Feeding hummingbirds can be simple and inexpensive. Here’s a time- and hummer-tested recipe. Use a 1-to-4 ratio of white table sugar to water (for example, ¼ cup of sugar to 1 cup of water). Don’t use honey, brown sugar, organic cane sugar, artificial sweeteners—just table sugar. Heat the water in the microwave; in my microwave, that’d be 3 minutes for 2 cups of water. (Your results may vary.) Or boil it. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves, let the mixture cool, and fill your feeder. Store any remaining liquid in the refrigerator. If you get a lot of hummers, you can make a 1:1 concentrated solution of sugar and water (called simple syrup in the culinary world) and store that in the fridge. When you want to use it, pour out 1 part of the concentrate and add 3 parts water. It’ll save you time and refrigerator space.
DO NOT buy expensive powders or concentrates, especially those with red dye. Sure, it’s pretty and the label makes it sound better than table sugar. But it’s not better. And if you care about the birds, care enough to not feed them red dye (often #40, which is carcinogenic). In one day, a hummingbird can ingest the equivalent of 0.12 mg of the dye to 1 gram of body weight. Doesn’t sound like that much, does it? Well, that’s 17 times the limit set for human consumption by the World Health Organization. Love hummingbirds? Dump the dye. Plus, you’ll spend at least 3 times more for the powder (and even more if you buy the concentrate). Hummingbirds aren’t attracted to red nectar but to red flowers. Your feeder has plenty of red baubles and doo-dads to attract these sprites.
How about cleaning those feeders? Be on the lookout for cloudy solution or black spots on the glass or feeder ports. The biggest concern is black mold. Your cheapest and most effective option in that fight is a 1-to-10 ratio of chlorine bleach to water. Pour the mixture into the feeder, secure the base, invert the feeder, and swirl it gently over the sink to coat all the surfaces. (Don’t forget to let some pour through the feeder ports too.) Let it sit at least 15 minutes, rinse thoroughly (again, don’t forget to move clean water through those ports), brush vigorously to remove any dead mold colonies, and you’re done. Some people worry that cleaning with chlorine bleach will kill hummingbirds. As long as you rinse the feeder well, no problem.
Not a fan of bleach? A one-hour soak in undiluted white vinegar offers you a less toxic, although sometimes less effective, option. (DO NOT use vinegar and bleach together. You could kill yourself by creating toxic chlorine gas.) Follow the same swirling/pouring procedure as above, with both the vinegar and the clear-water rinse. Let the feeder dry to allow the odor to dissipate, although that’s more of an issue for you than the hummers. Finally, a more expensive alternative that’s even kinder to your nose is 3% hydrogen peroxide, available in any drug or grocery store. Add several ounces, undiluted, to the feeder and follow the swirl/pour procedure; let it stand for at least 10 minutes, rinse, and brush. No drying needed, since hydrogen peroxide has no odor and the only residue is water and oxygen.
Now go enjoy your summer with those hummers!