Hummingbird Nectar Food – Should You Buy It?

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Robert Pavlis

I was in the local hardware store and spotted some hummingbird nectar for sale. Bottles of red stuff and bottles of white stuff. Odd that they would have it in two colors. What is the difference, and is one better than the other?

The label on the bottle was interesting. This was a bottle of Perky-Pet Hummingbird Nectar Concentrate and the label clearly says it is ‘100% High Energy Sucrose’. Is that different from regular sucrose? I did not know that pure sucrose was a liquid! My myth busting antennae went up and I had to have a closer look.

Do you need to buy this product? I have been using a DIY solution for a couple of years and it seems to be working. Maybe I am short changing my hummingbirds? Should I fork out $7 for a better product?

Hummingbird Nectar Concentrate made by Perky-Pet
Hummingbird Nectar Concentrate made by Perky-pet

Hummingbird Nectar – Marketing Scam

Lets start with the label. It is ‘100% High Energy Sucrose’ – that is what it says in the large gold sticker.

Compost Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

There is no such thing as ‘high energy’ sucrose. All sucrose is the same or it would not be sucrose. That is just pure marketing hype.

Is it 100% sucrose? In small print at the bottom of the label the ingredient list is; water, sucrose, FD&C #40, citric acid and sodium benzoate. In Canada the ingredients are listed in order of quantity so the major ingredient is water, not sucrose. Even if we exclude the presence of water, it is not pure sucrose.

The label is clearly lying about the product. For this reason alone you should not buy this product. But there are even better reasons for not buying this product – read on.

Red Colored Hummingbird Nectar

The FD&C #40 is probably the red dye. This ingredient is not in the bottle of clear hummingbird food. Everyone knows hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, so is the red color important?

I spoke to a hummingbird expert at the Ontario Hummingbird Project and they say the red color is not important for the nectar. Having red on the feeder does attract hummingbirds, but the color of the nectar does not matter.

Since it is never a good idea to buy chemicals you do not need – it makes no sense to buy the red colored product. And it is just possible the red dye might hurt the humming birds.

Building Natural Ponds book, by Robert Pavlis

Should You Buy Hummingbird Nectar Food?

Flower nectar is 21% to 23% sucrose. Sucrose is regular table sugar. For $7.00 you can buy a big bag of table sugar, enough to feed thousands of birds. It makes absolutely no sense to buy a commercial hummingbird nectar when you can make it yourself, easily, and for a fraction of the price.

Take 1 part sugar and 4 parts water, and mix them together. For example, I use 1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup water.

Just stir it – you do not need to heat it.

You are done – it is that simple.

This is not my recipe. This is the mixture that is recommended by most hummingbird and wildlife associations. This link will provide more information about feeding hummingbirds.

 

If you care about the environment – you will stop buying products you do not need. Hummingbird nectar is clearly one of those products.

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

27 thoughts on “Hummingbird Nectar Food – Should You Buy It?”

  1. I bought the clear nectar and it says it doesn’t have to be refrigerated, but I wonder if it does after it is opened.

    Reply
  2. Great post! Yes I have never understood why someone would buy that stuff. Nothing could be better than just sugar and water except a garden planted with native species. Maybe one day you could write about a new product I saw on the market last summer:
    http://www.greenthumb.com/product/4-fl-oz-hummingbird-nectar-protectant-keeps-your-feeders-nectar-fresh-longer/
    It’s an additive you can put in your hummingbird feeders to keep the sugar solution from fouling so you don’t have to change it as often. The lady at “Wild Birds Unlimited” tried to get me to buy it all summer long, but I’d rather just change the water every day or so instead of put something else in the water, even if it is safe and is something hummingbirds might ingest from natural sources. Any thoughts on the safety of copper sulfate?

    Reply
  3. There is one clear product that says it uses a dilute calcium compound that’s supposed to help the birds develop stronger egg shells. I have no idea if this is a genuine improvement over plain sugar and water or not. I also wonder if fructose and water would be better than sucrose and water.

    Reply
    • Are soft eggs a problem with humming birds?

      Why would fructose be better? Sucrose is what people have in the kitchen and it is cheap. It is also what is recommended by hummingbird experts.

      “Now new research from the University of Toronto Scarborough shows they are equally adept at burning both glucose and fructose, which are the individual components of sugar; a unique trait other vertebrates cannot achieve.” from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131205165823.htm

      Reply
  4. The most authoritative source of information about hummingbirds and how to attract and feed them is at Larry Chambers site at: http://hummingbirds.net/ He cautions about puting honey, Jell-O, brown sugar, fruit, or red dye (also known as food coloring) in your feeder. Use one part ordinary white cane sugar to four parts water. It is not necessary to boil the water because the micro-organisms that cause fermentation don’t come from the water. They are transported on the hummingbirds’ bills and tongues.

    Reply
    • I don’t see why you would consider this the ‘most authoritative’ site – but it does seem like a good one.

      Microbes also come from the air.

      Reply

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