more hummingbirds.



This is a companion article to: Why won't hummingbirds come to my feeder? You will want to check that article for different additional ideas to help you get hummingbirds to start coming to your feeder.




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