annas hummingbird

Zing, zing.  My ears usually catch the sound of hummingbird wings slicing through the air before my eyes can find them. These little pixies are happy to visit our backyard and bring delight to our whole family with cries of,  “Mama, there’s a hummingbird!” every day. It never gets old.

But, we don’t want to accidentally kill them…so let’s break it down.

Hummingbird Feeders:

Anna's Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird sipping from a Perky Pet feeder.

These devices are the surest way to attract our fairy friends. They can also be an important energy source for hummingbirds that choose to winter over. Before we begin, please place your hand over your heart and promise to thoroughly clean the feeder and change the nectar at least once a week.  Otherwise the nectar will ferment with wild yeast to make wine, and mold and other pathogens collect in the nectar and plastic flowers and spread to birds and their babies.  Their babies, people.  If you’re leaving on vacation, take it down and replace it when you come back. 

In the suburbs, there are so many feeders out that they seem to recognize what they are and come right in to investigate.  When choosing a feeder, pick one that is easy to scrub out. These generally have a wide opening. Perky Pet feeders are my favorite for that reason. Consider getting two feeders, one to hang out and one to run through the dishwasher, or get a second set of flowers and swap those out every time you hand wash the feeder, then use your straw brush on the flowers and run them though the dishwasher.

Materials for Feeder:

  • Easy to clean feeder&emdash;this can’t be overstated. I’ve wasted so much money on beautiful feeders that had a tiny bottle neck and fixed in flowers that corroded or filled with slime.
  • Bottle brush.
  • Straw brush for cleaning flowers.
  • Extra flowers or extra feeder.
  • Big bag of white granulated sugar. Do not use raw sugar. It has iron, which our little friends cannot tolerate.
  • Ant moat.

Nectar Recipe: 

  • 1 part plain granulated sugar
  • 4 parts water
  • No red dye necessary!


  • Pour water and sugar into a saucepan.  (My feeder holds two cups of nectar, so I use two cups of water and a half cup of sugar.)
  • Turn heat to medium-high. 
  • Stir until sugar is dissolved. 
  • Heat until nectar comes to a gentle boil.  
  • Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. 
  • Scrub feeder, replace flowers, and add nectar.  
  • Then hurry up and get it out there because there are probably several hummingbirds chirping at you. 
  • Repeat in one week, (or less).
  • Avoid buying nectar with red dye. Do not add food coloring to your homemade nectar. It is unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Protein and Nutrition:

The sugar water nectar we provide is strictly for energy.  Their nutritional needs must be met with protein rich pollen, and small insects like fruit flies and spiders

Yes! Hummingbirds. Eat. Spiders.

Create a diverse planting of flowers and fruit in your yard and watch to see what they choose to visit. I once over wintered over some kale that put out a myriad of yellow flowers in spring. An Anna’s hummingbird visited daily until the blooms faded.  I’ve also watched hummingbirds drink juice from ripe raspberries. This past summer I had nasturtiums climbing my fence and was delighted to see hummingbirds sipping out of their lovely blossoms. Bee-balm is also a favorite for hummingbirds and many other pollinators as well. 

Native plants provide the best habitat for local insects and spiders and therefore also support hummingbird nutritional needs.  


A source of clean water is much appreciated and they will reward your efforts with vigorous baths for your entertainment.

Spiders & Hummingbirds:

The presence of spiders is critical to hummingbirds. They construct their espresso-cup-shaped nests from bits of lichens and mosses woven together with spider webbing. They also eat spiders and bring them to their nest for their babies.  If you love hummingbirds, protect the spider habitats in your yard. 

Consider Giving Pesticides the Boot:

Insects are a critical part of the hummingbird’s diet and many other bird species as well. Having a yard buzzing with insects tantamount to a bird-buffet. Use of pesticides not only empties the buffet, it can also make it toxic and cause collateral damage to our bird friends’ population. Instead, see if you can stretch your tolerance to allow the presence of benign insects. If you have a particular insect problem that can’t be tolerated, use the least toxic and most species specific approach to managing the pest to protect our feathered friends.  

While We’re at it, Give Herbicides the Boot Too:

It is also wise to reduce herbicide use. Herbicide chemicals can be absorbed into the bodies of insects (through ingesting the sprayed plants or through the skin of soft-bodied insects) and can bio-accumulate to toxic levels in birds.  A truly bird friendly yard is free of harmful synthetic chemicals.  

I can’t seem to manage a weed free lawn without them, so what lawn I haven’t converted to  pathways and growing beds is weedy. I’ve learned to make peace with that, knowing that I’m protecting my soil microbiology, insects, birds, and the health of my pets and kids too. And my community’s watershed. And I’m saving money—a bag of weed and feed is as expensive as it is toxic. However, to be courteous to my neighbors I remove seed-heads before they become airborne. I don’t always succeed in this and I’m planning a new strategy for this next growing season. I don’t want to my neighbors to use more herbicides to control the weeds coming from my yard.  

Other Safety Measures:

  • Place bird feeders away from windows or apply specially designed decals. You can get these at your local bird shop or nature center.
  • If you have a lot of bird visitors, place more than one feeder with plenty of space to prevent a few from dominating the food source.
  • Place away from hiding areas for cats. 

For further reading on how to provide and protect for our bird friends:

How to Create a Hummingbird Friendly Yard – Audubon Society

Tips for Reducing Window Strikes at Home – Portland Audubon

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