Why are hummingbird feeders red?

Hummingbird feeder by joshua-j-cotten

Last Updated on January 18, 2024 by Greg Gillson

Perhaps you’ve noticed that hummingbird feeders are covered in red plastic. Some people put red food coloring in the nectar they feed hummingbirds. You may wonder, though, is it necessary? Are hummingbirds really attracted to the color red more so than other colors? Just why are hummingbird feeders red?

After looking at all the research and experiments one conclusion is apparent:
Hummingbird feeders are red because the people who buy hummingbird feeders think that they need to be red!  

Experiments show that hummingbird feeders can be any color.

Anna’s Hummingbird at a red feeder
Photo by Greg Gillson

Hummingbird eyesight–does red attract hummingbirds?

Hummingbird vision is more sensitive to the warmer red, orange, yellow colors than the cooler blue colors. However, even though red and orange flowers appear more vibrant to hummingbirds, they will also feed from any color flower that has enough sugar content in the nectar.

Hummingbirds see the same colors as we do, plus some more in the near ultra-violet range. But they are more sensitive to the warm reddish colors. Such colors stand out to them, making colorful flowers easier to see against the green leaves.

But just because they can see and detect flowers better than leaves, does not mean that any particular color attracts them more than another.

Hummingbirds feeding on red flowers

The flowers that hummingbirds love the most have a 19-21% sugar level. These tend to be flowers colored red, orange, and yellow. Thus, the 20% sugar level recommended for homemade hummingbird nectar (1 part white table sugar to 4 parts water).

Flowers colored white, blue, violet tend to have a lesser sugar concentration of 5-18% and are less desirable to the hummingbirds.

Nevertheless, hummingbirds do not seem to visit red flowers first compared to other bright colored flowers. Why?

Even different flowers on the same plant can have different amounts of sugar. So hummingbirds rely more on location than on color for finding and returning to the sweetest flowers.

What is the best color for a hummingbird feeder?

In the 1990’s the Wild Bird Store, in cooperation with Aspects, Inc., a bird feeder manufacturer, experimented with many different colored feeders (source). The result? Hummingbirds showed no preference to any color of hummingbird feeder–they visited all feeders equally.

This was the same conclusion reached by other researchers. 

An article in the journal Animal Behavior (source) showed that flower color (on artificial feeders) was not important for hummingbirds for finding the sweetest nectar. Rather, once they found a sweet feeder, they came back to that location to drink, regardless of color.

Hummingbird by frank-cone

Why are hummingbird feeders red?

It turns out, though, that the buying public thinks that hummingbird feeders need to be red. Aspects (as reported above) came out with a limited number of hummingbird feeders in several various colors. But buyers wanted red feeders and didn’t readily buy the alternate colors.

Hummingbirds will investigate any bright red, orange, or yellow colored objects to see if it might be a flower or a hummingbird feeder. But most hummingbird feeders are red, because that is how they are made by the manufacturers.

So it’s human bias that dictates that hummingbird feeders have to be red. We “know” that hummingbirds prefer red, even though experiments prove that statement is not true.

Do hummingbirds need red feeders?

Nope. Hummingbirds do not need feeders that are red. Hummingbirds taste flowers and taste feeder nectar. They find the nectar (flower or artificial feeder) with a sugar ratio near 20%. Then they keep coming back.

Go ahead and buy or make a hummingbird feeder that’s a different color, if you want. Any bright color will do. The hummingbirds will still come to drink and feed if the sugar concentration is from 15-25%.

However, you can attract the attention of hummingbirds to your feeder by hanging up red ribbons (or other bright colored) objects. 

You can plant flowers or hang bright blooming flowers in hanging baskets, up higher where hummingbirds can see them at a distance. These bright objects and flowers will attract hummingbirds to come over and investigate. Then they’ll drink from your hummingbird feeder–no matter the color.


Broad-tailed Hummingbird by Michelle Lynn Reynolds

Wrapping Up

Hummingbird feeders are a delightful addition to any backyard, attracting these vibrant and energetic birds with a sweet treat they can’t resist. Here are some other facts about hummingbird feeders that you need to know:

What they are:

Hummingbird feeders are containers designed to provide hummingbirds with an artificial source of food, mimicking the nectar they find in flowers.

They come in various shapes and sizes, with glass or plastic reservoirs holding the nectar and feeding ports accessible to the birds’ long beaks.

What to fill them with:

The preferred nectar is a simple mixture of sugar and water. A ratio of four parts water to one part sugar is ideal, offering enough sweetness without harming the birds. Avoid artificial sweeteners or dyes.

Always use clean water and boil it briefly before mixing with sugar to prevent bacterial growth. Replace the nectar every few days, especially in hot weather, to prevent fermentation and mold.

Where to hang them:

Choose a sheltered location protected from direct sunlight and wind, but within sight of flowers or open spaces, as hummingbirds are territorial.

Hang the feeder at least 5 feet away from windows or walls to prevent collisions and consider hanging multiple feeders in different spots to avoid competition and spread out the birds.

Cleaning and maintenance:

Regularly clean your feeder with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly to remove any mold, bacteria, or debris. Consider disassembling the feeder for a more thorough cleaning, especially if you notice any black spots or discoloration. Do not use harsh chemicals or detergents, as they can be harmful to birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are glass hummingbird feeders better than plastic?

Choosing between glass and plastic hummingbird feeders is a personal decision, with both options having their pros and cons. Let’s delve into the specifics to help you decide which type might be best for you:

Glass Hummingbird Feeders:

Glass feeders are typically more durable than plastic, being less prone to cracking, fading, or warping over time. They can last for years with proper care. Glass surfaces are smooth and non-porous, making them easier to clean and sanitize than plastic. This helps prevent the growth of bacteria and mold, which can harm hummingbirds.

They also offer a clear view of the nectar level and the hummingbirds as they feed, adding an elegant and pleasing element to your garden.

BUT! Glass feeders are fragile and can break if dropped or knocked over. This can be a concern if you have pets or children around. They are also heavier than plastic ones, which may require sturdier hanging posts or brackets and are generally more expensive than plastic ones.

Plastic Hummingbird Feeders:

Plastic feeders are the more budget-friendly option, making them accessible to everyone. They are lighter than glass, making them easier to hang and less likely to damage branches or structures and come in a wider variety of colors and designs, offering more aesthetic options to suit your style.

BUT! Plastic feeders are less durable than glass and can crack, fade, or warp over time, especially in harsh weather conditions. They may need to be replaced more frequently. In addition, plastic surfaces can be slightly porous, making them more susceptible to harboring bacteria and mold. More thorough cleaning and disinfection may be required.

Ultimately, the best choice for you depends on your priorities and preferences. If you value durability, ease of cleaning, and aesthetics, a glass feeder might be the better option. However, if affordability, weight, and variety are more important to you, a plastic feeder might be a good choice.

What is the best time of day to feed hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds are active throughout the day, but there are certain times during their daily routine when they’re most likely to visit your feeders:

Early Morning:

  • Between sunrise and 10:00 AM is prime time for hummingbirds. They need to refuel quickly after a night of fasting, and readily seek out readily available nectar sources.
  • The cooler morning temperatures also reduce evaporation, ensuring the nectar stays fresh and enticing.

Mid-Morning to Early Afternoon:

  • Hummingbirds remain quite active from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Their metabolism requires frequent feeding, and they actively visit flowers and feeders during this time.
  • However, as temperatures rise further, nectar can evaporate more quickly, requiring you to be more vigilant about refilling the feeders.

Late Afternoon:

  • Hummingbirds tend to be less active and feed less between 1:00 PM and sunset. You might see fewer visits to your feeders during this period.
  • Nevertheless, providing consistent access to nectar can still be beneficial, especially if natural food sources are scarce.

How do I attract hummingbirds to my new feeder?

Attracting these buzzing beauties can be a rewarding experience, but it might take some patience and the right approach. Here are some tips to get them flocking to your feeder:

Location, Location, Location:

Avoid direct sunlight and strong winds, which can evaporate the nectar or make it uncomfortable for the hummingbirds to feed. Aim for partial shade, near trees or shrubs. Hang the feeder in an open area where the hummingbirds can easily spot it. Avoid placing it near windows or reflective surfaces, which can confuse them.

Making the Feeder Irresistible:

Use a simple 1:4 ratio of sugar to water, mixed with boiling water then cooled, and replace the nectar every few days, especially in hot weather, to prevent fermentation. Avoid artificial sweeteners or dyes. Regularly clean the feeder with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly to remove any mold, bacteria, or debris. Consider disassembling it for a more thorough cleaning.

Creating a Hummingbird Haven:

Flowers with tubular blooms like honeysuckle, bee balm, and trumpet vines are natural magnets for hummingbirds, providing an additional food source alongside your feeder. Hummingbirds also love misting or dripping water sources. Consider adding a small birdbath or water dripper near your feeder to attract them.

Related Articles

How to get more hummingbirds to come to your yard

How to make the perfect hummingbird food

Comments 6
  1. Its true, red color always attracts the hummingbirds. That's why I always put food in red feeder and hummingbirds eat the food always.

  2. I bought a red feeder 2 weeks ago as well as red nectar. After day 2, I was delighted to see that one found it. After that first day, it brought friends. Every since, they come by everyday, several times a day and I ❤ it. They bring peace and tranquility.

  3. If hummers don't need red feeders, why did my blue glass feeder remain unvisited for years? It had a red spout but this apparently wasn't enough. I hung it in an opportune place near my other feeders with the correct sugar-water mix, and tried adding a red plastic ant moat, but I was still constantly throwing out the nectar when it fermented or molded. I finally gave up for a while, then switched to a red glass feeder and voila! I had hummers not only visiting and partaking but chasing each other off. I see non-red feeders everywhere and would like to believe the hummers don't care, but I can only draw from my own experience.

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