What happens if you put too much sugar in the water to make the nectar? Can it harm the birds?
By Phyl from MD
We did that once. The hummingbird passed out. We found him on the ground and put him in a safe place. Later he recovered and flew off. Too much sugar is not good for the little guys. (08/21/2010)
I have made it stronger than recommended many times, without any problems. Just don't use red food color, that is not needed. Also, don't leave the same sugar water in more than a few days, it starts to grow bacteria and molds/fungi that can be harmful to the birds. Be sure to wash your feeder before refilling, rinsing it very well. Also, the bulk of a hummingbird's diet is insects! The sugar water/nectar is enjoyed for energy, but they get nutrition from other sources. (08/21/2010)
You can add water appropriately to get a more balanced mix. The ratio should be 4 to 1, i.e. 4 cups water to 1 cup of sugar. And the water does not have to be hot to add more water, it would need to be reheated to add more sugar. (08/21/2010)
Recipes for hummingbird nectar call for a water to sugar ratio of 4:1. But some people who keep hummingbird feeders insist on making stronger concentrates either from the belief that more is better, or they mix a stronger solution only in late summer and autumn under a widespread, but misguided belief that this will "fatten 'em up" for their migration.
The unwavering rule is: "Never mix nectar stronger than the 4:1 ratio, or you may be doing injury to the hummingbirds." A friend who refused to believe her old practice was harmful finally changed her policy (of providing stronger autumn concentrates) when I wrote her the following commentary.
I doubt you're doing great harm since late-season hummers will be transient visitors and won't eat often of the unhealthy concentrate. You'd hurt them more giving them too concentrated a nectar when they are nesting, as they'd be using nearby feeders too regularly during that time. But overly sugared nectar can be harmful at any time if too often encountered, and in no case does increasing the ratio strengthen them for their winter journey. Here's an overview of why it's bad for their health:
Sugar water may supplement hummingbird diet, but if they are so fond of sugar water that they neglect their natural diet of flower nectar and small insects, they will become deficient in scores of minuet, but essential nutrients. Too much sugar might actually hamper their search for the more appropriate natural nectars. Ideally sugar-water feeders are not the only things the hummers find in a garden which will be full of trumpet-shaped spring and summer flowers, or for summer and autumn such things as sage-blossoms, especially in reds, either planted in the garden or set about in pots. Providing potted plants in autumn bloom would be much more of an energy-boost than more concentrated sugarwater for their autumn/winter journey. A big abelia will be in full flower through all of autumn, a favorite for hummingbirds that are still hanging about.
Some hummers actually reject over-sugared artificial nectars, and good thing they do since it is unhealthy for them. But others will favor feeders with the most sugar in the water and they may come from greater distances from their nests to feed, overlooking more healthful flower-sources along the way, knowing where they can get the bigger, but mineral-deficient sugar load. These hummers become sickly and neglect their nests and are away from their nests too long at a stretch.
Those hummingbirds fed too much sugar can develop calcium deficiencies, muscular weakness, and bone malformations similar to rickets. Their eggs are apt to be soft-shelled and will not hatch. Some hummingbirds appear to show signs of illness resembling drunkenness when feeders contain too much sugar.
Over sugaring their nectar also encourages rapid bacterial growth in the feeders and will attract bees, wasps, and bee-flies.
Too much water is less harmful than too much sugar, though both can be harmful, as too little sugar could cause some hummers to not get their daily caloric requirement.
I have always had more hummingbirds at my feeders than everyone else until they switch to my ways. The very first feeder I hang out in early spring (before seeing any hummingbirds) I use a 1 to 4 part sugar/water (no food color). As soon as I see a couple of hummingbirds at the feeder I switch to a 1 to 5 part sugar/water. Hummingbirds return to the same feeders each year. If they drank from your feeder last year and you don't have it out in time you will see them buzzing around that same spot looking for the feeder. By not getting it out early in the spring you will lose some of your impatient little customers to other feeding sources. Putting it out early keeps the same ones coming back and also helps to add new hummingbirds each year. Also putting 2 feeders out helps. They tend to prefer zooming back and forth as opposed to staying at just one feeder. (10/22/2010)
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