Many people put up feeders and wait for hummingbirds to show up but no hummingbirds ever appear.
Or they put a feeder that is visited by hummingbirds once or twice, but the hummers stop using it.
It’s natural to blame the situation on the feeder, but usually it is more complicated than that.
Reasons Hummingbirds has Stopped Coming to the Feeder
Here are some of the reasons hummingbirds don’t visit your backyard feeder, or if they have visited it before, why they stop coming to the feeder in your backyard.
- You don’t have enough of the right plants in your backyard. Hummingbirds won’t stop in your yard to check out your feeder if you don’t have enough flowering plants. Or they may fly past your backyard once all the nectar-rich flowering plants have stopped blooming.
- You have too many of the right plants in your backyard. If hummingbirds can fill up by visiting your flowers, they won’t bother with your feeder. This is also the reason you see fewer hummingbirds at your feeder when wildflowers are in bloom.
- Hummingbirds may be around, but they just don’t like your feeder. Hummingbirds learn where they can find their next meal. A hummingbird may be used to stopping at a different feeder, or may know where to find enough flowers on which to feed. Sometimes hummingbirds will ignore your feeder no matter where you move it. Another hummingbird flying into your yard for the first time, however, may be attracted to it.
- It’s breeding season. Hummingbirds that were eager to refuel after a long migration flight may have moved on to another location to build their nests and breed.
- You let the sugar water in your feeder go sour, or you forgot to refill it. Hummingbirds that get one taste of sour sugar water won’t come back to your feed. Even worse, if you used honey to make your sugar-water solution, and it fermented, hummingbirds may have gotten drunk and met an untimely end with a car or a cat. Or the hummingbirds might have visited a dry feeder and just moved on.
- You may not be watching at the right time. Hummingbirds spend a lot more time perching than they spend feeding. If it’s early or late in hummingbird season, or there aren’t a lot of hummingbirds where you live, you may have to keep a close eye on your feeders to learn the time of day they prefer to visit.
So, what do you need to do to get hummingbirds back to your backyard feeder?
How to Get Hummingbirds Back to the Feeder
The general rule is habitat first, then water features, and then hummingbird feeders.
Think flowers first
Hummingbirds are “pre-programmed” to drink nectar from flowers. You don’t have to coax them or teach them to feed on the flowers in your backyard.
Drinking sugar water from a hummingbird feeder isn’t something that comes naturally.
Hummingbirds have to come across the feeder and then have a good experience, so they will come back for more.
But hummingbirds don’t have to be coaxed to visit flowers.
Here are the most important rules for using flowering to attract hummingbirds to your back
- Plant lots of flowers. You want to have something always blooming in your backyard to keep hummingbirds happy. Nectar-rich plants hummingbirds enjoy include bee balm, butterfly bush, bluebonnets (Texas lupine), bleeding hearts, cardinal flower, columbine, fireweed, Indian paintbrush, Indian pinks, jewel weed, petunias, red morning glories, northern lupines, zinnias, salvia, sage bushes, and trumpet creeper. Hummingbirds prefer nectar from red, tubular flowers, but they will take it where they can.
- Provide both sun and shade. If your backyard gets full sun all day, plant some shrubs and trees to give hummingbirds a cool place to rest and cover from predators flying overhead.
- Make sure you have different layers of vegetation. Sometimes hummingbirds supplement their diets with insects they find on the ground. Their legs aren’t strong enough for walking, but they can hop from place to place on the ground with the help of their wings.
- Put some kind of ground cover in cat-safe locations for hummingbirds to look for insects. Liriope is a perfect choice. Hummingbirds also appreciate periwinkles and euonymus (wintercreeper).
Ideally, your yard will have lots of flowers (but won’t be all flowers), some tall trees, some medium trees, some tall grass, some shrubs, and ground cover under shade trees.
The next feature you need to add to your backyard to attract hummingbirds is water.
Hummingbirds need special water features
You can keep hummingbirds in your backyard with water, but not because they need water to drink.
Hummingbirds get all the fluid they need to stay hydrated by drinking nectar from flowers and by visiting your sugar-water feeder.
They still need water, however, to keep their feathers clean.
Hummingbirds are very resourceful at finding water for preening and cleaning feathers. They may take a quick dash through your lawn sprinkler.
They may bathe in the drops of water they find on the edge of a leaf.
They may splash on the edges of a brook. Or they may visit a birdbath — as long as it has a few modifications.
Hummingbirds need to be able to stand in the water they use for keeping their feathers clean.
The ideal location for them is the edge of a flowing fountain of water. They can put their feet in the water.
They can get their wings wet, and clean the rest of their bodies
A recirculating fountain that sends water through several basins at different levels is a good choice for hummingbirds.
But if you can’t afford a fountain, you can modify a traditional birdbath.
Place pebbles and rocks at different levels in your birdbath. Let hummingbirds find the depth that is most comfortable for them.
They can balance themselves on a rock while preening their wings without risk of falling in and drowning.
Birdbaths may be a good choice if you are trying to attract a variety of birds, including hummingbirds.
But if you are primarily interested in bringing hummingbirds to your backyard, a mister is a better choice.
The way to use a mister to attract hummingbirds to your backyard is to position it to spray leaves, not to spray hummingbirds.
Misting a spray on broad leaves makes them glisten in the sunlight. Hummingbirds will notice, and fly over to rub against the wet leaves.
If the mist is light enough, hummingbirds will fly through to get wet directly.
An equally effective method of bringing hummingbirds to your backyard is adding a misting sprinkler head to your lawn or garden sprinklers.
You can attract hummingbirds and water your plants at the same time.
Any water that goes through these sprinklers will irrigate your plants, so there’s no added water expense to attract the birds.
Placing a dripping water source where it will splash on rocks or leaves is another great way to attract hummingbirds.
Some hummingbirds will stand under the drip like they were taking a shower.
Others will rub their feathers against rocks or leaves to get them wet.
More Tips for Using Water Features to Attract Hummingbirds
You will get more viewing opportunities in your backyard if you follow these tips.
- Keep your water feature clean. Clean nozzles every week or so to make sure the water is clean and fresh. Check faucets and spigots to make sure the flow of water is constant. Don’t let standing water accumulate slime and water insects.Keep the area around the water feature clean, too.
- Install platforms near water features where hummingbirds can dry off. This gives you additional opportunities to watch them. Something as simple as a branch, a clothesline, or a wire will do.
- Make sure the water doesn’t get too deep for hummingbirds. Reposition rocks for them to stand on if necessary.
- Plant nectar-rich plants next to the water feature, so hummingbirds will stay to feed, too.
Once you have taken care of plants and water, then it’s time to put up a feeder.
Bring hummingbirds back with the right feeder
If hummingbirds have abandoned your feeder, the problem isn’t that you have done anything wrong.
Your hummingbirds just wanted something different.
Let’s do a quick review of the different kinds of hummingbird feeders you can put up in your backyard.
Commercial Hummingbird Feeders
There are many good hummingbird feeders on the market. New designs are being released all the time.
There are two basic styles for hummingbird feeders you can buy in home and garden stores and online.
One is a covered container of sugar water with holes in its lid that hummingbirds can reach through to get the fluid.
These feeders usually have pictures of flowers on their lids.
The other, more common kind of hummingbird feeder is an inverted bottle that drains into a round, lower vessel with feeding holes.
The vacuum created at the top of the cylinder is what keeps the liquid from draining out.
This kind of feeder can be as simple as a bottle with a rubber stop and a glass tube with liquid dripping out.
Sometimes the hummingbirds in your yard will have experience with one kind of feeder but not the other.
They may simply not realize what you put out for them is a feeder!
That’s why the first change to make when hummingbirds aren’t interested in your feeder is to switch to the other type.
Not all brands, however, are equally effective.
Choosing a Commercial Hummingbird Feeder
When you are choosing a hummingbird feeder in the store, there are certain features you need to look for:
- Buy a feeder you can take apart for cleaning and easily put back together. Make sure you can reach every part of the cleaner for a thorough scrubbing at least once a year. Careful cleaning prevents fungal diseases. If you can reach every nook and cranny with a brush or a pipe cleaner, that’s good enough.
- Start small. Wait until your hummingbird visitors are regularly emptying your feeder before you to a larger size. This keeps sugar water from spoiling. If someone gives you a large hummingbird feeder, remember, you don’t have to fill it to the top.
- Either plastic or glass is fine. Plastic is less likely to break, but glass is easier to clean.
Perches Are Optional
Hummingbirds spend more time perching than hovering. They appreciate places to rest near or on their feeders.
Of course, a hummingbird will be happy to hover at your feeder to take a drink and then fly to a nearby tree.
But you get more viewing pleasure when you put up a hummingbird feeder with a perch.
Orioles will also take advantage of perches at hummingbird feeders. If they begin to crowd out the hummingbirds, just remove the perches.
Placement Makes a Difference
Sometimes the problem with your hummingbird feeder is that it is in the wrong place.
Hummingbird feeders need to be in the shade at least part of the day, so the sugar water in them does not overheat.
They need to be in the sun part of the day. That way hummingbirds will find them.
Some companies make hummingbird feeders with suction cups, so you can put them on your windows for a close-up view of the hummingbirds.
Other models come with metal supports that keep them steady in the wind.
Moving your feeder so hummingbirds will find it, or so you can view them more easily, can make all the difference in your viewing pleasure.
Don’t Skimp on the Sugar
Hummingbirds like a ratio of four parts water to one part sugar. Anything more concentrated will form crystals inside the feeder.
Anything weaker will send hummingbirds looking for sweeter nectar in flowers.
The sugar that occurs naturally in flower nectar is mostly sucrose, the sugar in table sugar.
That’s why table sugar is your best, and really only, choice for feeding hummingbirds.
Other sweeteners either don’t dissolve or contain toxic amounts of iron. Molasses and brown sugar are especially high in iron, which isn’t compatible with good health in these birds.
If You Don’t Get Hummingbirds with One Feeder, Try Two
Tiny hummingbirds are fiercely territorial animals. They will avoid making an appearance at a feeder that another hummingbird considers its own territory.
But you can put up a second feeder that a different hummingbird will consider its own territory.
Put your second feeder in a spot that has a flight path from trees or shrubs out of sight of the first, and you may soon be enjoying backyard hummingbirds at both locations.
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- How Do Hummingbirds Survive the Winter?
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