Hummingbirds love nectar and sugar water and if you put a feeder (see our top 10 favourites here!) in your garden for them, they’ll enjoy coming to feed.
The best time to put out hummingbird feeders will depend on where you live and in some southern areas of the country you’ll be able to see them all year round. In central states they will start to come from mid March and leave in late summer or early fall, but further north they may not get there until mid to late April.
So based on your location, what time of year do you put out hummingbird feeders?
Prepare your feeder
Before you put your feeder out you need to prepare it properly. It should have been cleaned before you stored it away, but check it and clean it again before you put it up.
Give it a good soak in hot water and let it dry thoroughly. Then check it over to make sure everything is there and that the hummingbirds will be able to get to the nectar. When you’re happy it’s clean and dry, you can place it in the garden.
Sugar water should be carefully prepared. You can purchase it all ready made, but some contain of these mixtures contain red dye and this can be harmful to the hummers. It’s also much more enjoyable watching them eating something you have made. You don’t need to color the water: just add red ribbons to the feeder to attract them.
You can prepare a batch of sugar water in one go as it can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The best recipe is one cup of sugar to 4 cups of water. Don’t use honey, artificial sweeteners, brown sugar or raw sugar. The best sugar to use is either cane or beet sugar.
Bring the water to the boil, then remove from the heat and stir the sugar in straight away. When it has all dissolved leave it to cool and you have lovely sugar water for your hummingbirds.
Prepare your garden
Hummingbirds have excellent memories, so if they came to your garden last year, they’ll remember that you offered them sugar water and come back for more. If you put your feeder out too late, they won’t see it and will instead go and look for a new territory. The feeder should be in the open so they can see it as they fly over, and in an area of the garden which is not too busy or noisy.
You will still need to make sure your garden is welcoming as well. They will look for flowers which have a high nectar content and ones with deep tube shaped blooms. Hummers have no sense of smell and are more attracted by color, particularly the color red. Red flowers will encourage them in to your garden and plant these with other flowers which provide nectar and you’re off to a good start. Plant a mix of early and late bloomers so the hummingbirds will have plenty of nectar to take them through summer in to fall when they leave again.
Remember that these birds can be very territorial and if you want to attract more than one hummingbird, you will need plenty of room in your garden. They will also need trees to build their nests and they prefer those which are native to the area.
If you provide nesting material where they can find it there’s a good chance they will use it to nest in your garden. They prefer moss, lichen, leaves, small bits of bark and spider silk or cotton fibers.
Look for clues
If you look out and see a hummingbird in your garden, it may be too late to set up your feeder, so look for clues which can remind you that they are on their way.
If you want to know when they are likely to come to your area, ask locally. There will be local bird or wildlife group which can tell you which species of hummingbirds are more likely to visit you and when. This can help a great deal in preparing for their visit.
There are a few other things you can look out for too:
- It might seem obvious, but pay attention to those first signs of spring. As you see plants begin to bloom and trees showing signs of blossoming, you should think about cleaning up and preparing your feeder.
- Other birds can also give you a clue about when hummingbirds might start to arrive. Once again a local group can tell you which birds to look out for, but warblers and buntings are two which can signal that migration is underway.
- Keep a journal and make a note every year of when you see your first hummingbird. This may vary slightly but it will give you an excellent reference. Hummers are very predictable when they migrate so your journal should be accurate within a few days.
The best time to try to put your feeder out is about 2 weeks before you think the hummingbirds are due to arrive. This means you can catch any hummers which might come back a bit earlier. It’s better to put your feeder out early and replace the sugar water because it’s not used, than risk missing out on feeding them altogether.
It has been known for hummingbirds to arrive before flowers are in full bloom, and this is when your early feeder could be a lifeline. They depend on sugar, so if you provide a reliable source they know they can feed when they need to – and that’s several times every hour. If the nights are still cold and the nectar risks freezing, take the feeder in at night and replace it first thing in the morning.
The right time to put out a hummingbird feeder
There are many factors with affect hummingbird migration, but climate and location are the two main ones.
- Pacific coast states, South Texas, South Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean: Hummingbirds can live here all year round, so your feeder should be out all year as well. They will be more active at certain times of the year, so find out locally how the local birds behave.
- Southern States and Northern Florida: In the deep south the warmer climate means these areas see an earlier migration of hummingbirds. Feeders should be out in mid to late February to be sure of catching the first arrivals.
- Central States: Hummingbirds reach the central part of the country from mid March onwards, so feeders should be out early in March.
- Northern States: Feeders in this area should be set up in April, ready for the birds to arrive at the end of the month or the beginning of May.
- Alaska and Canada: Rufous hummingbirds are one species which have a long migration and head to the far north. They reach there during late spring and early summer. Feeders should be set up in mid May ready for the earliest birds to arrive.
Maintaining your feeder
Now your feeder is out and well stocked with nectar, you need to maintain it to keep the hummingbirds feeding from it through their visit. They start to head back south during late summer to early fall and they will need a regular supply of nectar while they are there.
The feeder should be taken apart and cleaned at least once a week. Don’t use hard cleaners or strong bleach, and rinse all the parts thoroughly to get rid of all soap residue. Remove all remaining sugar water and pour boiling water through the feeding ports to clean out any build up of nectar.
The sugar water should be replaced every few days, even if it has not been used. Older nectar can start to go moldy quickly, particularly if the weather is warm. The birds will not touch moldy or old nectar so it’s important to keep them supplied with fresh sugar water. If there is still nectar in the feeder, don’t top it up. Pour it away and fill it up with fresh nectar. If the water already in the feeder is starting to go moldy, it will affect the fresh water you add. Mold can be harmful to hummingbirds so always be aware of any discoloration of the water.
They don’t like water full of dead insects either so if you see this, pour it away and refill it. Ants can be a problem so add a moat to your feeder if it doesn’t already have one, and make sure this is topped up with water. In warmer weather the water in the moat can evaporate away without you realizing.
At the end of the hummingbird season, take your feeder down and give it a good clean before you pack it safely away for next year.