Harmful DIY Hummingbird Nectar Mistakes Everyone Makes

Hummingbirds often rely on nectar left out for them in feeders when there aren't enough flowers blooming to keep their high metabolism revving at full speed. Mixing up your own DIY hummingbird nectar is an economical way to keep backyard feeders filled for them all summer long. For about the same price as a single 16-ounce can of premade hummingbird nectar (about $4), you can buy a 4-pound bag of pure white granulated sugar. With that bag, you can mix up batch after batch of nectar, knowing exactly what's in the recipe and in the right proportions. That's important because some of the most frequent mistakes newbies make with DIY nectar involve using the wrong ingredients and adding things that are not only unnecessary but can be dangerous for hummingbirds to ingest. Other common problems arise with maintaining the nectar once it's in the feeder.

Not to worry, though. You can learn from the mistakes of others and whip up your own hummingbird nectar without even one of these issues cropping up. This includes replenishing the nectar and making sure your feeder is in top shape to safely nurture hummingbirds hovering to take a sip there.

Using the wrong water to make DIY nectar

One of the mistakes newbies make when DIYing hummingbird nectar is using the wrong type of water to mix it up. The recommended recipe is to dissolve ¼ cup of pure white granulated sugar into 1 cup of spring water to create the perfect sugar-to-water nectar ratio. Spring water is a good choice because it hasn't been treated with chemicals to make it safe to drink like many tap waters. Just be sure not to use distilled water because it does not contain healthy minerals like spring water.

What about using tap water? That's okay, too. The general guideline is that if it's safe for you to drink, then it's okay for hummingbirds as well. Other expert sources suggest boiling tap water, pouring it over the sugar, and mixing it until it's dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool before putting it in your hummingbird feeder.

Using the wrong type of sweetener in DIY nectar

When we add sweeteners to water to create DIY hummingbird nectar, the goal is to create a substance as close as possible to the nectar they find in naturally growing flowers. To get the formula right, there's no standby for pure white granulated sugar. Unfortunately, though, another frequent mistake people make is trying to get away with substituting other types of sweeteners for plain white refined sugar.

It's a bad idea to use brown sugar in your hummingbird feeder or any other type of sweet substance like honey. Why is that? When honey ferments, it can cause hummingbirds to develop a lethal fungal-based illness. Artificial sweeteners are a no-no, too. Always stick with refined white granulated sugar to avoid ingredients that can be harmful to hummingbird health. If you don't have any white sugar on hand, wait until you have a chance to pick up a bag to mix up your next batch of nectar.

Adding red dye or food coloring to DIY nectar

What's the other thing you should never add to hummingbird nectar? Red dye. Sure, you might run across some premade bottles of hummingbird nectar that are colored red, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea for you to follow that lead — even though it's a known fact that hummingbirds are attracted to red. Experts like Sheri Williamson, who wrote "Attracting and Feeding Hummingbirds," encourage folks making DIY nectar to leave all types of red dyes and food colorings out of their recipes in fear that they can harm these tiny creatures.

So, what can you do instead of adding red dye or food coloring to your DIY nectar recipe? Buying a feeder with a red base, red drinker flowers, or even tying a red ribbon on your feeder are much safer ways to catch a hummingbird's eye with the color red.

Not changing nectar frequently enough

Another mistake beginners make is leaving DIY nectar up too long without changing it out. Unless you live in an area where there are tons of birds vying for a spot at your feeder, it probably won't run dry before it needs to be refilled. This is especially true in the heat of summertime, when it only takes two or three days for nectar to become riddled with mold.

Why is it so important to keep mold out of a hummingbird feeder? When these little birds consume moldy nectar, they can develop fungus on their tongues, making it impossible for them to feed and causing them to die of malnourishment. For most people, learning about that potential malady is usually enough to make them change their lackadaisical ways and mix up a fresh batch of DIY nectar more frequently. Hanging hummingbird feeders in the shade is also another way to help keep mold at bay longer when the weather heats up.

Not cleaning a feeder before adding more DIY nectar

Before adding more fresh nectar (or a batch of DIY nectar that's been stored covered in the fridge for no more than one week) to a hummingbird feeder, it's important to clean the feeder thoroughly. If you tackle this task before it gets too mucked up with mold, it's not necessary to clean a hummingbird feeder with vinegar or anything harsher than mild dish soap and hot water. Using a small bottle brush (or an old toothbrush in a pinch) can help you get the feeder holes super clean before thoroughly rinsing away all the soapy residue. 

After all, you don't want anything remaining in that feeder other than another energy-providing batch of DIY nectar that will help the hummingbirds frequenting your yard thrive. You'll be happy with the results of your diligent efforts, and so will your little feathered friends.