For many years, feeders for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) were made by hand, often from bits and pieces of laboratory apparatus such as glass tubing, rubber stoppers, and reagent bottles or flasks. In recent years, however, interest in feeding hummingbirds has grown tremendously, and manufacturers have responded by designing and marketing many kinds of sugar-water feeders. Some are still one-of-a-kind, ornate, and costly, but most are mass-produced and inexpensive.

© Perky-Pet

Commercially made hummingbird feeders come in all shapes and sizes. This Model #260 (left) from Perky-Pet is is the shape of a giant strawberry. Since the plastic on this feeder is red, there's no reason to add food coloring to the sugar water. There is no conclusive scientific evidence red food coloring hurts hummingbirds, but since nearly every commercial feeder has at least some red on it already, the chemical additive isn't necessary. Better to attach a red ribbon to the feeder.

The best commercial hummingbird feeders are sturdy, easy to clean and hang, and with a minimum number of parts that can get lost or broken. Manufacturers offer feeders in a variety of sizes with both plastic and glass reservoirs. Glass is long-lasting and can be sterilized easily, but it is heavier and can shatter when dropped; feeders with plastic reservoirs are less expensive but tend to discolor with age. Small feeders may have just one feeding port while larger ones have three or more. And many feeder types are available with or without perches on which hummingbirds can rest while feeding.

The biggest mistake made by most novice hummingbird enthusiasts is in buying a first feeder that is too large. It is better to start with a smaller feeder--perhaps with an 8oz (236.6ml) reservoir--rather than the one-quart (.95L) size that many people select. Filling the larger feeder and putting it out before hummingbirds arrive will usually result in the sugar water souring long before the feeder can be drained by birds.

It's also a good idea to put up several smaller feeders in different locations (e.g., on opposite sides of the house) so a hummingbird defending one feeder will not be able to see--or dominate--the other feeders.

Lastly, put the feeders in places where they can easily be seen by human observers for education and entertainment. After all, the sugar water we provide is just a little bonus for the birds, which in nearly all cases can get along very well without us by using natural food sources.


Leaving a sugar water feeder up in autumn will not keep Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from migrating. Hummer migration is stimulated by photoperiod, so as days become shorter in fall local hummingbirds begin to put on fat and soon depart for the tropics. Nearly all hummers that stay behind are those that are ill or "genetically inferior," and it's likely they would die in migration anyway.

At most locations in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada, 99.9% of the ruby-throats are gone by 15 October, and adult males don't begin to return until mid-March. Females follow soon thereafter. (Some ruby-throats do overwinter in coastal areas of the southern U.S.)

We suggest you maintain one half-full hummingbird feeder through the winter for as long as you wish, changing the artificial nectar weekly. You may need to bring the feeder in at night to keep it from freezing and put it out the next morning when you fill your seed feeders. Some folks even use heat lamps and electric pipe wrap to keep the sugar water warm (right).

Over the past several years there have been many Eastern U.S. sightings of vagrant western species such as Rufous Hummingbirds that do not breed in the East (see a summary of our Winter Hummingbird Research). If you spot a hummer between mid-October and mid-March anywhere east of the Rocky Mounains, it may be one of these western birds; please contact RESEARCH via e-mail if you get one. (There are several hummingbird species that normally overwinter in California, Arizona, and other western states.)

Hummingbird feeder sources include the following. Presence or absence of a feeder on this list is not an indication Operation RubyThroat does or does not endorse a product. We suggest you try several different feeders to see what your hummingbirds like. As noted above, the best feeders typically are those that are inexpensive, easiest to clean, and that have fewer parts to lose or break.

First Nature

Hungry Hummer Jr.
(A portion of all sales of this feeder
is donated to Operation RubyThroat)

Perky-Pet Corporation
(Four Fountains above)

(Hummzinger Mini above)


Dr. JBs

Tejas Hummingbird Feeder

Forward to Hummingbird Feeding Hints
(including the Recipe for Hummingbird Juice)

Forward to Bees & Ants at Feeders

Back to Food: Natural & Otherwise

Return to Hummingbird Questions & Answers

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