Hummingbird feeder

Asked July 25, 2020, 3:31 PM EDT

I'm not sure if this is a question appropriate for this site, but I thought I'd give it a try. I have two hummingbird feeders. They are in the back of our house, which is treed. One of them, which we have had for the longest time, but is in a new location, is becoming cloudy very quickly after being filled - less than 2 days. I'm pretty sure it wasn't happening earlier in the season. I read online that this is from bacteria & can be dangerous to the hummingbirds. I make my sugar water the same as always - boiling water & sugar (4:1), cooled. I've been "cleaning"/rinsing the feeders just with boiled water & they look fine. I'm not having this problem with the other feeder. The one without a problem is in a mostly shady area. The problematic one does get some sun, but is still quite shady. It's hanging from the rim of the gutter with a coat hanger. Any thoughts, or ways that I can prevent this? I'd probably have to change it every day to avoid it. I'm not sure how helpful the photo is, but I filled it with new sugar water only about 1 1/2 d before the photo.

Anne Arundel County Maryland

5 Responses

Hi - If you have only been using boiling water for cleaning the feeder, we recommend doing a more thorough cleaning with detergent and a bleach solution. The hummingbird society recommends a once-a-month soaking of feeders in a solution of bleach and water (1 Tbsp. beach per quart of water) and then rinse very thoroughly. Some feeders can be placed in the dishwasher for sterilization. For regular cleanings, use a dish detergent (not just boiling water) and rinse thoroughly.

When the temperature is above 80F, you may need to change the sugar solution every 1-2 days and clean thoroughly before each refill.


Thank you for your response. So what constitutes the cloudiness? - is it bacteria making it dangerous to the hummingbirds, so that I should take the feeder down immediately so that it is unavailable to them, even if I can't clean, refill, and rehang it right away? Is it precipitating sugar, which presumable would not be dangerous and I can just clean, refill, and rehang it as soon as I am able? Or...?
Thank you again!

Yes, bacteria are most likely, though mold is possible. Hummingbird tongues can introduce microbes, so heavily-used feeders may be building-up bacteria faster than seldom-used ones. We do not know at what level the bacterial content becomes harmful to the hummingbirds (especially since they may have introduced it in the first place from their own bodies), but to be safe, only clear solution should be offered to them.

A 4-to-1 sugar-to-water ratio is what is recommended, so precipitating sugar is highly unlikely, especially in hot weather.


Same hummingbird feeders, new problem! The feeder I wrote about before started to have yellow jackets visiting it, so I took it down & haven't put it back up. This happened last year with this same feeder in a different location & I ended up just not being able to use it.

The other feeder started getting cloudy so I followed your recommendations regarding washing it & changing it about every 2-3 days. Now yellow jackets are visiting it also. I just changed it yesterday & they are back with several already floating in it. I keep it very clean & change it frequently. It is red with a clear "bottle" - no yellow. I read about moving them, but there is very little space to hang feeders, so I can't move it far. There are 3 places to hang feeders, & 2 feeders. They are in a shady area. I really don't want to "draw" these stinging insects away by putting out a greater concentration sugar solution. That's about all the solutions I've read online. Any thoughts?

The only alternative we have to bee/wasp visitation is to use bee guards (or a feeder with them built-in, because they may not be available separately to add to any feeder design) which help to keep these insects away from the sugar-water; the hummingbirds have bills and tongues long enough to reach it through the guard, but the insects don't.

Another option is to plant some hummingbird-attracting perennials, if you have the space. A number are good for part shade, though some species are best in sun. Ideas include:

  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), though other colors of perennial Lobelia will also work
  • Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
  • Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) - non-invasive, unlike other honeysuckles in our area
  • Beebalm (Monarda)
  • Indian Pinks (Spigelia marilandica)
  • Sage (Salvia), including some of the tender varieties like 'Black and Blue'
  • Fuchsia (Fuchsia)
  • Hummingbird Mint (Agastache)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
  • deciduous native Azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides, R. viscosum, R. calendulaceum, R. prunifolium)
  • Cigar Plant (Cuphea)