How to Make Hummingbird Nectar: The Best Recipe

hand touches hanging twine attached to glass jar filled with diy hummingbird nectar

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

  • Working Time: 5 - 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 - 15 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups of nectar
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly
  • Estimated Cost: $2.00

Hummingbirds burn a lot of calories flying in all different directions, with wings flapping 70 times per second. Nectar gives them the energy they need, which is why providing your own batch of nectar can be a delight both for them and you.

There is no need to run to the nearest pet food supply store or order a nectar powder online. Homemade hummingbird nectar has no artificial dyes or preservatives, no chemical pesticides or herbicides, no fluoride or chlorine, no added vitamins or nutritional supplements that the hummers may not need, and no genetically modified anything. Next time you're buying groceries, pick up a bottle of filtered, distilled, or spring water, which contains fluoride and chlorine. Make sure you have some organic sugar in the house, and you're ready to go.

Before Getting Started

overhead shots of different types of brown and white sugars in bowls on wooden table

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

When choosing the type of sugar for your nectar recipe, it is important to keep in mind that natural flower nectar contains amino acids, antioxidants, fats, proteins, calcium, trace minerals, phosphates, alkaloids, and aromatic compounds—all vital for hummingbird growth and basic metabolic activity. The more that sugar is processed in a hummingbird nectar recipe, the more problems the birds will have consuming it, which is why organic and GMO-free sugar is best.

hands show diy glass jar feeder with lid surrounded by water and brown raw sugar

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Also, make sure to avoid artificial sweeteners, honey (which can contain pathogens), molasses (which contains excessive amounts of iron), stevia, and commercial nectar powders, which can contain unnecessary and even potentially harmful additives. While “raw sugar” and brown sugar contain trace amounts of molasses, they are still 98% sucrose, and the trace amounts of molasses are not enough to dramatically affect the iron content. Brown sugar is safe for hummingbirds, but it is hardly more nutritional than refined sugar, and the molasses content makes it more likely to ferment than white sugar.

Finally, maintain a good balance between the sugar and water. Too little sugar and the birds won't come; too much and the liquid will ferment more quickly and possibly clog the feeder. The four-to-one ratio of water to sugar detailed below is closest to natural nectar.

What You'll Need

  • 1 glass jar or cup
  • 2 cups filtered, distilled, or spring water
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar


  1. Mix Ingredients

    Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

    Mix water and sugar together in a glass jar or cup. There is no need for the water to be boiled in advance of mixing. Hummingbirds introduce bacteria into the nectar the instant they begin feeding. Stir until sugar crystals are dissolved.

    Treehugger Tip

    The nectar should be colorless – don't use any dyes. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color of the flowers, not the nectar. To catch a hummingbird's eye, paint your feeder with non-toxic paint in bright colors, but keep the nectar clear and dye-free.

  2. Fill the Hummingbird Feeder

    woman in red shirt pours sugar-water mixture into glass hummingbird feeder

    Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

    Pour mixture into clean hummingbird feeders. It is recommended that you place two hummingbird feeders in your yard or garden, as hummingbirds are very protective of their nectar supplies.

  3. Store Unused Nectar

    woman in red tank top holds out glass-lidded jar filled with diy sugar nectar

    Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

    Store any unused nectar in the refrigerator in a glass jar with a sealed lid. Do not freeze. Unused nectar will begin to spoil after a week. Given how easy it is to make nectar, make small batches frequently to avoid the potential of spoilage.

  4. Maintain the Feeder

    hands clean glass jar with red flowers in steel sink with water running

    Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

    Change the nectar in the feeder when it starts to get cloudy—at least once a week. The cloudiness comes from fermentation. On days with temperatures over 90 degrees F, sugar water can spoil and get moldy in two days. Flush your feeder with hot water and scrub it with a bottle brush.

Create a Hummingbird-Friendly Environment

hands hang up diy hummingbird feeder with twine on tree outside

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

You're more likely to attract hummingbirds if you offer more than just sugar water. Nectar is no more than a quarter of a hummingbird's regular diet. Most of their food comes in the form of insects, tree sap, pollen, fruit juice, and mineral salts. So if you want to attract hummingbirds, create the kind of environment that provides them with a balanced diet.

Place your hummingbird feeder in a garden or yard that's pesticide-free, and hummingbirds will have more to feast on in your yard than just nectar. Hang your feeder near red or orange native flowers like bee balm, salvia, columbine, or cardinal flower. Only a minority of hummingbirds are native to North America, but the ones that are will be looking for native plants. And choose native plants that are not hybridized: hybrids are cultivated for their color, hardiness, and shape, not their nectar.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is store-bought nectar dangerous to hummingbirds?

    Many commercial nectars contain red dye because the color attracts hummingbirds. There's no proof that the dye is harmful or safe for the birds, so many feel it's best to just avoid it.

  • What is the best ratio of sugar to water for hummingbirds?

    The best ratio is a half cup of organic sugar to two cups of water.

  • Is tap water safe for hummingbirds?

    You can use tap water for your DIY hummingbird nectar, but spring water is best because it doesn't contain potentially harmful contaminants and the chemicals used to treat water for drinking. Distilled water is also not ideal because it does not contain healthy minerals.

  • What time of day do hummingbirds come to the feeder?

    Hummingbirds feed frequently throughout the day, but they eat heavily at dawn and dusk—before and after their slumbers.

View Article Sources
  1. Caballero, Benjamin et al. Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2nd ed., Academic Press, 2003.

  2. Raatz, Susan. “The Question of Sugar.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 2012.

View Article Sources
  1. Caballero, Benjamin et al. Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2nd ed., Academic Press, 2003.

  2. Raatz, Susan. “The Question of Sugar.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 2012.