When should we empty our hummingbird feeder?


My husband and I put out two hummingbird feeders (with a sugar-water solution) every spring. I notice that after around five days, the water becomes murky. If we are there, I empty them and put fresh food in. Sometimes, I fill them before we leave and they are empty when we arrive back—but I’m not sure what the birds are drinking is still good, and I am wondering if I should just empty them before we leave.
—Dave and Jackie Jones, French River Island, Ont.

If the mixture turns cloudy, it’s a sign it may have spoiled (and the hummingbirds will probably wisely avoid your feeders until you give them fresh food). Five days without replacing the solution is leaving it a little long: According to The Ontario Hummingbird Project, you should clean your feeders (and replace the food) every three to four days, and more often during the hot months. Discard the solution, wash the feeder with warm soapy water, and rinse well. (If you’re concerned you won’t get rid of all the soap residue, clean with hot water only.) It’s also a good idea to inspect the feeders for mould spores or damage.

Consider filling the feeders only partially so the birds have time to eat everything before it goes bad. Even if you empty the feeders, there are still ways to attract and benefit your hummingbirds: You can grow plants such as columbine or Joe-pye weed (see The Ontario Hummingbird Project’s list of native plants for hummingbirds for more suggestions), and offer up a source of water, such as a drip fountain, for drinking and bathing.

Set out your feeders mid-April, and make sure you provide a 4:1 water-to-sugar ratio. A higher concentration of sugar, while perhaps tasty, is tough on their wee kidneys. Plus, no sense in giving these birds a Red Bull–level energy hit. They seem pretty wired already.