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 Red dye #40 was originally made from coal tar, but it is now made mostly from petroleum.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!
I have a request of you. If this material has convinced you to discontinue the use of red nectar, or if you've already sworn off it:
- Let me know, but more importantly,
- 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!