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Now Is the Time to Put Out Hummingbird Feeders

The spring migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds from their tropical winter homes to South Carolina gardens is a highly anticipated event. These jeweled visitors usually arrive in mid-March; therefore, it is important to put up hummingbird feeders by around March 15. Nothing is more exciting than spotting the first arrivals.

There are several guidelines to follow in setting up your feeders. By following these simple instructions, you will enjoy hours of entertainment by watching these beautiful birds.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird getting a sip of sugar water nectar. Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

A female ruby-throated hummingbird getting a sip of sugar water nectar.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

1. You can easily make your own nectar by mixing 1-part sugar with 4-parts water (for example, 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water) until the sugar is dissolved. It is not necessary to boil the water, but you want to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not add red dye or food coloring to the nectar solution. It is not necessary, and it may harm the hummers.

2. Fill your hummingbird feeders with the sugar water and place outside. I hang mine in a shadier spot instead of full sun to prevent feeder leakage and slow down mold build-up. Hummingbirds will guard the feeders; therefore, they like to perch in nearby trees to keep watch for intruders.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a tree limb and keeping watch for intruders on the feeders. Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

A male ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a tree limb and keeping watch for intruders on the feeders.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

3. Extra sugar water can be stored in a refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. Be sure to let the sugar water reach room temperature before filling your feeders.

4. Change the sugar solution every 2 to 3 days and thoroughly clean them each time to prevent harmful mold growth. When the weather gets above 90° F, it is important to change the nectar each day.

5. Do not use soapy water to clean your feeders as a soap film tastes bad to the hummingbirds and could possibly be harmful. Use a vinegar solution (1-part vinegar and 2 parts water) instead and a bottle brush to clean the feeder. Then rinse thoroughly. Do not forget to clean the guards on the nectar ports. If you allow the sugar solution to become cloudy or moldy, and the hummers feed on it, it can cause a fungal infection on their tongues. This will cause their tongues to swell, and the birds will die a slow, painful death from starvation.

In addition to feeders, consider planting flowers in the landscape that will provide a rich nectar source for hummingbirds. Bee balm, cardinal flower, columbine, petunia, salvia, trumpet creeper, woodbine honeysuckle, and zinnia are a few excellent choices to add to your landscape.

A zinnia flower provides a rich nectar food source for a female ruby-throated hummingbird. Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

A zinnia flower provides a rich nectar food source for a female ruby-throated hummingbird.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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