General Hummingbird Feeding Rules

Where do I place my feeder?

There are a few things to keep in mind when placing your feeders. First of all, the feeders need to be where the birds can find them—near flowering plants is an ideal starting point. Second, the feeders need to be where you can see them, enjoy them, and easily access them for filling and cleaning. Third, the feeders should be out of direct sunlight to slow the fermentation process. Last, once the birds are tuned into your feeders, you can move them in short steps to a more advantageous position.

Hummingbirds remember a reliable food source—even from year to year. Ask any veteran hummer host and she will be happy to tell you how her male hummingbird returns every spring and hovers in the exact spot where the feeder was last summer.

How often should I clean my feeders?

That’s like asking, “How often should I shower or brush my teeth?” The answer is, as often as necessary. But there’s no such thing as cleaning your feeders too much. In areas with daily summer temperatures above about 75 degrees F, feeders should be cleaned every two to three days. If your region has hotter ambient temperatures or your feeders get a lot of direct sunlight, clean them more frequently. Warm soapy water with a bit of gunk-scrubbing should do the trick. Some folks prefer to use white vinegar.

When should I feed hummingbirds?

Some regions of North America host hummingbirds all year long, so residents there can put the feeder up now and never take it down—except to refill and clean it, of course! Some people may be concerned that leaving a feeder up will prevent hummingbirds from migrating in the fall. This is a myth. Hummingbirds (and all migratory birds) have an internal “clock” that tells them when to migrate. No healthy hummingbird would ever stick around just because you’ve left your feeder up in the fall. However, late migrants, young and inexperienced birds, and hummers that are not completely healthy may be helped by the presence of your feeder, especially in areas where blooming flowers are scarce in fall and early winter.

How important are feeders?

Hummingbird feeders are not vital to the survival of our native hummingbird species. At best they are an additional food source—after nectar-producing flowers—for hummingbirds. Nectar-producing flowering plants and flying insects are always going to be the most important food sources for hummingbirds. The two possible exceptions would be during periods of bad weather, when a late spring or early fall snow covers flowering plants and stops insect activity, and when a vagrant hummingbird shows up in winter at a nectar feeder. In such cases, a clean feeder filled with fresh nectar can make all the difference for a bird’s survival.

As feeding and gardening for hummers has grown in popularity, more and more vagrant hummingbirds are being found in the East, Southeast, and in the Gulf Coast states. Each winter there are reports of western hummingbirds of several species spending the winter in places where they should not be. While you might be tempted to call these birds “lost,” in fact they are merely players in nature’s grand scheme of survival. If their internal compass directs them to migrate east in the fall instead of south, and they survive the winter in, say, Huntington, West Virginia, and return to breed the following spring in the West, their offspring may possess the same internal navigation differences. Over time, this is how species expand their range, through trial and error and survival of the fittest. There are hummingbird researchers who feel that the increasing numbers of overwintering rufous hummingbirds in the eastern half of the U.S. are a direct result of the increased presence of hummingbird feeders and hardy blooming plants in human-altered landscapes. It’s an interesting phenomenon to ponder.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Colleen Baker

    We live in NW AZ (elevation is 3,350 ft.) and I have feeders all the time. We’re new to this climate and I don’t know when to stop feeding them. We are starting to have cool nights (high 30’s to 40’s) but it warms up to 60’s and 70’s during the day. Last year (our first winter here) my husband found 2 dead hummingbirds. One in the yard and one on our patio. I don’t want them to stay around if they are going to freeze to death. What should I do?

    • Kyle Carlsen

      Hi, Colleen: Wild birds have learned to take advantage of our feeder offerings, but they are still experts at finding and taking advantage of natural food sources, too. If they need to migrate to warmer environments, they’ll do so. Birds are smart and built to survive. No need to worry! —Kyle Carlsen, Bird Watcher’s Digest

      • Colleen Baker

        Thanks, Kyle. I guess I’ll just leave the feeder out and trust their instincts :)

  • Susan Muttart

    We have several feeders we keep up during the winter to feed the Anna’s Hummingbirds we have. We noticed the population increased this year over last year. However, we will be out of town for a couple of weeks over the holidays. We are worried about the hummingbirds while we are gone. Will they be okay if we stop feeding abruptly or should we wean them off now?

    • Kyle Carlsen

      Hi, Susan: Wild birds are fully capable of finding new food sources. They’re coming to the feeders now to take advantage of an easy meal, but they’ll be fine while you’re away. It probably wouldn’t hurt to wean them off in the days leading up to your departure, but don’t feel obligated to do so. —Kyle Carlsen, Bird Watcher’s Digest

  • Sharon Fuller

    I live in Lewiston Idaho, we are at sea level and have mild winters, but do see freezing temperatures and snow on occasion. I leave my feeder up year-round and as of today ( November 9, 2015) I have at least one hummer frequently throughout the day. I am fairly certain it is an Anna’s hummer. Should I continue leaving the feeder up? People think I am endangering the hummer, but I believe they are guided by nature, not my feeder. I still have flowers blooming in pots on my deck near the feeder. Am I in the wrong?

    • Kyle Carlsen

      Hi, Sharon: You’re correct in that wild hummingbird migration is guided by nature (change in daylight, for example) rather than human-provided feeders. Some hummingbird species remain in the United States through the winter, and others migrate south to warmer environments, but in each case, they are perfectly capable of fending for themselves. Feel free to keep your feeder up for awhile: your remaining hummingbirds will appreciate the easy meal! —Kyle Carlsen, Bird Watcher’s Digest

  • Lorraine McIntyre

    Will hummingbirds be ok when I move? I live on the west coast of Canada and still have quite a few birds feeding here. I’m worried they are depending on my feeder, and I’m moving at the end of October. Thanks

    • Kyle Carlsen

      Hi, Lorraine: Wild birds have learned to take advantage of our feeder offerings, but they are still experts at finding and taking advantage of natural food sources, too. Your hummingbirds will be fine. They’ll follow their natural instincts and move on or migrate and locate adequate food sources. Birds are smart and built to survive. No need to worry! —Kyle Carlsen, Bird Watcher’s Digest

      • Lorraine McIntyre

        Thank you so much Kyle! I’ve been very worried about “my birds”. I’m probably more attached to them than they are to me, or my feeders. I will miss them, but you’ve put my mind at rest.
        Thanks again, Lorraine

    • Lorraine McIntyre

      Oh yeah, they live in the giant Douglas Fir and juniper tree right outside in my backyard. They don’t seem to be thinking about migrating.

  • Linda

    For several years, I have had 4 to 5 large hummingbird feeders of which I refill at least 3 of them daily. I probably have 200 birds and although it’s time consuming, I enjoy it. However, since I do travel often, I rely on my good neighbor to fill in for me which she does. I know it’s not easy for her and so come next Spring I want to cut back to two feeders. Right now I still have the full quantity of birds and I expect (hope) they will be migrating soon. I will keep one or two feeders up all winter as I do have about a dozen that stay. What can I expect next spring if I don’t put up the full amount of feeders? Is this a good idea or not?

    • Dawn Hewitt

      Hi Linda, Birds are

Subscribe & Save!

ONE YEAR (6 ISSUES) of Bird Watcher's Digest magazine
GET FREE AND INSTANT ACCESS to our digital edition
SAVE 33% off newsstand prices
PAY ONE LOW PRICE of $19.99!