Hummingbirds can flap their wings up to 80 times per second and their hearts beat an astounding 1,260 times a minute, depending upon the species. That much movement requires an extremely high caloric intake, making sweet flower nectar the primary food source for hummingbirds. Though the birds have a varied diet that includes pollen, small insects and tree sap, they rely heavily on nectar and digest it quickly. If you wish to feed hummingbirds in your yard or garden, a sugar water mixture is the best choice.

Humming Bird at Feeder
credit: PJAlexander/iStock/GettyImages
Sugar water is an alternative to a hummingbird's natural food source of flower nectar.

Sugar Recipe

Though there are several commercial hummingbird foods available, a simple homemade sugar-water recipe is inexpensive to make and well-received by the birds. To fill your hummingbird feeder, simply combine 4 parts spring water with 1 part cane sugar. Bring your sugar water to a boil and keep it there for one to two minutes to boil away any bacteria. When the mixture cools, fill your hummingbird feeder with it.

Cleaning and Refilling

Clean and refill your hummingbird feeder every three or four days to keep it sanitary and safe for the birds. You may need to clean it more often in temperatures of 90 degrees F or above. Check the feeder often, and give it an extra cleaning if the contents become cloudy or moldy.

To clean the feeder, take it down and bring it into your kitchen sink. Empty it and scrub it thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Rinse the feeder and refill it with fresh sugar water. Once a month, run your hummingbird feeder through the dishwasher if it is safe to do so. If it is not, soak the feeder in a solution comprised of one tablespoon of bleach and one quart of water. Rinse the feeder very thoroughly, and then refill it.

Pest Problems

Unfortunately, hummingbirds may not be the only creatures your feeder attracts. If you notice ants around your hummingbird feeder, deter them by digging a small moat around the base of the feeder and filling it with water. Bees are a bit harder to discourage. To get rid of bees, try changing your homemade nectar recipe to 5 parts water and 1 part sugar. It's also important to wipe down the edges of your feeder with a damp sponge to eliminate sugar water drips that are easy for bees to reach. If these tricks fail, purchase a hummingbird feeder with nectar guards specifically designed to exclude bees. There are several on the market, and they work well.