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.

Plant 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.

  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:
    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?

  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.

    • 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

  4. The most authoritative source of information about hummingbirds and how to attract and feed them is at Larry Chambers site at: 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.

    • 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.

  5. I use organic cane sugar and water (4:1 ratio, of course) and I am getting more and more hummingbirds. My issue are the darn wasps and ants that disturb & agitate the birds. I followed another reader’s suggestion and ordered peppermint oil to wipe on the feeder because, supposedly, the bugs hate the smell, but it doesn’t bother the hummingbirds. It is true that the hummingbirds don’t mind it, but it did NOTHING to repel the insects. In fact, I think they might now be worse…back to the drawing board.

  6. I’ve been using a clear solution for years, but a slightly richer solution. I have more other species coming to my feeders than hummers. Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are regulars. Chickadees and Titmice also show up occasionally to see what all the fuss is about.
    My feeders are pole mounted, which is why the heavy Woodpeckers can get a foothold without tipping it over.

    • Do you use a different style feeder? I don’t see them getting their beaks or tongues into the tiny holes on my feeder?

      • The woodpeckers are regular guests at my hummer feeders too. I guess they must be able to dip their tongues into the small holes.

  7. I bought this product last year when we moved to the country from a city condo and I was so excited to have a hummingbird feeder. Let me tell you that the hummingbirds were not any “perkier” on this mixture than the homemade solution. It seemed to take twice as long for them to use up the store bought solution. I noticed my neighbour had a feeder with just a clear sugar water solution. I have used this all this summer so far and the hummingbirds are loving it.

  8. I have purchased these products for convenience. I thought the water for hummingbird food needed to be boiled. This and the warning that food needed to be changed frequently was the reason — and maybe that my fridge doesn’t have enough room! Thanks for the unbiased info.

    • Since the commercial produce have a preservative in it, it might last longer before it molds up. I make it in smaller batches (1 cup) which last about 3 weeks and I have never had a mold problem. I also do not clean it every few days as some people recommend.

  9. Robert, I’ve been using the boiled water and sugar solution for years and if today was any indication, will continue to do so. When I bought my latest feeder a red solution came with it and ended up leaking out ! My Hummers know what’s best for them I guess. In fact, I have a new solution cooling right now.

  10. Awwww… Robert!

    A mere seven Canadian bucks for a jug of “high sucrose…”

    And you didn’t buy?

    I’m shocked! How will our economy ever improve if you won’t fork it out?

    Don’t you understand the thousands of jobs affected? All those artists who designed the jug and it’s label? The advertising design work that went into getting it on the shelf? The folks who load and unload the crates of it?

    Reckon now I’ll have to increase my sugar to water up to your one quarter cup! No wonder my little guys are head further North! You’re sweeter!

    • It is not the $7 dollars that prevents me from buying. I hate the waste of energy and resources, especially on a day like today. Supper hot – we don’t need more global warming just so people can make useless products. 🙂

      • Ah! So How I agree with you!

        I’m retired from a long and “enjoyable” Navy career… Long before I retired, I began noticing Huge ocean changes…

        Our coasts smell like diesel oil while still more than 50 miles at sea!

        The Pacific is totally littered with plastic!

        Scum floats out from our shores more than 100 miles!

        Widening areas of our deep oceans can no longer provide “good” water from which our ships can distill potable (drinking / cooking) water!

        It is Sick… It is Pathetic… And it is All Human caused!

        Since retiring, I garden… From those too fresh personal memories of our Ocean’s destruction, my total Focus is on Organic Gardening!

        My “great and rich soil” is over 12 inches deep now in all my growing beds… So deep, actually, that when my son built his new house, I was able to spread compost one-half inch deep over his entire 22,680 square feet of new lawn! Which had all his neighbor’s confused and asking: What are you putting down!

        Dirt! Just Dirt,! I told them!

        And in the three years since, I’ve increased his soil (real and Rich and Black) by a half inch a year!

        His is the Greenest and the Best Drought tolerant in their entire new development!

        Robert, I So Salute you and your efforts and concern on Our Planet!

        But! I am a smart-aleck so I just had to bust your chops a bit on not buying that useless pretty red Koolaid!

        Which, by the way, four Hummingbirds were so intent on my Gladiolous yesterday (under this Hot Sun) that I stood within inches watching them feed!

    • Actually, it does not dissolve more completely. Hot water might make it dissolve faster, but not more quickly. Mine dissolves in under a minute.

      Heating uses energy which means the process is wasting a resource.

  11. I don’t even buy drinks with artificial colors OR sodium benzoate in them. I certainly wouldn’t feed them to a hummingbird…Sad when you even have to read labels on bird food to find out what’s in there.


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