Have you ever been to a garden with hummingbird feeders? If you have, you must have witnessed a breathtakingly beautiful view. The sight of dozens of these tiny, flapping birds scattered all around is certainly one to behold.
While there are many ways of attracting these pretty birds to your yard, putting out hummingbird nectar in feeders remains the most efficient method. Other than table sugar, what else can you add to hummingbird nectar to sweeten it? What about honey?
Can hummingbirds eat honey? No, honey is not an ideal choice for these birds. Its sticky, syrupy texture can coat their bills and feathers, making it difficult for them to fly or eat. Honey is also more difficult for them to digest than granulated table sugar. Other than honey, maple syrup, molasses, and powdered sugar should also not be used in hummingbird nectar.
This article will talk about everything you need to know about the risks of feeding honey to hummingbirds.
Honey: How is it made?
Honey is a sweet, thick liquid that is produced by honey bees and some other relative insects. These insects used floral nectar or honeydew to make honey and store it in large wax structures that are called honeycombs.
The thickness, color, and taste of honey can vary depending on:
- The insects that have produced it.
- The flowers/plants whose nectar has been used.
- The climate (humidity, temperature) of the region where it has been produced.
In addition to its sweet taste, honey also has other benefits and is often preferred over table sugar in cooking, baking, and other culinary purposes. Let’s take a quick look at how eating honey can contribute to your health:
- Honey is the storehouse of phytonutrients, which play a crucial role in their antibacterial and anti-fungal characteristics. Moreover, phytonutrients are also responsible for the antioxidant properties of honey.
- Honey is also an efficient cough suppressant and can cure cough and sore throat.
- Honey (particularly manuka honey) works as an effective germ killer and also aids promote regeneration. That’s why we often use it for treating wounds.
Can you add honey to the hummingbird’s nectar?
While honey is one of the healthiest sweetening agents in our food, a lot of bird watchers have wondered whether it would be a good idea to add honey to hummingbird nectar. However, honey is not an ideal food choice for hummingbirds. If you are wondering why or how keep reading. The answer to your queries is in the next section.
Risks involved with adding honey to hummingbird nectar
Following are some of the major risks involved with adding honey to hummingbird nectar:
Honey is not easily digestible for hummingbirds
All of us know that honey is made from floral nectar. And since nectar is a major food source for hummingbirds, most people assume that hummingbirds can eat honey as safely as nectar. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
There are many processes involved in the production of honey, and these processes change its chemical composition, making it difficult for the hummingbirds to digest it.
The difficulty in digestion can minimize their energy intake, and since these birds have a highly active lifestyle, feeding them honey would be unwise.
Honey can also attract other creatures
While honey’s sweet taste is enough to win our hearts, it also has an enticing aroma that attracts many pests and animals alike. Some of these are wasps, ants, praying mantises, bees, honey badgers, skunks, opossums, and even bears.
If any of these find a way to your feeder, they will not only keep the hummingbirds away but can also cause substantial damage to both your feeder as well as other properties.
Honey can infect the hummingbirds
Some of you might not know this, but some varieties of honey contain different fungi and bacteria that can be detrimental to the hummingbird’s health.
Moreover, when you add water to honey to dilute it, the extra oxygen in the mixture can accelerate honey’s fermentation as well as these bacteria and fungi.
When the hummingbirds feed on it, they can easily catch an infection.
Honey can result in clogged ports
Honey is known for its sticky texture, and while adding water to it can dilute the honey, it can clog the ports of your feeder even in the diluted form. Clogged ports mean that the hummingbirds will have difficulty in drinking the nectar present inside.
Moreover, these clogged ports can also cause cracks and leaks in the feeder, which means all the nectar will slowly drip down instead of being consumed by hummingbirds.
Honey can coat the bills and feathers of hummingbirds
Honey’s sticky texture is dangerous for hummingbirds themselves, too. When they try to feed on it, it can coat their bills and feathers, making it difficult for them to fly or feed properly. Their inability to fly will make these little birds an easy target to their predators.
Other sweeteners that you should avoid
So, now we know why we should avoid adding honey to hummingbird nectar. But apart from honey, is any other sweetening agent that you shouldn’t be using in it? Well, there are many. Take a look at some of the sweeteners that people commonly use in hummingbird nectar but shouldn’t:
Molasses have high iron levels, a mineral for which nectar-eating birds like the hummingbirds have a low tolerance. That’s why adding molasses to hummingbird nectar can be lethal to the health of these birds.
Did you know that brown sugar gets its distinctive coloration due to the presence of molasses in it? It means that adding brown sugar to hummingbird nectar is also not a good idea. If the hummingbirds feed on brown sugar-based nectar, they will have trouble digesting it.
The sap found in sugar maple trees is one of the hummingbirds’ favorites. And since maple syrup is also made from this sap, it is understandable why people would want to use it in hummingbird nectar.
However, since it might be challenging to get a hold of natural maple syrup, many people use artificial maple syrup in its place, which can be detrimental to hummingbirds’ health.
Corn syrup is another popular sweetening agent that people often use in hummingbird nectar. When used in a proper consistency, corn syrup is not harmful to the hummingbirds. However, it has a low nutritional value for these birdies and is not an ideal choice for them.
Powdered sugar is also not something you’d want to add to hummingbird nectar because it contains cornstarch. While cornstarch can prevent lumping in powdered sugar, it will ferment quickly when added to the nectar, making the nectar unsuitable for the hummingbirds’ consumption.
How is hummingbird nectar made?
Hummingbird nectar is not a complicated recipe that will take too much of your time. In fact, you only need 5-10 minutes to make it and will find all its ingredients, i.e., white table sugar and water, right inside your kitchen. While spring water is usually recommended for it, most people have claimed that tap water can work just as effectively.
Adding an appropriate amount of both table sugar and water is the most important part of making hummingbird nectar. Always remember, the ratio of these ingredients should be 4:1, with four parts of water and one part of sugar.
First, you need to heat the water for a couple of minutes, as it would make mixing the sugar easier. Then, pour the warm water into a bowl and add table sugar (in recommended quantity) to it.
Use a spoon to stir the liquid until the sugar is completely dissolved. Your hummingbird nectar is now ready. If you’ve made extra, you can safely store it in the refrigerator to be used later.
Frequently asked questions
Is it safe to add red dye to hummingbird nectar?
Most people recommend adding red dye to hummingbird nectar to make it more attractive for the avian visitors in your backyard. However, hummingbirds don’t really care if the nectar is red or colorless, and dyes can also be detrimental to their health.
Therefore, you should avoid using it in their food. Instead of dye, you can pick a red, vibrant feeder for them; it will have the desired effect on the hummingbirds.
Why are hummingbirds fighting each other over my feeder?
You must remember that hummingbirds have the fastest metabolism in the avian world, which is why food is their topmost priority, both for themselves as well as for their offspring.
Thus, it is common for them to fight with each other over the territory of your feeder. In some rare cases, these fights also end in one of them impaling or killing the other.
Where should I place my hummingbird feeder?
The first thing you want is for your feeder to be found by the hummingbirds. And while these little birdies are always looking for food, it would be more convenient to place the feeder where it can be quickly spotted.
With that being said, you should make sure that your feeder is placed in a semi-shaded area and not under direct sunlight. Intense heat can lead to sugar fermentation within hours, probably before the hummingbirds get a chance to taste it.
Conclusion: Can hummingbirds eat honey?
In this article, we’ve learned honey is not something you’d want to add to the hummingbird nectar. There are various downsides to it, the most important one being that it can be difficult for them to digest.
In addition to honey, you should also not use maple syrup (artificial), powdered or brown sugar, and molasses to make hummingbird nectar. When making hummingbird nectar, granulated table sugar has been known to be the ideal choice.