How Often You Should Change Out Hummingbird Sugar Water

Hummingbird Feeder
© Joseph Tointon/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Nina Phillips

Published: May 19, 2024

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There’s been quite a few warnings going around over the last few years about how some hummingbird feeders are hurting more than helping. There are a lot of rules when making hummingbird food, including the kinds of sweetener to use, whether or not to use dyes, the ratios of sweetener to water, and now, when to change out hummingbird sugar water.

Though it may be irritating at times, it’s vital to make these changes to keep the hummingbird populations hearty and healthy. It also ensures that your hummingbirds come back year after year.

How Often Do You Need to Change Out Hummingbird Sugar Water

Hummingbird on feeder with heating lamp in front of residential winter scene. Hummingbird heaters are used to keep the nectar or sugar from freezing. Hummingbird sitting by the heat. Selective focus.

Hummingbird feeders are a great way to see these tiny birds but it’s important to make sure you’re actually helping them.

©sophiecat/Shutterstock.com

So how often should you change out and wash your hummingbird feeder? There’s no exact answer. Depending on the temperature, whether your feeder is in the shade or not, and where you live, the range changes a bit.

Generally, every three days is the recommended time. If you live in a cooler climate and your feeder is in the shade, you may be able to go up to five days. In hotter temperatures, every other day to even every day may be ideal.

Why Is it Important to Change Sugar Water Frequently?

Sometimes, you just need a short, but simple reminder on when to change out hummingbird water.

It may seem like a chore to clean out hummingbird feeders so often, but it’s for a good reason. Sugar can ferment and grow mold. Both of which are dangerous to hummingbirds. The most immediate danger is that a hummingbird’s tongue can swell up. This prevents them from eating.

Hummingbirds have high metabolisms and have to eat somewhere between four to six times an hour to get all of the nutrients and calories they need. If their tongue swells up, it’s dangerous and deadly. Some birds even start swelling right away, making it so they can’t get their tongues out of the feeders.

It’s a very scary and deadly situation for hummingbirds. This, and the long-term effects of mold, are the reasons that it’s necessary to clean out hummingbird feeders.

There’s another reason to clean your hummingbird feeder often that’s not talked about as often. Sugar water doesn’t only attract birds, but insects as well. Specifically, wasps and bees are usually attracted to sugar water.

While bees are great to have around, you don’t want to have them on your feeder. They compete with hummingbirds for food, and may even sting the birds if they end up fighting for a space.

Cleaning your hummingbird feeder also helps to keep the insects away. If there’s sugar water around the mouth of the bird feeder from spills and drippage, bees and wasps will congregate around the area.

Additionally, it’s also a good idea to not fill it up all the way. Hummingbirds have long tongues that reach into the feeder to get to the nectar. Bees and wasps don’t have that option. So by filling up a feeder only a little, you waste less nectar and you keep harmful insects away.

How to Clean Hummingbird Feeders

Hummingbird poop Peeing

If you want to make your job even easier, go for hummingbird feeders that are easy to clean.

©Eleanor McDonie/Shutterstock.com

Cleaning feeders requires more than just dumping out old sugar water and adding in fresh stuff. Instead, to change out hummingbird sugar water, you need to make sure you actually take the time to clean the feeder. Use a gentle soap and some water, along with sponges to clean off all the old sugar. Make sure you get the inside, the outside, and all the little grooves.

Then, thoroughly rinse out the container so that no soap is left. You can add the sugar water right away, or let it air dry. Drying it off with a towel isn’t ideal as it can leave behind particles and traces of fabric that are harmful to hummingbirds.

Some people also have a few other tricks to get rid of stubborn nectar in tricky places. For example, soaking the feeder in vinegar for a while before rinsing it and washing it helps to fight off mold and break up some of the sugar.

Another strange one is to keep parakeet gravel around. This is the small grit you’re supposed to use to help with digestion for your pet birds. Because it’s tough grit like charcoal and oyster shells, it does a great job when tossed into a hummingbird feeder with a bit of water and soap to scrub the sides and edges of a feeder you aren’t able to reach properly.


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About the Author

Nina is a writer at A-Z Animals, FIDIS Travel, and Giant Freakin Robot. Her focus is on wildlife, national parks, and the environment. She has been writing about animals for over three years. Nina holds a Bachelor's in Conservation Biology, which she uses when talking about animals and their natural habitats. In her free time, Nina also enjoys working on writing her novels and short stories. As a resident of Colorado, Nina enjoys getting out in nature, traveling, and watching snow hit the mountains from her enclosed porch.

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