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Happy Hummers: Healthy Hummingbird Food

Rufous Hummingbird. Photo by Roger van Gelder of Bainbridge Island.

I have grown quite fond of hummingbirds, the beautiful little helicopters of the bird world. I’ve had occasion to hold them in my hand twice now and feel I’ve been touched by forces of nature. One time was to pull a foxglove flower off a little guy’s head!

Spring_Courtright_HummingbirdThis is a photo of a Rufous Hummingbird with a foxglove flower stuck on it’s head! Don’t worry, we pulled it off and it flew away.

My boyfriend Will is even more enamored with these little guys than I am and he has feeders everywhere.

One night a few weeks ago, he treated me to their “evening feeding.” We stood still outside between two feeders just before sunset, and we were swarmed by hummingbirds!

I was moved to tears as they hovered inches from my face to look at me with bright, intelligent eyes, then chirped in their curious manner and hopped back onto Will’s finger to sit as they fed.

The next day, I rushed out and did something very uncharacteristic – I bought hummingbird food from Fred Meyer. I know, I KNOW, what was I thinking, right?! All that fake coloring and who knows what else. It didn’t even attract hummers – they liked my red-flowering currant far more than the food I put out.

safe_imageAnna’s Hummingbird feeding from a Red-flowering Currant.
Photo by Roger van-Gelder




The next time Will came over and saw the container full of red dyed sugar water, he tsk-tsked me and told me about his magic hummingbird food.

I’ve been using his sugar water recipe ever since, and I’m happy to say I have two hummers who buzz around all throughout the day to drink my now dye-free food. As I write, one is visiting my feeder…

We use organic, fair trade, non-gmo sugar, which we buy in 10 pound bags at the Silverdale Costco.



On, Bob Sargent is quoted as saying, “‘Hummers need nectar to power the bug eating machine that they are.’ Think of them as miniature flycatchers, and sugar is just the fuel for getting their real nourishment.”

When I read that they eat soft bodied insects and spiders I decided I love them even more – natural bug control by beautiful birds!

Will’s Happy Hummer Recipe:

2 parts water
1 part sugar
Mix thoroughly
Rest of the year: 
3 or 4 parts water
1 part sugar

Will credits George Gerdst, birder extraordinaire, for the winter recipe. George said the higher sugar content helps the little hummers survive freezing winter nights and keeps the mixture from freezing.

We’ve found that they really like feeders with a little bar to stand on, like the one below, but they’ll drink out of anything red. It’s important to refresh the mixture every 3-5 days if it’s in the sun as the sunlight damages and spoils it.

Happy hummer photo by Will Fletcher

We have two kinds of native hummingbirds west of the Cascades: Rufous and Anna’s. Rufous hummers arrive by May and stay through October, with males arriving 2-3 weeks before females. They winter in Mexico and nest from southeast Alaska to northern California, and at least as far east as Georgia. Anna’s live here year-round, hence the need for sugar water that doesn’t freeze.

For a list of plants that attract hummingbirds in Washington state, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation page here.

Male Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo by Roger van Gelder of Bainbridge Island.

Thank you to Roger van Gelder and Will Fletcher for the great photos.

Thank you to these great websites for the information provided in this article:  – great FAQ section!
Hummer Bird Study Group
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Happy Birding!


3 thoughts on “Happy Hummers: Healthy Hummingbird Food

  1. Our reconnecting with nature is one of the most obvious ways we can trigger hard-wired, stress relieving chemicals in our brain that help sooth anxiety, frustration, depression, envy and other modern plights of society. What we all need is MORE nature, not less.

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