Should Hummingbird Feeders Be in Sun or Shade?

Hummingbird feeders should be hung in locations that get a mix of sun and shade.

The feeder needs to be in the sun in the morning or late evening so hummingbirds can find it.

But it needs to be in the shade during the middle of the day so the sugar water inside doesn’t go bad with overheating.

Once hummingbirds have discovered a feeder, they will fly long distances past stands of flowers to get an easy meal, scientists have discovered.

But for hummingbirds to start using a feeder for the very first time, they have to be able to see it.

Hummingbirds Need Sunlight to Dock at Your Feeder

Have you ever noticed a hummingbird hovering about a foot away from a feeder before taking a drink from it?

Hummingbirds move so fast that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they need to orient themselves to a feeder before they can use it.

And to hover at just the right distance from their food source, they have to see it.

This isn’t a challenge for the bird on a still day.

Hummingbirds don’t have trouble holding themselves in position to stick out their tongues to wick up nectar from a flower on a still day, as long as they can see it.

The same is true of hummingbird feeders. If the feeder is not moving in the wind, hummingbirds don’t need strong sunlight to orient themselves so they hover long enough in the same spot to get a drink.

The time hummingbirds need good lighting on their feeders is when the wind is blowing.

But if a flower or a feeder is swaying in the wind, it becomes a lot harder for the hummingbird to maintain its position, even for the one-twentieth of a second it takes for the hummer to put its tongue in the nectar.

Hummingbirds need enough light to maintain a position to place their tongues in their food source, over a dozen times a second, putting the tip of their tongue exactly where it needs to go over and over again as the target moves in the wind.

Also read: How to Attract Wild Birds to Your Backyard

But Hummingbirds Need Cover for Protection from Predators

Having enough light, however, isn’t the only consideration for placing a hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbirds also need to avoid getting snatched by hawks, crows, and other predator birds while they are feeding.

They need light on the feeder or flower, so they can see it. But they also need something between them and the open sky above to protect them from attacks from above.

There are several ways you can help hummingbirds evade their predators.

The stronger the sugar solution you put in your feeder, the longer it takes the hummingbird to wick it up its tongue.

Hummingbirds don’t suck nectar out of feeders or flowers. It flows up their tongues through capillary action. This is similar to the way a paper towel absorbs water if you place it on a damp surface.

Thicker nectar takes hummingbirds just a few milliseconds longer at the feeder. But those few milliseconds can make the difference between seeing and escaping a predator or being attacked or eaten.

Hummingbirds have to be able to taste the sugar in the water you give them, so they need at least one part of sugar in six parts of water.

But a super-sweet mixture of, for example, one part of sugar in just three parts of water, may put them in danger of predators at your feeder.

If you use a really sweet nectar, then you must put your feeder in the shade to give your hummingbirds cover.

Also read: How Long Does Hummingbird Nectar Last?

Overheating Nectar Can Cause It to Spoil

Another reason for making sure that your hummingbird feeder gets shade during the middle of the day is that overheated nectar easily spoils.

Bacteria are everywhere. There are bacteria in flower nectar. There are bacteria in hummingbird feeders.

But the bacteria that hummingbirds encounter in flowers and the bacteria they encounter in feeders are not the same.

Hummingbirds can contaminate their feeders with bacteria from their tongues and beaks.

They can also contaminate flowers, but flowers produce new nectar that pushes the bacteria out before the next hummingbird visits.

The sugar water in a feeder can go stagnant and breed potentially infectious bacteria for just as long as it is left in the feeder.

Emptying the feeder, cleaning it, and refilling it every 12 to 24 hours in warm weather and every 2 to 3 days in cool weather keeps the feeder infection-free for hummingbirds.

But there is another reason for regular cleaning and changing the nectar in hummingbird feeders. Sugar water tends to go sour in the sun.

The bacteria that turn cider or grape juice into vinegar float through the air everywhere. They can easily get inside hummingbird feeders.

It takes about a day for them to start turning sugar water into vinegar.

That’s why hummingbirds will visit a feeder less and less after the second day after it was filled, until it is emptied, cleaned, and filled again.

The less midday sun falls on your feeder, the less often you absolutely must clean it.

But in either sun or shade, it’s a good habit to change out the sugar water in the feeder every day.

In the Winter, Place Their Feeder Under a Deciduous Tree

There are a few species of hummingbirds that don’t travel to the tropics for the winter. These birds are most common on the Pacific Coast of North America.

At one time, non-migratory hummingbirds like Anna’s Hummingbird were only found in Baja California and around San Diego.

Over the past 50 years, however, as more and more birdwatchers put out feeders, they have become common year-round from California as far north as British Columbia and the Alaska Panhandle.

They are even sighted in places as far outside their original range as Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, Florida, and Texas.

Some hummingbirds will be happy to stay with you all winter if you feed them. It’s best to put year-round feeders under a deciduous tree (such as oak, elm, maple).

Hummingbirds that find your feeder in the winter will remember where it is the next summer. It’s OK for it to be under dense shade to keep it cool in the summer.

But when leaves fall, the extra sunlight will keep your hummingbird feeder warmer. You may still, of course, need to provide heated water features.

A heated platform for feeding during the coldest part of the winter will keep hummingbirds in your backyard.

More Considerations for Placing Your Hummingbird Feeder

Other considerations in choosing the best place to put your hummingbird feeder include these often-overlooked points.

Hummingbirds Feed at Night Too

Once hummingbirds have found your feeder, they may visit it at any hour of the night or day.

Putting a night light next to a feeder makes hummingbirds feel more secure about visiting it.

The light may also attract moths, which can bring other birds to the area.

Hummingbirds Don’t Just Visit Sugar Water Feeders

Hummingbirds cannot survive just on sugar water alone. For long-distance flight, hummingbirds burn fat, not sugar.

The main source of fat in a hummingbird’s diet is insects.

You can help hummingbirds by leaving them some ants, aphids, gnats, weevils, fruit flies, beetles, grubs, mites, and mosquitoes to eat.

Don’t spray your backyard for bugs if you want hummingbirds.

Leave Spider Webs in Place if You Have Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds glean insects that are caught in spider webs.

However, you should remove any webs that are large enough to catch hummingbirds.

Don’t Cut Grass Too Short

Taller grass provides habitat for insects and arthropods that feed hummingbirds, swallows, and martins.

Feed Your Hummingbirds Fruit Flies

You can provide your hummingbirds with fruit flies by putting out bananas in a dish in dappled shade.

Fruit flies will grow on the bananas. Hummingbirds will eat them as a high-energy, high-protein food.

Any most fruit or vegetable left in a warm, shady place will attract fruit flies.

You will have fewer problems with other insects and squirrels if you place them on a feeding platform with a squirrel baffle in the same places you would put a sugar-water feeder.

You can also leave some fruit on your fruit trees to feed the insects that feed your hummingbirds.

This is especially important as they are storing body fat for their long migration south to Central or South America for the winter.

Or, better yet, use a hummingbird protein feeder.

Hummingbird Protein Feeders

Hummingbird protein feeders are designed to hold fruit, usually bananas, to grow fruit flies to feed your hummingbirds.

It’s OK to place them in direct sunlight, because the fruit inside them won’t overheat.

A red protein feeder in a sunny location is easier for hummingbirds to detect. Once they find it, they will remember its location.

Hummingbirds are most likely to visit protein feeders between 3 and 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

For sugar water feeders, you don’t want direct afternoon sun, but it’s beneficial for protein feeders.

The additional light helps hummingbirds see the fruit flies so they can catch them in mid-flight.

Put a Fruit Slurry on Trees

If you don’t have room for a hummingbird protein feeder, you can grow fruit flies directly on the bark of trees.

Put a thick slurry of mashed banana, canned fruit syrup, and a dash of pancake batter to make a thick slurry you can paint on the bark of trees.

The best place to do this is four or five feet (1 to 1.5 meters) above ground level but under a dense canopy of leaves.

The slurry will grow fruit flies on which hummingbirds can feed.

Don’t Forget Convenience When You Are Hanging a Hummingbird Feeder

A final consideration in placing your hummingbird feeder is perhaps the most important:

Hang your hummingbird feeder where it is easy for you to clean and refill.

You don’t want to place a hummingbird feeder in the middle of a flower bed. You don’t want to place a feeder either too high or too low for you to reach it easily.

The best place for a hummingbird feeder is always a location where it’s easy for you to maintain.

If you can clean and refill your feeder every day, your hummingbirds will find and use it in either sun or shade.

10 Things to Keep in Mind When Placing Hummingbird Feeder

  1. Visibility: Dappled sunlight makes feeders sparkle. Hummingbirds will see feeders in a partial shade more easily because sunlight creates a sparkle rather than a glare. Another thing to keep in mind is your own line of sight to the feeder. You want to be sure to hang the feeder where it is easy for you to see when you are watching the birds.
  2. Windows:. Hummingbirds accelerate as they approach a feeder so they get more capillary action with their tongues. Missing the feeder and hitting a window can result in a fatal collision. Place hummingbird feeders either close to windows that hummingbirds won’t speed up to dock at them or so far away they have time to slow down before they hit the glass. Feeders need to be less than five feet (1.5 meters) or more than 15 feet (5 meters) away from windows.
  3. Distance: Hang feeders where you can see them. You don’t want a feeder so far away from your observation point that you can’t make out the details on the three- to four-inch (8 to 10 cm) long birds.
  4. Spacing: Even though hummingbirds are tiny, they need some room to maneuver around a feeder. Don’t hang it too close to dense vegetation, or to your window.
  5. Heat: Afternoon heat will cause hummingbird nectar to turn sour. Hang your sugar-water feeder where it won’t get too hot in the afternoon. It’s OK to hang protein feeders where they get full afternoon sun.
  6. Predators: Cats, snakes, squirrels, predatory birds, and even large praying mantises have been known to attack, kill, and eat hummingbirds. Make sure your feeder is protected from predators.
  7. Perches. Hummingbirds spend about 80% of their time resting. Provide perches near your feeder so they will “hang out” in your yard.
  8. Pathways. Hang hummingbird feeders off busy pathways so they won’t get bumped.
  9. Privacy. Hummingbirds are territorial and jealous of other hummingbirds. Hang their feeder where other hummingbirds won’t see them flying up to it.
  10. Convenience. It’s worth mentioning twice: Placing your hummingbird feeder where it is easy for you to reach makes it far more likely you will find the time to keep it clean and filled. You will see a lot more hummingbirds in your backyard if your feeder is easy for you to maintain.

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