Tuesday, May 3, 2016

About Feeding Hummingbirds

Here's a crazy person testing risk aversion in feeding hummingbirds:


Top 5 Reasons to NOT Use Red Hummingbird Nectar

from: the zen birdfeeder     all photos from: hummingbirdsplus.org

The question never goes away: "Shouldn't hummingbird nectar be red?"  The answer is an unequivocal "NO!"  Here's my Top 5 reasons why.

Reason #1:  It serves NO purpose

The great majority of hummingbird feeders on the market, and certainly the hummingbird feeders at our Wild Birds Unlimited shop, have enough color on them (red or otherwise) to attract hummingbirds without the need for red dye in the nectar.

Reason #2:  The dye is petroleum based

The dye in colored nectars is red dye #40, named Allura Red AC.  Red dye #40 was originally made from coal tar, but it is now made mostly from petroleum.  Read that last sentence again, please.  I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound good for ingestion by me or by hummingbirds.  In Europe, red dye #40 is not recommended for consumption by children. (Source: www.3dchem.com)

Admittedly, there is no scientific proof that red dye #40 definitely harms hummingbirds but knowing its source, why chance it, especially if it has no benefits to the hummingbirds and will not attract hummingbirds any more than clear nectar does.

Reason #3:  Nectar from flowers is clear - not red

Nectar made with water and simple table sugar at a 4-to-1 ratio most closely approximates the naturally clear nectar found in flowers.

Reason #4:  The red dye passes though the hummingbird

The Hilton Pond Center website has an image showing red dye #40 stains on a hummingbird at the site of excretion.  And the dye also stains their excretions red.  Naturalist and author Julie Zickefoose made this interesting observation while rehabbing a female hummingbird.  The bird had been fed red nectar before entering her care, and she was shocked by the red droppings that the hummingbird continued to excrete for over a day after the red nectar was stopped.  You can see pictures of the red-stained droppings and read Julie's blog post, but a more complete account is in the May/June 2010 issue of BirdWatcher's Digest.

These indicators mean the red dye is "not metabolized, but passes through the kidneys, where it might cause problems."  (Source: Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History)

Reason #5:  You can make clear nectar more simply

No more trips to the store to buy nectar.  Make it at home.  A simple 4-to-1 water to table sugar solution will attract and feed all the hummingbirds you can handle!

Spread the word to family, friends, enemies, whoever you know that uses red nectar in their hummingbird feeders.  Forward the link.  Share the post link on your website or blog.  Print a copy of the post.  Just do what you can to stop the use of red nectar in hummingbird feeders.  Do it for the birds!

from: hummingbirdsociety.org  all photos from: hummingbirdsplus.org
Recipe for the Best Hummingbird Nectar


1 cup of cane sugar
3 or 4 cups of spring water

Directions & Tips
Dissolve the sugar in the water. No red food coloring! Unused mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
  • Cane sugar is highly recommended, although beet sugar is okay.
  • Do not use any other sugar — not turbinado or brown sugar etc — and never use honey or artificial sweeteners.
  • Spring water is preferred, but most tap water is acceptable.
  • If too many bees are being attracted, change the mixture to five cups of water for every one cup of sugar.
  • In the fall, wait until you haven't seen even one hummer for three weeks before taking your feeders down to reduce the risks to late migrants.

Tips for Feeding Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds do not live on sugar water and nectar alone. They eat insects and tiny spiders to supply protein and also feed on tree sap (see this great video). We assumed that supplying fresh spiders for your hummer population might not exactly be your idea of a good time and only included our top tips for hummingbird feeders below.

16 Tips for Hummingbird Feeders

Type & Size:
  • Choose a feeder that you are able and willing to clean.
  • Look for a feeder that has the ports above the pool of liquid to avoid drips.
  • Use a feeder whose size matches your population.
  • Don't fill the feeder all the way if it isn't being used.
  • More feeders will support more hummers and help reduce territoriality.
  • Change the mixture every four to five days - more frequently if temperatures are over 90° F.
  • If the liquid appears cloudy or you see mold, wash the feeder thoroughly right away.
  • Put your feeders at least four feet above the ground so they are beyond the reach of cats and other predators
  • Never place a feeder too close to a nest because doing so may cause predation.
  • If possible, the feeder should be in a shady spot.
  • Placing the feeder where you can see them through the window is a good idea too!

    ~Feeders must be cleaned between refillings - don't "top off" without cleaning. 

    ~Use a mild detergent and water; rinse thoroughly. 

    ~About once a month, soak the feeder in a solution of bleach and water (1 Tbsp. of bleach per quart  

      of water); rinse very thoroughly! 

    ~Some feeders can be put in the dishwasher for sterilization. 

    ~If your feeder is attracting ants, use a moat or AntGuard® to stop them.


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