How Do Hummingbirds Find Feeders? (Explained)


Hummingbirds are amazing feats of nature. They are the world’s smallest bird family, and many species take on impressive migrations between their breeding and wintering grounds.

What makes them even more fascinating is that they return to the same area year after year, whether it’s a natural reserve or your yard.

Furthermore, they often return on around the same date every year. But it begs the question, how do hummingbirds find their favorite places and feeders?

Hummingbirds initially find feeders using their excellent vision that picks out brightly colored objects like feeders. Once they know the location of a feeder, they return and find it again using their outstanding memory.

Vision & Bright Colors

When searching for food, hummingbirds use their excellent sense of vision to find brightly-colored flowers. The same can be said about how they find brightly colored feeders since they are also a food source.

Their eyes are extremely sensitive to specific colors like red, yellow, and orange, while they tone down colors like blue. Due to that aspect of their eyes, they are attracted to those bright colors. Their absolute favorite color is red.

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In nature, the brightest red, yellow, and orange flowers typically have the highest sugar concentration in their nectar. Hence, hummingbirds will likely find your feeder if it matches the bright colors of their favorite flowers that they associate with high-quality nectar.

You won’t have to worry about making your feeder red, as manufacturers know this scientific fact and produce feeders in bright red, orange, and yellow colors that you can purchase.

You will also find store-bought nectar that has been dyed red. That will undoubtedly aid in attracting hummingbirds to your feeder, but it is unknown what negative impact the dye has on hummingbirds that drink the nectar.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that dye harms hummingbirds, but would you really like to take the chance of hurting your favorite hummingbird?

Naturally, nectar is colorless, so it is recommended to use clear nectar, which looks like natural nectar. The brightly colored feeder should be colorful enough to attract hummingbirds. Adding dye is probably unnecessary.

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If you’d like to attract hummingbirds to your yard, then a brightly colored feeder in the correct position should grab their attention, and they should be attracted to it.

Ensure you have your feeders out at the right time of the season to increase your chances of hummingbirds finding them when they arrive after migrating.


Have you been watching hummingbirds for many years, and do you recognize particular hummingbirds that return yearly? Not only that, but does it seem like they return at the same time every year?

There’s a good chance that you’re correct, and the same hummingbird is returning to your feeder year after year at around the same time.

Hummingbirds have excellent memory, particularly spatial memory, allowing them to recognize flowers and other landmarks in their favorite feeding areas that they have visited in previous seasons. 

The same reasoning describes how they remember where feeders are and return to them every year after migration.

Hummingbirds start from a young age, as juvenile birds are known to return to the same areas where they were born to feed and breed in subsequent seasons.

Not only do hummingbirds remember where their favorite feeder is, but they even follow the same migration path every year. 

How amazing is that?

How Long Does It Take For Hummingbirds To Find Feeders?

If you’ve recently put out a brand new feeder filled with delicious fresh nectar, you’re probably wondering why the hummingbirds are taking so long to start flocking to your feeder.

Unfortunately, hummingbirds can take several weeks to find a new feeder, so you could wait for some time. Your patience should be rewarded, as once the dazzling flying jewels arrive, they will make the wait worthwhile.

You may want to move your feeder to a new position if you’re having little success, but leaving it in the same place for at least two weeks before making any changes is best.

Even if a hummingbird finds your feeder, it may take longer to start feeding at it regularly.

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Reasons Why Hummingbirds Don’t Drink From Feeders

So you’ve now put out feeders, and the hummingbirds have successfully found your feeder, but why are they not drinking from it?

Hummingbirds aren’t drinking from your feeder mainly because it could be dirty, blooming flowers are grabbing their attention, or the nectar is made incorrectly.

A Dirty Feeder

Having a dirty feeder is one of the leading causes of hummingbirds not drinking from feeders.

Hummingbirds instinctively drink from clean, sugar-rich, natural nectar from flowering plants, so providing them with pure, clean nectar in a clean feeder is essential.

The high sugar concentration in store-bought or homemade nectar causes the nectar to spoil fairly quickly, particularly in warm weather.

A sure-fire way to prevent the nectar from spoiling is to replace the nectar frequently

No fixed rule indicates how often you should change the nectar, but a good rule of thumb is to replace the nectar every two days in warm weather and twice per week in cold conditions.

While that is a good rule of thumb, it is vital that you replace the nectar and clean the feeder as frequently as you deem necessary in your unique situation.

If the hummingbirds are finishing the nectar rapidly, remember to clean the feeder every time before you add fresh nectar.

The reason why spoilt nectar is bad is that it becomes a spawning ground for bacteria and mold.

To see if the nectar is spoilt, look for cloudiness and dark particles in the nectar. If you see those indicators, then the nectar is spoilt, and you need to throw the nectar out, clean the feeder and add fresh nectar immediately.

Hummingbirds don’t drink spoilt nectar as they know it harms them. They may hang around in your yard and wait for it to be replaced, but if it isn’t, they will leave to find a new source of nectar.

Your best bet is to continue replacing the nectar and cleaning the feeder frequently to entice the hummingbirds to feed at your feeder and not move off because it is dirty.

Blooming Flowers

Hummingbirds love downward-facing, brightly colored, tubular flowers as they typically hold large quantities of sugary nectar, and the hummingbirds are perfectly adapted to drinking nectar from them.

If you have brightly colored flowers in your yard, then the hummingbirds could be feeding on them as they’re their natural source of nectar.

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Studies have shown that hummingbirds feed on nectar from flowers more frequently than feeder nectar when they have an equal choice between both.

Don’t despair if that’s the case, as the flowers keep the hummingbirds in your yard. At the end of the season, the flower blooms will wilt away, and the hummingbirds will frequently visit your feeder – using it as their primary nectar source.

Incorrect Water-to-Sugar Ratio

Hummingbird nectar, also known as sugar water, should be created to match natural nectar as closely as possible.

The correct sucrose concentration for hummingbird nectar is created by mixing 4 parts water with 1 part sugar (4:1).

If the ratio is wrong and too diluted, then the nectar won’t be sweet enough, and the hummingbirds won’t find it appealing. If the amount of sugar is too high, then the solution will be too strong, resulting in faster spoiling.

If you use commercial nectar, then you shouldn’t have this problem.


Hummingbirds find feeders using their excellent sense of vision that can pick out brightly colored objects like feeders and flowers while moving.

They also have exceptional memory, so they remember where their favorite feeding areas and feeders are – allowing them to return year after year.

It may take a few weeks for hummingbirds to find a new feeder you’ve recently put out, but with time and patience, they should eventually find it.

As long as you have a clean feeder filled with fresh nectar, hummingbirds should frequently feed at your feeder once they’ve found it.

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Tristan Silver

Tristan is a South African biologist, photographer, and birder. From a young age, he developed a passion for the outdoors, being taught basic biology and shown animals in their natural habitat. He picked up photography at age 11, and it led him into the world of birding and exploring. He has traveled throughout South Africa, documenting over 630 bird species. He is also interested in amphibians, reptiles, insects, and some plants. He uses photography to document his experiences and has had his photographs appear in African Birdlife magazine. Tristan holds an Advanced Scuba Diving qualification and has dived on many coral reefs. He completed his honours degree in Biological Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is also a writer, expressing and sharing his emotions from his experiences through his writing, combined with photographs.

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