Year-round Hummingbird Feeder Guide

Posted January 29, 2024 by Elin Molenaar, Communications Assistant

If you decide to offer a hummingbird feeder, it’s essential for the birds’ safety to maintain it following the recommended guidelines all year round.

The best food for hummingbirds 

Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any warm-blooded animal. A high metabolism calls for high energy fuel. It’s no surprise these little birds love sugar! A simple mixture of refined, white table sugar dissolved in boiled water is sufficient for your hummingbird feeder. 

Why pure white sugar? 

You must ensure the sugar is pure white – a sign that the molasses has been removed. Molasses is high in iron and can be toxic to hummingbirds. Never use honey, brown sugar, icing sugar, juice, or artificial sweetener. Here’s why: 

  • Honey contains sugars that are less palatable to hummingbirds. It also ferments rapidly when diluted in water, which causes a rapid build-up of pathogens in your nectar. 
  • Brown sugar contains molasses, but more importantly, it has 5 times more iron than white sugar. This amount of iron is toxic to hummingbirds.
  • Icing sugar contains anti-caking agents such as corn starch, which can promote fermentation. 
  • Juice ferments rapidly. 
  • Artificial sweetener does not provide the calories that a hummingbird needs to live. 

Sugar to water ratio guidance

The standard sugar to water ratio is 1:4. During frigid temperatures, some resources show you may be able to go as concentrated as 1:3 sugar to water ratio – never stronger. However, a fresh water source should also be provided at all times. When sharing information that is dynamic with conditions, we find that sometimes details can get lost along the way. Ultimately, we want to do no harm to our hummers. A 1:4 ratio of sugar to water is consistently safe to provide.    

Never add red dye! Hummingbirds are attracted by the red colours of the feeder itself, not the nectar inside. Food colouring could potentially be harmful. 


How to maintain your hummingbird feeders 

Feeders can cause deadly infections if not maintained properly as bacteria and fungi rapidly multiply. The recommended guidance on how to effectively clean your hummingbird feeder is as follows: 

  • Feeders should be cleaned every 3-5 days. Wash out all parts of the feeder, including flower ports, with hot water and a bottle brush. 
  • Clean feeders once a week with a 10% bleach solution, rinse thoroughly and let dry fully before use. 
  • Re-fill with fresh sugar water. Stick to the 1:4 recipe of 1 part refined white sugar to 4 parts boiled water. 



How do hummingbirds survive the cold and wet winter? 

While all other species of hummingbirds that are found in BC (Rufous, Calliope, Black-chinned and Ruby-throated) seek out warmer climates during the cold winter months, Anna’s Hummingbirds have been living year-round in some areas of British Columbia since the 1990s.   

Hummingbirds don’t hibernate in the traditional sense, but they often go into an energy-conservation mode called torpor” when it gets cold in winter. Torpor is a deep sleep state in which an animal decreases its metabolic rate to consume less energy. In this state, a hummingbird’s heart rate can decrease from 1,260 beats per minute to fewer than 50 beats per minute. They also decrease their body temperature from 40°C to 18°C. Yet even during torpor, a hummingbird’s metabolism is so high, they will lose around 10% of their body weight overnight. To deal with the scarcity of nectar, hummingbirds tend to eat more insects over the winter. 


Maintaining feeders during freezing temperatures 

Hummingbirds will feed heavily at dusk and then go into thick bushes, like cedar hedges or junipers to sleep. We recommend keeping feeders out until it gets dark and then rehanging a fresh, warm feeder at the first sign of light in the morning. 

There are countless ways to keep a hummingbird feeder warm, such as a feeder heater, window feeder, hand-warmers, a wool sock, or even incandescent Christmas lights. 

Whichever technique or setup you choose, please remember the following guidelines: 

  • No matter which setup you use, it is essential to keep monitoring your feeders for freezing to prevent injuries. 
  • A covered porch/windbreak will prevent the feeder from getting covered with snow and keep it from freezing longer. Keeping it close to your home will provide protection from the elements and a great view! 
  • Never add red dye! Hummingbirds are attracted to the feeder itself, and red dye can cause harm. 
  • Avoid feeders with metal parts during cold weather. Hummingbird tongues can get frozen to them. 
  • Stick to the 1:4 recipe of 1 part refined white sugar to 4 parts boiled water. 
  • Purchase or make a feeder heater to use when temperatures drop below zero. There are products on the market made specifically to keep feeders from freezing. These products can be found online or at your local bird store. 
  • Get a couple of feeders, keep one inside and alternate them when ice starts to form. 
  • Create a warming zone, protected from wind and snow. 
  • Check the entrance/channel to the feeding tubes diligently for ice formation; this is where tongue injuries often occur (when they freeze to the feeder) and where ice crystals will first form. 


Signs of distress or injury and what to do 

During cold snaps our Wildlife Hospital often sees an influx of hummingbirds with very low blood sugar and injuries related to frozen feeders. 

Hummingbirds found on the ground need help. Other signs of distress include weakness, soiled feathers, tongue hanging out, and obvious injuries.  

Call our Wildlife Helpline 604-526-7275 or email if you find a hummingbird displaying one or more of these signs. 

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