Many birds change their diets throughout the year—eating more insects for protein when hungry hatchlings need to be fed, for example. They may also gorge on fattier foods or sugary options to bulk up in the weeks before migration. But what about the hummingbirds visiting your feeders? Should you modify your hummingbird nectar recipe seasonally as hummingbirds’ dietary needs change?
The Classic Hummingbird Nectar Recipe
The classic, most effective hummingbird nectar recipe is one part plain white granulated sugar to four parts clean, fresh water. This ratio most closely mimics the natural sucrose level of floral nectar in many of hummingbirds’ favorite blooms. Yet flowers do have variations in their floral sugar content, depending on the bloom type, soil quality, and recent rainfall. Hummingbirds don’t mind nectar that may occasionally be a bit low in sucrose or even a bit sweeter now and then. In fact, the classic nectar recipe is a very forgiving one. There is no need to be surgically precise when measuring your sugar and water to make nectar.
Modifying Hummingbird Nectar Recipes
Whether or not to modify hummingbird nectar recipes in different seasons is mostly a matter of preference. Advice varies as to whether it is advisable to make large changes of the sugar-to-water ratio. In general, you should not make substantial recipe changes, but in extreme conditions, some adjustments can be considered.
If there is an unseasonal hard freeze or sudden cold snap, for example, adding a bit of extra sugar to the recipe can serve two purposes. It will slightly lower the freezing point of nectar, keeping the solution liquid more easily so it is accessible to any feeding hummingbirds. The sweeter solution will also provide a quick burst of extra caloric energy to hummingbirds. This is exactly when they need that energy the most to maintain their body heat and survive plummeting temperatures.
Similarly, in the very hottest weather, nectar that is slightly less sweet will not ferment quite as quickly. It will still provide a good food source and essential water to hot hummingbirds.
Overall, it is best to modify hummingbird nectar only minimally, by just a spoonful or two of sugar depending on the quantity of nectar you make. Keeping the same one part sugar to four parts water ratio is usually ideal. This ratio is suitable for hummingbirds in every season.
How You Should Never Change Nectar
There are certain ways that hummingbird nectar recipes should never be modified, no matter what the season or environmental conditions. Do not use alternative sugars or sweeteners other than basic granulated sugar. Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, brown sugar, and molasses have different chemical compositions that hummingbirds cannot effectively digest. These products can create dangerous fungus in nectar feeders. Likewise, artificial sugar substitutes and no-calorie sweeteners give no energy or nutritional value to hummingbird. They should never be used for making nectar.
See also: How to Clean Your Bird Feeders
No other additives should be part of your homemade hummingbird nectar—no juices, dyes, salts, or other compounds. Hummingbirds do not need them. Hummingbirds eat much more than just nectar, and derive all the nutritional components they need from the insects they eat each day. Adding extra ingredients to hummingbird nectar will make it less palatable to hummingbirds and potentially introducing ingredients that can be dangerous to birds.
It can be tempting to modify your hummingbird nectar recipe seasonally, but doing so is not necessary for the health, dietary needs, or tastes of hummingbirds. The classic nectar recipe is very forgiving. However, so if you do mix up a batch of nectar that may be slightly sweeter or somewhat less sweet than normal, never fear—the hummingbirds will still enjoy it.