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    What do Hummingbirds Eat?

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    When it comes to feeding hummingbirds, sugar water gets all of the attention but hummingbirds need a lot more than feeders to meet their nutritional needs.

    Hummingbirds have voracious appetites, consuming up to three times their body weight in calories every day. So, what do hummingbirds eat? 

    Hummingbirds have a symbiotic relationship with nature and their diets depend on their habitats and the seasons. In other words, what hummingbirds eat in the spring is different from what a hummingbird eats in the fall but their diets consist of four basic kinds of foods: nectar (and sugar water), insects, tree sap and fruit juices.

    Flower nectar

    Hummingbirds use their long, thin tongues to sip nectar from flowers. Curious about the best flowers for hummingbirds? The petite pollinators are most attracted to colorful flowers with long, tubular shapes like honeysuckle, trumpet flower, lupines and delphiniums. Red, tubular flowers are their favorites!

    The nectar from flowers is their main source of calories. Hummingbirds need to visit thousands of flowers every day to consume enough nectar to fuel their turbo charged metabolisms.

    Choosing the right flowers for your garden can help ensure that hummingbirds have access to all of the nectar they need for good nutrition.

    How to make sugar water for hummingbirds

    Backyard feeders also provide an important source of nutrition for hummingbirds. For the biggest benefit, it’s important to get the recipe just right. Here is the best recipe for hummingbird sugar water:

    • One cup hot water
    • 1/4 cup refined white sugar (also called table sugar)

    Add the sugar to the water and mix until it’s dissolved. Let it cool to room temperature before adding it to the feeder.

    The 1:4 ratio of sugar to water is important. Filling your feeder with a sugar/water mixture that contains too little sugar means hummingbirds won’t get the calories they need to survive (and research shows that if there is too little sugar, hummingbirds will go elsewhere for food). Too much sugar is also bad and could have a negative impact on their liver and kidney function.

    It’s also important to stick with refined white sugar; never use honey, which can ferment, causing a potentially deadly bacteria, and avoid brown sugar, corn syrup, raw, unprocessed sugars or artificial sweetener because they contain additives that can be harmful. 

    Skip the red dye, too. Although hummingbirds are attracted to the color, red dye contains artificial ingredients that could be impact hummingbird health. Most hummingbird feeders are red, which is enough to attract the birds even if the sugar-water mixture is transparent.

    You can store extra sugar water in the fridge for up to two weeks. Don’t leave it longer than that because mold and bacteria can form and adding it to your feeder could make hummingbirds sick.

    Do hummingbirds eat bugs

    Hummingbirds are omnivores and their diet also includes gnats, wasps, flies, aphids, beetles, spiders and other insects; these tiny birds consume the equivalent of 300 fruit flies every day and the protein in their insect-rich diet is important for muscle development and feather growth.

    Researchers studied hummingbirds eating insects and discovered that their beak flexes when it opens, widens at the base to expand the surface to catch insects and makes a “controlled elastic snap” to quickly capture flying insects—and it all happens in less than a hundredth of a second.

    What do hummingbirds eat in the fall

    Tree sap is a combination of sucrose and water, similar to the sugar water found in hummingbird feeders and hummingbirds will often sip from sap wells (the small holes that sapsuckers notch in trees where sap drips out).

    Hummingbirds are often spotted drinking tree sap in the spring and fall when fewer flowers are blooming. In fact, scientists have noted that the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds often follow sapsuckers, swooping in to drink sap after the sapsuckers have drilled holes in the trees.

    Can you give fruit juice to hummingbirds

    Do not pour fruit juice from the supermarket into a hummingbird feeder but do put out slices of oranges, apples, watermelon, berries and other sweet fruits and watch hummingbirds sip the sweet juices.

    Overripe fruit also attracts insects so putting out fruit allows hummingbirds to feast on two of their favorite things: insects and sweet fruit juice. 

    You can add ripe fruit to a feeder—there are special “protein feeders” designed for this purpose—or leave a few slices out in a safe spot like a basket and watch hummingbirds zoom in to take advantage of the buffet.

    Knowing what hummingbirds eat and providing a range of food options in your garden can help you attract hummingbirds, provide appropriate nutrition to help them thrive and keep them coming back year after year.

    Read more about hummingbirds