Snappledagain's Blog

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Hummingbird Nectar and Food Coloring

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We are lucky to have hummingbirds migrating through our area every year. In order to actually view them however, a feeder is required, otherwise, all you’ll ever notice is an occasional humming sound as one burns past your patio at around 70 kilometers per hour. A feeder attracts them though, and they will arrive and hover right in front of you. Sometimes, even as you are still hanging the feeder. And they are amazing to watch.

A lot of people seem to add red food coloring to the nectar they prepare, and I began wondering about this, and decided to do some experiments over the course of two months. I picked up some yellow, green, red and blue food coloring and began mixing these different colors into feeders, while providing identical nectar preparations side by side with different colorings to see what would happen. My ‘findings’ may interest you.

First of all, I cook my nectar. It is not just sugar-water. They’ll slurp-up sugar-water too, but clearly prefer nectar that has been prepared by first boiling water (2 cups), then adding sugar (1/2 a cup), and stirring until clear. Bring it all back up to a boil then let cool.

So, first discovery had to do with the green color. They would not touch it. Even if that was all there was. I stopped trying that after just a few days and eventually discarded a full bird-feeder before I frightened them off permanently. Word seems to spread fast about where the best diners can be found within the bird kingdom.

They would drink yellow, but would not visit as frequently, and never if there was a choice of red or blue available.

They would drink clear too (no color added whatsoever) but would choose blue or red as their first choice. There are people that will tell you that food coloring is bad for the little birds, so best not to color the nectar at all. That is why I tried it. But the preference the hummingbirds had was for colored over clear, so who am I to judge their choice. Never a fan of the nanny state, I firmly believe in giving the “people” what they want.

So basically it came down to red and blue, or, red or blue. And every time they finished the blue before moving on to the red. But there was one other fascinating thing I noticed.

When they were drinking blue, there were little blue spots all over the Dura-Dek …. Never red. And in case you are not focusing right now, these drips were not falling off their beaks. It was the food coloring running right through them, something the red seemed not to do. The red, they seemed to absorb, and I’m not so sure that is better …. It is not necessarily bad for them (no birds died during this experiment!!), but maybe it is better to not be absorbing red food coloring as a part of ones diet.

The food coloring is not any really substantive form of calories for them, and each color is derived from slightly different chemicals. So we could expect each color could very well have a different effect on the humming-birds. If it is running right through them, rather than being absorbed, that seems like the least risky option for them.

From an internet search about food coloring: “The safety of artificial food dyes is highly controversial. However, the studies that have evaluated the safety of food dyes are long-term animal studies. Interestingly, studies using Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 found no evidence of cancer-causing effects.”

Alarmingly, that study sounds only slightly less anecdotal than my own taste-test was. “Nobody died, I guess it’s ok”.

Instinctively, I have never liked mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise on my hamburgers. Turns out, they are somewhat healthier when you eat them without this stuff too. Perhaps the humming-birds, when choosing blue colored nectar over all other options available to them are instinctively making the choice that is best for them too.

For myself, I now search for blue wine whenever I go out to ‘pick-up a few things’.

For all you other humming-bird feeders out there ….. try picking up a little blue the next time you get groceries. If nothing else, it is a good reminder to wash down the deck from time to time.

Written by snappledagain

06/10/2020 at 18:36

Posted in Random

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