Monarch butterfly feeders

Monarch butterfly feeders DEFAULT

Make a Butterfly Feeder

Butterflies are some of the most beautiful creatures you will see in the summertime.

You might watch them flutter through your yard now and then in search of sweet nectar.

But to attract a greater variety of butterflies, use two different methods to make a butterfly feeder. Keep a field guide handy so you can identify your visitors!

(An Audubon guide is a great choice for older kids and adults, and a Golden guide works well for younger kids.)

Some butterflies love flower nectar, while others prefer to eat sugar from a rotting fruit. Learn two different ways to make a butterfly feeder and see if they attract different types of butterflies.

Make a Butterfly Feeder – Jar Method

Construct a butterfly feeder using a baby food jar and some sugar water. Adult supervision is recommended.

What You Need:

What You Do:

1. Make some butterfly food with nine parts water and one part sugar (use tablespoons or teaspoons depending on the size of your jar). Add the sugar to the water and boil in a pan until it is dissolved. Let it cool while you prepare the butterfly feeder.

2. Have an adult help you use a nail and a hammer to punch a small hole in the lid of the jar.

3. Cut a strip of the kitchen sponge and pull it through the hole in the lid, leaving about a half-inch sticking out from the top of the lid. You want the sponge to be a tight fit – it should get soaked with the sugar water, but not drip. (Test it by putting water in the jar and turning it upside down. If it leaks, try a bigger piece of sponge.)

4. Next, make a hanger. Tie some string around the mouth of the jar. Cut two more lengths of string about 30′ long. Take one and tie an end to the string around the mouth of the jar. Attach the other end on the opposite side of the jar to make a loop. Tie the second length of the string in the same way to make a second loop perpendicular to the first one. Use one more piece of string to tie the tops of the loops together. Now turn the jar upside down and make sure it hangs steadily.

5. Decorate the jar with brightly colored construction paper (flower shapes are best) or artificial flowers. The ‘prettier’ it is, the more it will attract butterflies!

6. Fill the jar with the cooled sugar water, screw the lid on tightly, and turn the jar upside down.

7. Hang your feeder outside and wait for the butterflies to come!

Make a Butterfly Feeder – Plate Method

Create this butterfly feeder quickly and easily! Plus, use up old fruit that usually gets thrown away.

What You Need:

  • A plate or plastic lid from a 1-gallon ice cream container.
  • String
  • Overripe, spoiling fruit. (See if your grocery store will let you have what they are throwing out for free if you don’t have any at home.)
  • Orange juice

What You Do:

1. Use the string to make a hanger for your plate. If you’re using an old ice cream lid you can punch holes in the side and tie the string to it. If it’s a plate that you can’t punch holes in, use tape. You can decorate the strings with artificial flowers to make it more attractive to butterflies.

2. Hang your plate from a tree branch before you fill it to make the process less messy! It will probably attract other bugs besides butterflies, so you may want to hang it in a far corner of your yard.

3. Put overripe fruit on the plate; try slices of watermelon, oranges, or bananas. You can also add some orange juice to keep the fruit from drying out as fast. Bananas will be mushier and more appealing to butterflies if you freeze them first and then thaw them and cut them in slices.

4. Watch and see what kinds of butterflies come to eat. Do different species prefer different kinds of fruit? How many butterflies can you see feeding on your plate at once?

5. When the fruit gets too dry, throw it out and put more on the plate.

More butterfly projects you might like:

← Build a Lung ModelPinwheel Wind Turbine →


DIY Butterfly Feeders

Want to attract butterflies to your garden? This summer crafts project is for you.

When it comes to insects, you usually want to keep them as far away from the house as possible. Butterflies, however, are the exception to this rule. The varied patterns and vibrant colors splashed across their delicate wings are a treat for everyone in your household. And as an added bonus, they help pollinate your summer flower and vegetable gardens.

So how do you attract butterflies to your yard? Try these butterfly feeders, which you can make yourself. Whether you’re looking for educational summer crafts for the kids or to add some lively color to your garden, building a butterfly feeder is the perfect project.

First Things First: What Do Butterflies Eat?

Before you head out to the arts and crafts store to pick up supplies for your feeder, you need to know what foods butterflies enjoy.

Butterflies don’t eat like we do. Instead, they use a tube called a proboscis to drink. Some feed on organic material like rotting fruit, while others use their proboscises to drink nectar from flowers.

You can attract butterflies using homemade nectar or old fruit, but we recommend sticking to nectar to help avoid attracting fliesand stinging pestslike wasps and hornets.

You can make your own nectar by using two simple household ingredients: granulated sugar and water. Making the nectar is easy.

How to Make Butterfly Food

  • Mix 1 cup of granulated sugar with 4 cups of water in a large pot.
  • Bring the solution to a boil until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Let your nectar cool down to room temperature before kicking off your summer crafts session.

Bonus: Extra nectar can be stored in a sealed container the fridge for up to a week.

DIY Butterfly Feeders

Simple Dish Feeder

For this feeder, you’ll need:
  • A large dish with a rim, like a terracotta planter base or a ceramic pie plate.
  • Thick garden twine or a plant holder to hang your finished summer crafts.
  • Brightly colored kitchen sponges.
  • Your butterfly food, of course.

Once you’ve attached your dish to the plant holder, hang it from a tree branch. Shady areas are best, and make sure you can see it from a window so you can enjoy your hungry butterflies.

Now you’ll need to break out some sponges. Butterflies can’t land in liquid, so soak the sponges in your homemade sugar solution before placing it in your hanging dish. Brightly colored sponges will mimic one of butterflies’ natural food sources — flowers — and help attract a larger crowd to your feeder. Once your sponges have dried out, simply load them up with nectar again.

Jar Feeder

Gather the following arts and crafts supplies when you’re ready to start seeing those vivid colors flutter through your yard:
  • A small glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. (Old jelly jars or Mason jars are perfect.)
  • A hammer and nail.
  • Protective eyewear.
  • A colorful kitchen sponge.
  • Scissors.
  • Thick string or garden twine.
  • Your homemade nectar.

After donning your protective glasses, make a hole in the lid of the jar using the hammer and nail. Naturally this step is for adults only, and watch out for any sharp edges on the lid of the jar.

Next, you’ll cut a piece of the sponge (about 2 ¾ inches by ½ inch) and pull it through the hole in the jar lid. You want a snug fit. And, remember, a brightly colored sponge will attract more butterflies.

Now soak the sponge in your homemade nectar. You’ll also fill the jar with nectar before tightly screwing the lid back on. The sponge works as a wick, and will provide your butterflies with a constant flow of that sugary solution they love so much.

To make a hanger for your feeder, tie a length of twine around the mouth of your jar. Then cut two more long pieces of twine (about 2 ½ feet in length). Tie one of the long pieces to the twine around the mouth of the jar. Do the same with the other end of this long piece, pretty much on the opposite side of the jar. While doing this, keep in mind that the sponge will need to be pointing towards the ground when you’re finished.

Repeat this process with the remaining long piece, so that your two long pieces crisscross at the top. Your long pieces should create two loops. Join the tops of the loops together with a smaller piece of twine.

Using the loops, hang the jar from a shady tree branch where you can see it from inside. Now sit back and wait for your summer crafts to attract those butterflies.

Personalize Your Arts and Crafts

Add a personal touch to your feeders by using multicolored twine or by painting your jars and the bases of your feeder dishes. You can also hang flowers or ribbons from your feeder, which may even bring more butterflies to your yard.

While making a butterfly feeder is an easy crafts project that anyone can enjoy, it does require spending time outside. Before you start crafting, keep mosquitoes away by applying repellent and wearing clothes that keep you covered. You don’t want your summer crafts fun to be spoiled by itching and scratching.

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Make Food for Struggling Monarch Butterflies Using Your Leftovers

Pity the monarch butterflies. Not only do the earnest flutterers fly up to 265 miles a day on their trek between northern and southern climes, but they must do so in the face of a number of challenges.

Some years bring strong winds and unusual weather, which can throw off the timing of the migration. Scientists and butterfly observers alike stay on the watch for “ecological mismatch.” Concerns include whether or not milkweed host-plants will be ready for their lepidopteran guests. Will there be a surprise cold snap? Will the unusual weather affect breeding success?

The butterflies are at a critical point. Population estimates rise and fall, but deforestation of the overwintering habitat in Mexico continues to threaten the species.

In the north (U.S. and Canada), the butterflies face habitat destruction thanks to new roads, housing developments, and agricultural expansion. They are also up against more subtle forms of habitat destruction in the loss of milkweed, which larvae feed on exclusively.

Considered a pesky nuisance by many, it is often weeded into oblivion. Both milkweed and nectar plants are vulnerable to the herbicides used by landscapers, farmers, and gardeners, and others -- not to mention the lethal impact insecticides have on the butterflies.

Re-establishing milkweed is crucial. “Monarch butterfly populations are declining due to loss of habitat. To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds needs to become a national priority,” said Chip Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch

So if you have an extra patch of dirt, perhaps consider planting some milkweed. In the meantime, you can also help the flitting lovelies by using leftovers to making butterfly food.

Recipe 1

Suite101 suggests using a plate feeder. Add fruit that is going bad. Butterflies are particularly fond of sliced, rotting oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, peaches, nectarines apples and bananas. Place on plates and put outside. The mixture can be kept moist by adding water or fruit juice.

Recipe 2

From "The Butterfly Garden," by Matthew Tekulsky (Harvard Common Press, 1985) comes this formula which makes use of old bananas and flat beer.

  • 1 pound sugar
  • 1 or 2 cans stale beer
  • 3 mashed overripe banana
  • 1 cup of molasses or syrup
  • 1 cup of fruit juice
  • 1 shot of rum

Mix all ingredients well and paint on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps–or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang from a tree limb.

Recipe 3

Master Gardener Bobbie Truell from Texas A & M University recommends this simple alternative food source.

  • 4 parts water
  • 1 part granulated sugar

1. Boil the solution for several minutes until sugar is dissolved, and then let cool. Serve the solution in a shallow container with an absorbent material such as paper towels saturated with the sugar solution.

2. Bright yellow and orange kitchen scouring pads may be placed in the solution to attract butterflies and give them a resting place while they drink.

3. Place the feeder among your nectar flowers on a post that's 4-6 inches higher than the tallest blooms. Extra solution can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week.

Monarch butterfly nectar feeder

Think “rotten” when choosing butterfly food. Butterflies like a variety of food sources, especially over-ripe fruit and rotting vegetation. If you own an apple, plum, cherry or pear tree, allow fallen fruit to ferment on the ground to create a favorite feeding spot. Look in the quick-sale area of your grocer’s produce section, and you might even get the produce manager to donate one or two unsaleable pieces of fruit. Consider saving extra bananas in the freezer, which you can defrost and place in a feeder at any time.

Make your own butterfly food by mixing a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar (use tablespoons or teaspoons depending on the size of your jar), boiling the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, then letting it cool. Extra solution can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week. An alternative recipe is to cut up a dozen over-ripe bananas into chunks, add two cans of cheap beer, one or two bottles of molasses, and a pound of brown sugar and let it ferment for about a week. The easiest recipe of all is to save any overripe fruit, add a squirt of honey, blend it coarsely in a blender, then divide the mixture into freezer containers.


Feeders monarch butterfly

To maintain monarchs in your classroom or home, you need to 1) know their behavior, 2) use the right food source, 3) deliver the food so it is accessible to the butterflies, 4) use an appropriate cage or container (at least 1 square foot in volume), and 5) maintain the monarchs at a temperature and light cycle that allows them to be active enough to feed.



1. Go to the light and go up.

2. Do not readily find food at the bottom of a cage.

3. Seldom feed the day of emergence.

4. Feed little during the second day unless temperatures are above 75F.

5. Need to feed more when the temperatures are higher.

6. Taste with their feet and extend their proboscis in the presence of water and/or juice/Gatorade/honey or sugar water. They may also be able to sense water with their antennae.


Recommended food for adult butterflies:

1. Gatorade (but not red – it stains)

2. Juicy Juice

3. Monarch Watch artificial nectar

4. Fresh cut fruits such as watermelons, cantaloupes, and grapes.

5. Honey water – 1pt honey and 9 pts water

Food not recommended for adult butterflies:

1. Sugar water – tends to become sticky and to gum up the proboscis

2. Fresh flowers – many flowers do not have nectar and those that do tend not to retain nectar for more than a day once they have been cut


1. Feeders can be made from shallow containers and a plastic pot scrubber. Capillary action brings the nectar up the tines/coils of the scrubber, but usually not to the top, allowing the butterfly to feed while keeping its feet and wings dry.

2. Thin sponges

3. Any other system that allows the butterfly to get access to the nectar but allows them to keep dry.

Location of feeders

1. Top feeding – place thin sponges soaked with nectar, but not runny, on the screen top of the cage. Catch any drip with sponges at the bottom of the cage. Leave in place for several hours each day.

2. Elevated feeders – use a turned over flowerpot or other system to elevate a feeder to within 10” of the top of the cage.

Changing food

1. Gatorade – every 4-5 days

2. Juicy Juice – every two-three days

3. Monarch Watch nectar – once every 10 days

4. Cut fruits – every other day

5. Honey water – every day Feeding By Hand Some butterflies are reluctant to feed but can be assisted to feed by using a pin to extend the proboscis to a surface containing the nectar. Once the butterfly has started to feed, place a cover over the butterfly until it stops feeding. Time of day of feeding In culture, monarchs feed throughout the light period but tend to feed more in the first few hours of light.


Recommended cages

1. Cage made from a cardboard box cut off top and cut holes in sides and cover with netting.

2. Laundry hamper cage – use clips or other devices to cover with tule or bridal veil netting.

3. Large aquarium covered with screen

4. A wood frame cage covered with screen

Not recommended

1. Butterfly pavilions or any form of tube cages

2. Any cage that does not allow you to place the feeders within 10” of the top of the cage.


Mist the netting at the top of the cage or container twice a day


To maintain monarchs for long periods, fed them well and place them in glassine envelopes in a sealable plastic container in a refrigerator. A moist paper towel that does not come in contact with the envelopes should be placed in the container. On a weekly basis, feed the butterflies by hand or place them in a cage with feeders for several hours (at temperatures >70F and ample lighting) and then return them to the refrigerator.

Back to Project Main Page

Monarch Watch is a non-profit program based at the University of Kansas and we need your financial help to allow us to continue to offer educational, conservation, and research programs. If you enjoy and/or appreciate all that Monarch Watch offers throughout the year, please consider making a donation today - it's quick, easy, secure, and fully tax-deductible. You can even set up a recurring gift (monthly or annually) if you'd like. We rely on contributions from Monarch Watchers just like you to keep the program going - thank you for your continued support!


If you would rather mail in a donation or have questions, please visit Giving in Support of Monarch Watch.

Meijer Gardens Butterfly Feeding

Butterfly Feeders MN

Butterfly Feeders

The following article originally appeared in Butterfly Gardener, a NABA publication for members.
NABA member Joan Myrom has graciously allowed us to reprint it here.

Put a Butterfly Feeder in Your Future
By Joan Myrom.

Photos by Sam Jurkovic and Joan Myrom

This may be the year to finally set up that butterfly feeder that you’ve been thinking about.  If you do, you can expect to be rewarded with a season of interesting butterfly watching.  The butterflies that visit your feeder will typically stay awhile, and make frequent return visits.

Red Admiral at butterfly feeder

Red Admiral at butterfly feeder

Although not all butterfly species visit feeders, many do.  Your feeder will attract species that feed on food sources such as tree sap, dung, carrion, rotting matter, and of course overripe fruit—the primary “bait” you will place in your feeder.

Typically butterflies approaching a feeder make a number of false landings nearby before stopping to feed.  This gives you time to gather up your camera and/or close-focusing binoculars as the butterflies maneuver around the feeder to just the right feeding spots, walking or fluttering from one location to another.  Once they begin taking in nourishment, your winged guests may remain at the feeder for several minutes or more.

If possible, locate your feeder where you can view it from your windows or patio.  Select a location that is not easily accessible to ants and otherwise unwelcome critters.  Initially we selected locations with lots of sun, but our most successful feeders were hung from a tree, shaded most of the day.

In the past we have set up butterfly feeders in our upper Midwest yard but observed no butterflies visiting them.  We tried to follow brief butterfly feeder how-to instructions from several books.  Most resources suggested setting out a concoction made from different amounts of overripe bananas, watermelon, or other fruits; molasses, honey sugar water, or orange juice; and yeast and/or beer.  We tried many of these ingredients in feeders over several years; still no butterflies were attracted to our feeding stations.

Our challenge was to set up a successful feeder in our upper Midwest temperate climate.  Here, as in many other northern places, our environment is quite different

Eyed Brown at butterfly feeder

Eyed Brown at butterfly feeder

from that of butterfly houses, where tropical butterflies feast on honey-coated ripened fruit.  Determined to succeed, two years ago we fine-tuned our approach to butterfly feeding.  Instead of using bananas that had naturally spoiled in our kitchen, we followed the suggestion in How to Spot Butterflies by Patricia Taylor Sutton and Clay Sutton, and put a peeled banana in our freezer overnight.  When we took the banana from the freezer the next day, it had a gray, mealy consistency, but it worked in our feeder.

We constructed our feeder from a plastic one-inch plant coaster that we had used under a flowerpot.  We poured about two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses and about a three-quarter cup of stale beer over the fruit, instead of the honey and yeast we had previously used.  We replenished the bananas and molasses every week or so.  This may not be the answer to how to feed butterflies but it is one that has certainly worked for us.

We decided to hang our feeder in the birch tree in our back yard, using a plant hanger (also recommended by the Suttons).  We punched one hole on each of four locations on the sides of the plastic coaster for attaching the plant hanger.

Our feeder attracted a variety of butterflies all summer long.  A highlight was being

Viceroy at butterfly feeder

Viceroy at butterfly feeder

able to view more than one species or individual at the feeder at one time. An explosion of Red Admirals that summer was no doubt was a factor in our enjoyment.  It was thrilling to see butterflies buzzing the feeder from our house or spotting them while working in the garden.

We repeated our “victory” a second year and were quite enthused at the sight of butterflies hovering and landing at our feeder like birds landing at our bird feeders in the winter.  Next year we plan to use a heavier container for our feeder to provide greater stability in wind.

Our first successful feeder was hung outdoors in early July.  Now we set feeders out in May.  The day we set out the feeder, we immediately had butterfly visitors.

One of the photos we took near the feeder won a calendar photo contest and graced the month of July in 2008.  We look forward to watching butterflies stop at our feeders next year!


Addendum to Put a Butterfly Feeder in Your Future

We have received considerable interest and positive feedback about our butterfly feeder article that appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of Butterfly Gardener. In response to the enthusiasm, we are adding a few footnotes to the article about maintenance of the feeder–and a caution.

White Admiral at butterfly feeder

White Admiral at butterfly feeder

Feeder Maintenance

1. Rain can fill your feeder with water. After a rain, drain the water and, if needed, replenish the bananas and molasses. Butterflies don’t mind if some water is left in the feeder.
2. Wind may blow your feeder from the tree. To avoid this, take your feeder down when a storm is expected. If the feeder is blown down, simply put it back up and refill as needed. One of our feeders was blown down in a storm and broken. We simply replace the coaster.
3. Do not feel that you need to leave your feeder up throughout the season as you might a bird feeder. We use the feeder for a month or so each year, during the height of our butterfly season. Sometimes we put it for a few weeks in late spring and early fall.

A Caution

We recommended the use stale beer in your feeder. Although it is generally accepted that stale beer be used in a butterfly feeder, some concern about this practice has been expressed. We are not aware of research regarding the impact of stale beer on particular species. We are aware that the alcohol in the beer evaporates over time and that flat beer is preferable. We recommend that you use stale beer sparingly or not at all if you are concerned. If we have no beer on hand, we use yeast

Happy Butterflying, Joan Myrom & Sam Jurkovic



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By the way, you are on time. My coffee was just brewing, and my wife left for the city for shopping and will only return in the evening. The girl's eyes flashed. Slyly once more.

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