Hummingbird feeder mistakes – 5 common errors to avoid to ensure these stunning birds stay happy and well fed

The experts reveal what not to do when welcoming these feathered friends to your plot

blue hummingbird and feeder
(Image credit: Chelsea Sampson / Alamy Stock Photo)

Putting out hummingbird feeders in your yard is a simple way to welcome these colorful creatures into your space, and enjoy the charming scenes as they flit to and fro. However, there are a few common mistakes that are often made during the process. And at their worst, these errors could harm the birds rather than help them.

When attracting hummingbirds to your outdoor space, the most important things to consider are keeping them safe and happy with the right nourishment and a clean environment from which to feed. 

We have spoken expert ornithologists and bird enthusiasts to find out how to avoid making any errors that could impact these beautiful birds. Keep these tips in mind – your feathered friends will be much happier and healthier as a result.

hummingbird on zinnia flower

(Image credit: Christina Rollo/Alamy Stock Photo)

5 mistakes to avoid when feeding hummingbirds in your backyard

Keep your plot wildlife-friendly by steering clear of these five common errors.

1. Adding red dye to hummingbird food

hummingbird and feeder

Use red feeders rather than red food

(Image credit: jhorrocks / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Although it's well-known that hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, adding red dye to their nectar can harm the birds.

Zach Hutchinson, the owner of, warns against using hummingbird food dyed red. 'Not only is this dye unnecessary to attract hummingbirds, but it may have long-term impacts detrimental to hummingbird populations,' he says.

Instead, Zach suggests sticking to a basic hummingbird food recipe of granulated white sugar and water, explaining how the resulting concoction is not only safe for hummingbirds but is also the closest drink we can make to replicate the natural nectar provided by flowers. You can choose to buy a red feeder to help attract hummingbirds, such as these featured products below. 

2. Using the wrong type of sugar in hummingbird nectar

hummingbirds around feeder

(Image credit: Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

Adding honey or brown sugar to your hummingbirds' food is another no-go, as they can't be digested efficiently by the birds.

Kelsey Waddell of agrees, advising to only use white sugar when making hummingbird food. 'Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to white sugar, and molasses has a high iron content,' she explains. 'While iron is good for humans and even birds in tiny amounts, it can be toxic to hummingbirds in larger amounts. Brown sugar, and other sweeteners with high iron content, can cause health issues and even death in hummingbirds. 

'Honey has natural antimicrobial properties, but when it’s diluted with water, it spoils quickly and can promote the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi,' Kelsey continues. 

'Honey is also high in natural sugars, which can ferment in your feeder. If hummingbirds consume fermented food, they may become intoxicated or even die. There are other reasons to avoid honey, too: it can attract other insects, is sticky enough to clog up your feeder, and it doesn't provide hummingbirds with the right balance of nutrients.'

Kelsey Waddell
Kelsey Waddell

Kelsey is a freelance writer and amateur backyard-bird enthusiast living in southern Virginia. From the moment she moved from the suburbs to her current rural home, she was struck by the sights and sounds of the abundant wildlife. She's been watching, learning, and trying to attract more feathered friends ever since. 

3. Leaving feeders out during cold nights

hummingbirds around bird feeder

Avoid leaving your feeders out on cold nights

(Image credit: Dennis Welker / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

During spring migration, when the first hummingbirds arrive, many who feed hummingbirds will leave their feeders out overnight. The problem with this, as Zach Hutchinson explains, is if the temperature drops, the nectar can freeze and become inaccessible to hummingbirds. 

Even if they can still access it, cold nectar can be potentially less-than-helpful as their bodies must then burn calories to help heat it up after it has been consumed. 

'This becomes less of an issue as nighttime temperatures rise,' he adds.

 Zachariah Hutchinson
Zach Hutchinson

Zach Hutchinson is the owner of and an ornithologist striving to ignite bird conservation globally. He is also the creator of the Great Wyoming Birding Trail and the author of Birding in Yellowstone National Park. Zach has banded and tagged over 15,000 wild birds and has efforted to protect birds for over a decade.

4. Forgetting to frequently clean your feeder

Hummingbird using hummingbird feeder

(Image credit: Patrick_Gijsbers via Getty Images)

'During the heat of summer, nectar must be replaced every 4-5 days at minimum,' says Zach Hutchinson. This is because the molds and bacteria that will grow in hummingbird food can be dangerous.

'When changing the nectar, it is also essential to clean a hummingbird feeder.' If you use soap or vinegar, a robust and repeated rinsing is necessary – the residues can be harmful if consumed, he adds.

He also advises having a backup feeder to ensure visiting birds don't miss a meal while the other feeder is being cleaned. 'Swap the feeders every time a cleaning is due.'

5. Setting out only one feeder

hummingbirds on feeder

Hummingbirds can be territorial, so add more than one feeder to your yard if you can

(Image credit: Stephanie Frey Photo / Alamy Stock Photo)

Hummingbirds, no matter how small they are, are very territorial. It's common for male hummingbirds to claim one feeder as their own and aggressively chase other hummingbirds who try to enjoy the nectar.

Having one feeder will keep you from having multiple hummingbird visitors. So, opt for two or more if you can.

Try to place the hummingbird feeders 10 feet apart from each other. This way, you can have other hummingbird visitors while a dominant bird defends his turf.


How often should I clean a hummingbird feeder?

Once you've put out your hummingbird feeder, you should try to give it a clean at least once a week. However, in very hot climates, you may need to clean it as often as every 2-3 days, as the heat will cause the nectar to ferment quicker.

As well as putting out feeders, don't forget that there are other ways to attract these wondrous creatures, such as planting flowers that attract hummingbirds. And as a bonus, more blooms will help attract butterflies to your garden, too. You can also stop other birds from using a hummingbird feeder in a number of ways.

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.

With contributions from