Does Hummingbird Nectar Go Bad?

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Many birders and hummingbird enthusiasts find great satisfaction in providing nectar to attract hummingbirds to their yards. This can be incredibly beneficial to your local hummingbird population by providing much-needed food and energy. However, if the nectar you provide is not clean and fresh, it can end up doing more harm than good.

The fact that hummingbird nectar is just as clear as water can make it easy to forget that it can spoil just as easily as any other food source. So how can you tell whether or not your hummingbird nectar has gone bad?

How long does hummingbird nectar last?

When your hummingbird feeder is kept clean and all necessary precautions are taken, hummingbird nectar can last outside in the feeder for about a week. If you have made more nectar than your feeder can hold, the extra will last in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

The Dangers of Hummingbird Nectar that has Gone Bad

Over time, the simple sugar and water mixture that hummingbird nectar is made of breaks down to form other types of carbohydrates that are not as nutritious for a hummingbird’s diet. These new carbohydrates are also harder for hummingbirds to digest.

As the nectar ferments, it also creates an environment that is conducive to the growth of bacteria, mold, and fungus. All of these are toxic to hummingbirds and can become deadly if left unchecked.

Spoiled nectar also gives off a foul order that can attract other pests you don’t want in your garden, such as insects, raccoons, bats, and even bears. All of these pests are a nuisance at best and, at worst, a serious threat to the environment you want to cultivate in your yard.

As nectar ages, it begins to crystallize and thicken up. This can clog up your feeding ports and stick to the feathers and bills of hummingbirds as they try to feed. You need fresh nectar if you want it to freely flow through the ports on your feeder so that your hummers can feed easily.

How do I know when hummingbird nectar has gone bad?

Your hummingbird nectar will be as clear as water when it is fresh. Once it has spoiled, you will be able to tell based on a few different warning signs. It’s important to note that you should not use any dye in your nectar. There are many reasons for this, one of which is that it can make it more difficult to identify whether your nectar has spoiled.

Nectar that has gone bad may have:

  • Insects inside the reservoir that have drowned and are floating in the nectar. Insects may also be stuck to the outside of the feeder, particularly around the feeding ports.
  • Mold or fungal growths around the feeding ports or inside the nectar itself.
  • A discoloration that is milky or cloudy. There may be white or black flecks floating inside the nectar.
  • Crystalized, sticky residue on and around the feeding ports, especially if you are using upside-down feeders.
  • A foul odor that strongly smells moldy, sour, or far too sweet.

The easiest way to determine whether your nectar has gone bad is by watching to see if your hummingbirds have stopped drinking it. Your hummers may risk drinking spoiled nectar if there are absolutely no other alternative food sources available, they will avoid any bad nectar if they can help it. If hummingbirds have stopped visiting your feeder, it’s a good bet that you need to clean it out and replace the nectar with a new batch.

How do I keep hummingbird nectar fresh?

No matter what measures you take, any hummingbird nectar is going to go bad eventually. However, there are a few steps you can take to maximize the shelf life of your nectar and ensure that it doesn’t spoil between feeder cleanings.

  • Only make as much nectar as you need for the feeder. If you make too much nectar in advance, it may go bad before you even get it to the hummingbirds. If you find you are refilling your feeder at least once a week, this shouldn’t be a problem. Excess nectar stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
  • If you find that your hummingbirds aren’t emptying the feeder at least once a week, try using a smaller feeder. This will ensure that excess nectar does not sit in the reservoir long enough to spoil. This will mean that you need to clean and refill your feeder more often, but you should be doing this at least once a week anyway. (You should be doing this twice a week in the summer.)
  • You should clean out and sterilize your feeder every time you refill it. This will help to eliminate contaminants such as bacteria that will cause your nectar to spoil faster. When cleaning your feeder, you should take extra care to clean all of the small parts and hard-to-reach areas, as these are where bacteria can thrive if you are not thorough.
  • Keep your feeder out of direct sunlight. Heat can promote the growth of mold and bacteria, and can also speed up the fermentation process. Keeping your hummingbird feeder in an area that is shaded during the hottest parts of the day will help to keep your hummingbird nectar cool and fresh.

You should follow each of these steps rather than selecting a few and leaving the rest unconsidered. Any one of these issues can increase the likelihood that your nectar will go bad faster. The longer your nectar stays fresh and clean, the healthier and happier your hummers will be.

Feeders are Not the Only Way to Feed Your Hummingbirds

Keeping your hummingbird feeders full and clean can be a bit of a pain, especially if you are prone to forget this chore and leave nectar out for longer than is safe.

The best alternative to using a hummingbird feeder and making your own nectar is to plant tubular flowers that are rich in the nectar which is their natural food source. Each of these flowers produces a minuscule amount of nectar at a time, so there is no risk of the nectar spoiling before it has a chance to be drunk or simply evaporate. Once that tiny bit of nectar is gone, the flower will then replenish its supply.

If you are a talented gardener and love to keep flowers in your yard, why not select flowers that attract and feed your hummingbirds for you? Simply plant colorful and nutritious tubular flowers and each hummer that visits your garden will have all the natural nectar its heart desires.

If you aren’t blessed with a green thumb, there’s no need to worry. Using a hummingbird feeder and nectar is a perfectly valid option.

When you take the time to understand the dangers of spoiled hummingbird nectar and put precautions in place to avoid this problem, you can be sure that you are only offering your hummingbirds safe, clean nectar that will keep them healthy and happy.

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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