Hummingbird Feeding FAQs

Trochilidae Family

By Connie S. Soto


What kind of food does a Hummingbird eat?


A combination of sugars called nectar is obtained from flowers and home feeders. Nectar consists of glucose, fructose, and sucrose which are table sugar rich in carbohydrates. It contains only a small amount of protein and not all flowers contain the same values of each ingredient.


A little more than 25 percent of a Hummingbirds diet consists of flying insects, spiders, gnats and sap.


How do they obtain the protein that they need if they only get a little amount from the nectar?


The Hummingbird is able to obtain their protein requirements from insect sources.


How much does a Hummingbird need to eat each day?


A Hummingbird needs to eat more than their body weight in food each day. I would guess that to be an average of between 8,000 to 10,000 calories required per day.


Does this mean a certain number of meals or so many meals each hour?


No, the amount of food is dependent upon the content of what they eat and not the number of meals eaten.


How critical is the frequent feeding for the Hummingbirds survival?


Due to its small size and metabolism a Hummingbird could easily starve if they cannot obtain sufficient meals. A Hummingbird has to store up extra calories for overnight survival.


Are some flowers more beneficial than others and if so would the Hummingbird have to eat more to adjust to the caloric differences?


Yes, the calories in flowers greatly differ and the Hummingbirds need to eat more often when the flowers are not as rich.


What if a Hummingbird cannot get enough food?


If a Hummingbird is close to starvation it can conserve energy by using their ability to lower their body temperature.


Does it matter what ratio of water to sugar is used in the home feeder?


The typical caloric differences in flowers fluctuate which means the ratio used in a home feeder will only determine how often the Hummingbird needs to replenish his intake. A high concentrate is about one part sugar to one part water. A suggested rule of thumb might be to have the little Hummingbird visit four to five times in an hour. This might be equivalent to two parts water to one part sugar.


If there is more than one feeder should all the water to sugar ratio be the same?


No, different mixes of higher and lower content water to sugar ratio should be used. Hummingbirds are typically territorial and because of that the most dominant birds will more aggressively protect the higher content feeders. This provides a chance for the less dominant Hummingbirds to feed.


What makes these tiny birds aggressive and territorial?


Hummingbird’s high metabolism and high demand to replenish their energy requirements is literally a life and death necessity for their basic needs. Due to this fact it is easy to understand their aggressive behavior to protect their food sources.


What should be avoided for proper home feeders?


Artificial sweeteners can starve a Hummingbird as the high need for calories are not met.


Honey should also not be used as it can be dangerous to Hummingbirds, due to the process of decomposition. Honey causes micro organisms to form; these are too small for the naked eye to see. It is a normal decomposition process and typically consists of algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa or parasites.


Red dyes use to be a popular addition to the nectar which has no beneficial value and in fact can possibly be dangerous to the tiny birds.


How often should the feeder be cleaned and replenished?


How often a feeder has to be cleaned and filled has a lot to do with where the Hummingbird feeder is hung. If the feeder does not have enough shade it might need attention daily. Another factor is temperature; the colder outside the less often it will need to be changed. Take these facts into consideration and adjust the routine cleaning and filling accordingly. As a rule of thumb, if the conditions warrant the feeder could be cleaned and refilled about once a week. Hummingbirds will find a different source of nectar and will not come to the feeder if they are not clean.


Hummingbird feeders are frequently hard to clean and mold seems to grow, what can be used to help clean the feeder?


It is not my suggestion to use soapy water to clean the Hummingbird feeder although it can be done successfully and is a personal choice. The important point here is to be sure not to leave any soapy residue behind that can harm the Hummingbirds.


Bleach is sometimes used when black spots of mold appear, again no bleach residue should be left behind.


Frequent washings help to prevent mold in the first place and is by far the easier method to help with the cleaning. This is not to say that mold will never form but it does make the job much easier. The cleaner the feeder, the better quality nectar you can provide for these tiny gems.


A variety of brushes are useful to get into the nooks and crannies for cleaning. A tooth brush is probably the most common but not the most versatile. A little plastic toothpick can help for the hard to reach area; the little wooden toothpicks seem to break too easily to be very useful. 


Popcorn or uncooked rice can be used for cleaning the inside of the glass of the feeder. Add the corn or rice with some water, shake vigorously, empty and rinse.


What flowering plants attract Hummingbirds?


This list is from some notes that I have kept over the years. I dabble at gardening and I try to note when they attract the little Hummers and I hope it is helpful.


Abutilon, Chinese Lantern                                 Indian paintbrush

Agastache, Firebird                                          Lantana                                   

Aloe                                                                 Larkspur, Scarlet

Beard Tongue                                                   Lilac

Bee Balm                                                         Lupine

Begonia                                                            Monkey flower

Bottle Brush                                                     Nasturtium

Bromeliads                                                       Orange tree

Cardinal                                                           Pentas

Columbine                                                        Petunia

Coral Bells                                                       Prairie Blazingstar

Delphinium                                                       Red Hot Poker

Eucalyptus                                                        Rosemary

Flowering Guince                                              Rose of Sharon

Flowering Maple                                              Sage, Anise, Scarlet, Texas

Foxglove                                                          Scarlet runner bean                              

Fuchsia                                                             Shrimp plant    

Hibiscus                                                           Silk Oak                                              

Hollyhock                                                         Silk Tree, Mimosa       

Honey Suckle                                                   Trumpet Vine

Impatiens                                                          Verbenas

Wild Bergamot