Solutions to hummingbird feeding challenges

Visual reference

Jay's Bird Barn (now The Lookout)/Courtesy

Aspect brand hummingbird feeders are both ant and bee proof, and have a lifetime warranty.

Eric Moore

Eric Moore is the owner of The Lookout, formerly known as Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years.

If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at:

Feeding hummingbirds is probably one of the easiest ways to attract birds to your yard. Despite how easy it is to put out a hummingbird feeder, it is likely you will experience some challenges. Below are some solutions for challenges you may experience.

Ants - There is no question about it, ants are attracted to sugar water. If you have a feeder that leaks and drips, ants will congregate where the nectar water is landing. Ants will also swarm feeders, crawling through the ports into the feeder where they will ultimately drown in the sugar water.

Solution:Use a feeder that does not drip or leak. Be prepared to pay more for better quality feeders, as the payback means fewer problems. To prevent ants from accessing the sugar water, use feeders with a built-in ant guard, or use a product called a Nectar Protector for a safe, non-toxic way to prevent ants from accessing the hummingbird food.

Bees - Bees are naturally attracted to sugar water. There are a lot of poorly designed nectar feeders on the market - often with yellow flowers - which draw bees' attention to the feeder. In poorly designed feeders, the sugar water is accessible to the bees when they land on the feeder.

Solution:Use bee- and wasp-proof feeders. These feeders have an all-red lid and no yellow flowers. The design of the feeder prohibits bees from accessing the sugar water solution while allowing hummingbirds easy access.

Woodpeckers - We field a lot of questions about the common behavior of woodpeckers drinking from hummingbird feeders. Both hummingbirds and woodpeckers share many similarities, including their preference for insects and nectar.

Solution:I personally don't mind woodpeckers drinking from my hummingbird feeders. However, not everyone shares my opinion. If this really bothers you, try removing the perches on your hummingbird feeders so there isn't a place for the woodpeckers to hold on to (they can't hover and feed as do hummingbirds!)

Nectar quality/nutrition - The motivation to feed birds is different for everyone. Some people feed birds because they want to enjoy seeing nature up close and personal. Others feed birds because they want to help birds by providing food for them. A lot of people don't consider whether they are feeding correctly, and/or whether the food they are providing is safe (healthy) and providing a benefit to the birds.

Solution:Before purchasing nectar solutions at a box store, read the label. What are the ingredients? Are there a lot of preservatives? Is there red dye in the mixture? In my mind, if you are choosing to feed wild birds, then you should do it responsibly. Don't buy the cheapest mixture you can find; buy quality. If you choose to buy hummingbird food, rather than making your own mixture at home, make sure it is providing a nutritional benefit for the birds.

Spoilage and mold - Where daytime temperatures in summer exceed ninety degrees, hummingbird nectar, hanging outside in a feeder, is going to spoil, making it unsafe for the birds. Hot sugar water is the perfect place for bacteria and mold to grow.

Solution:Try to hang your feeders in a location where they are in the shade for a good part of the day. If this isn't possible, be prepared to change the sugar water solution more frequently. Remember, the health of the birds you are feeding should be your priority. Clean your feeders regularly and thoroughly. If your feeders are dishwasher safe, run them through a cycle to get them totally clean.

I hope you are enjoying the wonderful hummingbirds that are so abundant here in the Arizona Central Highlands during our summer months.

Until next week, Happy Birding!