How to Create a Hummingbird Feeder

Attract sweet hummingbirds to your yard with a custom-made feeder.

Hummingbird
Imre Cikajlo / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Yield: 1
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $3.00

Hummingbirds can flap their wings 70 times per second, the fastest of any bird in the world. Watching a hummingbird feed at a feeder, flying in all different directions, sipping at nectar while hovering in place, is a true delight.

But there's another, more serious, reason to feed hummingbirds. A 2019 survey of North American birds revealed losses of around 29% of birds since 1970. Hummingbirds are no exception: Of the more than 300 different hummingbird species, more than 10% are threatened with extinction. Climate change and habitat loss are the main culprits. Climate change has affected bird migration routes and timing; they arrive earlier in the north, often before their preferred foods have begun flowering and producing nectar. Or, they migrate further north to new feeding grounds, only to find that plants can't migrate as fast as birds.

Building your own feeder can help hummingbirds adapt and survive in our changing world. Hummingbird feeders are relatively inexpensive to purchase, but creating your own feeder costs almost nothing, can be a great craft project to do with kids, and has the benefit of repurposing used plastic or glass rather than purchasing anything new. No packaging or fossil-fuel-consuming shipping are involved either. Here is one of the simplest designs.

Before you begin

Find a good place for the feeder

It should be visible from your window, but not near any windows. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that nearly a billion birds are killed each year by collisions with windows. Your hummingbird feeder can also attract ants, which are best kept away from your house.

Find a good time

Hummingbirds can be found all throughout the Americas, but almost all of them are migratory, so check online or with your local Audubon center for when hummingbirds will most likely be in your region. There's no sense in putting a feeder out before they arrive or after they're gone. If you live along the Pacific Coast of North America, you can feed non-migratory Anna's hummingbirds year-round. 

What You'll Need

Tools

  • 1 drill with ⅛ inch drill bit
  • 1 ruler or tape measure

Materials

  • 1 straw or tube (sterilize it first in boiling water)
  • 1 food-safe caulking/sealant
  • 1 bottle with cap (sterilize it first in boiling water)
  • 1 metal coat hanger
  • 1 cup of hummingbird nectar

Instructions

  1. Prepare cap

    Remove the cap from the water bottle and drill a hole in the center of it with a ⅛” drill bit. 

  2. Insert straw

    Insert a straw or tube through the hole in the cap so that 4 inches remain on the inner side of the cap.

  3. Seal the cap

    • Use food-safe caulking/sealant to seal both sides of the cap, then let it dry.
    • This could take up to a full day.
    • Be careful not to add too much sealant on the inside of the cap, otherwise you'll have trouble screwing the cap back on to the bottle.
  4. Prepare your hanger

    Straighten out a metal coat hanger. (Snip off the top hook, if you prefer.) Make a small hook at one end of the hanger.

  5. Secure hanger to bottle

    Wrap the hanger around the middle of the water bottle and tighten it by twisting the hooked end around the rest of the hanger. 

  6. Fill bottle with nectar

    Fill the bottle with hummingbird nectar (you can buy at your local pet shop or easily make your own), tightly screw the cap back on, and use the coat hanger to hang the feeder in your preferred spot.

Bird-Safe Materials

Repurposing plastic is great, but unless you know your plastic water bottles are BPA-free, it's best to avoid using this material for your feeder. A sterilized glass bottle is preferable. You can also be creative with tubing to avoid using a plastic straw. Use instead food-safe metal tubing, a glass test tube, or an eye dropper.

Plants That Hummingbirds Love

Close-Up Of Red Flower
Red hibiscus flower. Liang Zhao / EyeEm / Getty Images

Surround your feeder with a hummingbird-friendly garden. Here are some widely available plants that attract hummingbirds.

  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.)
  • Red hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)
  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
  • Sage (Salvia coccinea or S. greggii)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile)
  • Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Maintaining Your Feeder

With your feeder comes the responsibility of regularly cleaning it every two or three days. Sugar water can spoil and get moldy in two days in temperatures over 90 degrees F. If you notice the sugar water getting cloudy, it's time to empty the feeder and start afresh. Before each refilling, flush your feeder with hot water (no soap), and scrub it with a bottle brush. Once a month — or sooner, if you detect mold — fill the feeder with a 2% solution of bleach, or soak the entire feeder in one gallon of water with ¼ cup of bleach. After an hour, rinse well.

Additional Options and Design Ideas

  • Paint your water bottle with brightly colored, non-toxic paints, or cover it with child-friendly stickers. 
  • Skip the straw. Fill your plastic bottle with nectar and feed your hummingbirds straight from the bottle. You'll need a lot of patience, but you'll ultimately be delighted by the gentle breeze coming from a hummingbird's whirring wings.