Before you create a hummingbird habitat, there are several important things you must know, and do, to attract these beautiful creatures and to protect them. The selection of a good hummingbird feeder, placement of the feeder, maintenance of the hummingbird feeder and choice of food can be critical, both to your enjoyment of the hummingbirds and to their survival. I will cover each of these points, but first, allow me to give you a little information about the hummingbirds themselves.


How many types of hummingbirds are there?

There are more than 10,000 species of birds in the world. About 925 of those species have been counted in the U. S. and Canada. Of all the birds living in our part of the world, few are as interesting, as fascinating, or as beautiful as the hummingbird. There are 16 species of hummingbirds breeding regularly in the United States and another half dozen Mexican or Caribbean species that have been reported here.


A typical North American hummingbird like the Rufous hummingbird measures between 3.5 to 4 inches and weighs in at about 3 grams (1/10 of an ounce). This makes him/her a heavyweight compared to the Bee hummingbird which is typically 2 inches long and normally weighs 1.8 grams (6/100 of an ounce). The Bee hummingbird is frequently mistaken for an insect by casual viewers.


How much do hummingbirds eat?

What is not small about hummingbirds is their appetite. Hummingbirds consume between 3 1/8 and 7 ½ calories a day. To put it into human terms, that equates to roughly 155,000 calories per day. Just imagine pulling up to the drive-in window at McDonalds and ordering 278 Big Macs just to get you through the day.


Hummingbirds require this immense intake of food because of their metabolism. The Ruby-throated hummingbird, for example, is about 3 ½ inches long and weighs 1/8 of an ounce. His body temperature ranges between 105 degrees and 108 degrees, F. In flight, his wings beat an average of 52 times per second. His respiration is 250 breaths per minute and his heart rate is an incredible 1200 beats a minute when he is feeding. Hummingbirds' lives are spent on the very edge of survival. One day of bad weather or difficulty finding food can mean the end for them.


How important is your hummingbird feeder?

With this information in mind you can see how important your backyard hummingbird feeder can be. The growth of cities and urban development is constantly reducing the hummingbird’s natural habitat. A well-designed, well-placed feeder improves their chances of survival and provides you with countless hours of entertainment.


As small and fragile as hummingbirds are, they have surprisingly long life spans. Many hummingbirds do not survive their first year, but those that do, live an average of 3 to 4 years. One female broadtailed hummingbird was tagged, released, and recaptured 12 years later. A Rufous hummingbird was banded and reported alive after 8 years and 1 month. As these migratory birds tend to return year after year, they will soon become old friends.


Evolution of the Modern Hummingbird Feeder

Choosing a hummingbird feeder

Hummingbird feeders dispense liquid, not seeds. The mainstay of a hummingbird’s diet is made up of insects and spiders. The liquid in your feeder is more like “emergency rations” to your birds. During a typical day a hummingbird will collect nectar from about 100 different flowers. They avoid flowers with nectar containing less than 25% sugar. The recipe I have included below will provide them with exactly what they want and need to keep them going. They will appreciate the “one stop shopping” your feeder gives them.

History of hummingbird feeders

No one knows for certain how long people have been trying to attract hummingbirds to their gardens. Perhaps for as long as mankind has had an appreciation for beauty. The hummingbird has definitely been around for a long while. Fossilized humming bird remains recently found in Germany date back 30 million years! Today, hummingbirds only exist in the new world. With their lightning speed and jewel like iridescent feathers they have always captured man’s imagination. One of the mysterious geoglyphs (huge pictures etched into the silt on the Nazca Plain of Peru) is a hummingbird. So vast that it is only visible from the air, this hummingbird dates back to 200BC -600AD and is surely the world’s largest hummingbird.


The first commercial hummingbird feeder was introduced in 1950 by the Audubon Novelty Company of Medina, New York. It was a glass tube type of feeder and immediately became popular in the U.S. It was designed by Laurence J. Webster of Boston, as a gift for his wife, who had read an article in a 1928 edition of The National Geographic Magazine. The story mentioned that it was possible to feed hummingbirds from a small glass bottle. Webster designed a feeder and had it produced by a glassblower at MIT. The August, 1947 edition of National Geographic Magazine featured an article by Harold Edgerton who, using his newly invented strobe flash, photographed hummingbirds at Webster’s feeder. The rest, as they say, is history. Considering Webster’s success, men should listen more closely to their wives!


Modern hummingbird feeders

During the 50 plus years that have followed the introduction of that first feeder, many styles and designs have come and gone. Today, feeders are usually made of ceramic, glass, plastic, or a combination of these materials. For the most part, they are divided into two types, bowl feeders and bottle feeders.


Here are some important considerations when selecting a hummingbird feeder;


  • Color is important. Red is the color of choice. Most of the flowers that are the hummingbird’s natural source of nectar are red, pink, or coral colored.


  • Select a feeder that offers the hummingbird a perch. While hummingbirds normally hover in front of a flower during feeding, they much prefer to rest as they feed. While they stay at an individual flower for mere seconds, gathering the little nectar that is there, they will stay at the feeder until they have drunk their fill. Treat them to a sit-down meal.


  • A feeder with a bottle reservoir protects the nectar from bacterial infection, contamination from insects and spoilage. This is important to protect the hummingbird’s health.


  • Select a feeder that is easy to disassemble, clean and refill. Maintaining a supply of fresh, clean nectar is vitally important to the well-being of your hummingbirds.


  • Choose a feeder that has an ant moat, or similar device to keep insects from contaminating the nectar in your feeder.


  • Fancy glass and ceramic feeders are attractive, but due to their design they are difficult to clean and tend to drip, which attracts bees, ants and wasps. These insects can become trapped in the feeder, contaminating the nectar.


  • The National Audubon Society recommends deep cleaning your feeder once a week. To deep clean your feeder use ¼ cup of white vinegar to 1 cup of water then rinse the feeder 3 times with fresh water.


Placement of your Feeder


Where you hang your feeder is almost as important as which feeder you choose. Here are some tips about hummingbird feeder placement.


  • Put your feeder where it will be noticed by the hummingbirds and will be easily accessible to them. Do not be concerned if the birds don’t show up immediately. Hummingbirds are extremely inquisitive. They will find it!


  • If possible, do not put your feeder close to your window. Birds may injure themselves by flying into the glass. If you have no other option, place pictures, or decals, of larger birds on your window to prevent the hummingbirds from getting too close.


  • Definitely place your feeder where you can see it. The antics of these tiny miracles of nature are better than anything you will see on a screen – unless you are watching a show about hummingbirds.


  • If you replace your old feeder with a new one leave the old one hanging empty next to the new feeder for a while, until the hummingbirds recognize it as a new source of food.



Hummingbird Feeders …

Important Dos and Don’ts About Hummingbird Food


As I mentioned before, the nectar in your feeder is intended to be a supplement to the hummingbird’s diet. It provides the birds with a much needed fuel stop. They will come to trust your feeder as a safe place to visit during their nonstop search for food. There are a few things you should know before you fill your feeder.

Recipe for hummingbird nectar:

1 cup white, granulated sugar,

4 cups, fresh, hot water. Tap water is fine (boiling is not necessary).

Stir in the sugar until it has completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool before using.


  • Do make your own “hummingbird food.” Let your children or grandchildren help you. It can be an experience they will treasure throughout their lives.

  • Do use only white, granulated sugar in your mixture. The birds will thank you for it.

  • Do clean your feeder and change the mixture frequently, even if there is still some nectar left. This will keep your birds healthy and happy.

  • Don't use commercially prepared hummingbird liquids sold as “Hummingbird nectar,” or “Hummingbird food.” They contain preservatives that may actually prove harmful to the birds. A mixture you can make in less than a minute, in your own kitchen, will be better, safer, and less expensive.

  • Don't add food color to your mixture. It can be harmful to the birds. Let the feeder itself provide the color.

  • Don't use brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, raw sugar, or turbinado sugar to make your syrup. Confectioner’s sugar contains corn starch that can cause the syrup to ferment quickly. Brown sugar and raw sugars contain iron and can prove deadly to hummingbirds over a period of time.

  • Don't use honey to prepare your mixture. Although honey is made by bees, from nectar gathered from flowers, the sugar it contains is not as palatable to hummingbirds as plain granulated sugar. Additionally, honey promotes the growth of microorganisms that can be dangerous to your hummingbirds.