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.

  • Kim Pardalis Cozzo

    I put my first Hummer feeder up this year. I also put up a finch feeder about 5-6 feet away on the other side. I hung red plants and red chimes in between and I clean my feeder regularly. I also hung it in the shade. But
    when a hummingbird comes up, it perches on the feeder, stays a second, and flies away w/o feeding. Does anybody know what Im doing wrong?

  • Huldah Currey Bewley

    My back yard in Hickory NC is in direct sunlight all day, and it hot! Right now we are in the 90s. Should I even use a feeder? My flowers are perennials that are heat loving plants. I have seen a hummingbird in my garden daily, and wanted to feed with a feeder.

    • Hi Hulda: It’s fine to hang a hummingbird feeder in a sunny spot, but you’d be wise to make it a small one, or to add only a small amount of sugar-water. The nectar will go bad much more quickly in the sun, so expect to replace the nectar and thoroughly wash the feeder more often — perhaps daily if it’s THAT hot! –Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

      • Huldah Currey Bewley

        Thanks Dawn, I will try that. Hopefully it will cool off soon!

  • Appy

    I have a small urban lot, I have a few humming birds fav like – cardinal plants, Agastache, others planted along the patio area. I would love to see more birds. I have noticed that when I open my door to be in the patio all the birds fly away. Do birds not stay and feed next to people like bees/ butterflies do or is it just time and over the period they gain trust that we mean no harm to them. The window from my living room is not big and I would love to watch them in action. Thanks for taking the question.

    • Hi Appy: I think hummingbirds feel more comfortable in larger numbers. Some friends of mine get hundreds of hummingbirds at a time at their feeders, and those birds are very bold. I’ve had my nose inches away from their nectar feeder, and still it had a dozen birds on it and more hovering nearby. (I was afraid for my eyes!) But at my own feeder, where I’m lucky to get a bird or two, as soon as a hummingbird sees that I’m on the porch, it’ll take off. On the other hand, I’ve had hummingbirds approach me when I’m wearing a red or flowery shirt. But I can’t approach them. I think if you could make your yard attractive enough to bring in a swarm of hummingbirds, they’d be more tolerant of you. Competition with each other for nectar might overcome their fear of humans. –Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

  • Terri

    I can’t figure out why I haven’t seen any Hummingbirds so far this spring. I have my 2 feeders out where I had them last year. I had like 4 or 5 last year regularly.I have the bird feeders where I had them last year. I added a bowl for the squirrels but it’s not near their feeders. So bummed so far. The Hummingbirds are in my state and have to be near us. Any suggestions? Our weather has been weird this year but their all over Illinois.

    • Hi Terri: Hummingbirds have been slow to return to southeastern Ohio, too. But just wait. Even though hummingbirds are back in the Midwest, it’ll be a few weeks yet before their numbers really pick up. Females are spending lots of time incubating. Give it a few weeks, and I bet your numbers (and mine) will pick up. By late July and early August, when juveniles are abundant and females are freed from incubation, numbers will return to “normal,” I predict. When hummingbirds head south each year, their numbers are at their peak, and early every summer, I think, we forget that it takes a few months before numbers really pick up.
      –Dawn Hewitt, 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?

  • 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

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