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Is Food Coloring Bad for Hummingbirds?

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Question:

I keep hearing that commercial food coloring is harmful to hummers. No one can tell me why. Is there scientific basis for this? Thank you for your time.

Answer

This is a great question. The answer is murky. On the one hand, my own research has not turned up any scientific evidence that says commercial food coloring is harmful to hummingbirds. However, that doesn't mean that commercial food coloring is safe for hummingbirds, it just means that as far as I can tell, no one has done any formal scientific studies on the subject.

Most commercial brands of food coloring use a dye form of FD&C Red No.3. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discontinued the provision listing of FD&C Red No.3 for use in external drugs and cosmetics because one study of the color additive in male rats showed an association with thyroid tumors. When making this announcement, the FDA also indicated that any human risk posed by FD&C Red No. 3 was extremely small and that the provisional listing had been discontinued due to a specific legal mandate, rather than safety concerns. And although FD&C Red No. 3 remains permanently listed (approved) for use in food and ingested drugs, the FDA has announced its intent to propose rescinding those listings as well. Even if the FDA decides that FD&C Red No.3 remains safe for human ingestion, what's good for humans isn't always good for animals and birds.

The Audubon Society states (rather diplomatically) on their website that, "the current thinking is that food coloring may not be good for them, nor is it necessary to attract hummingbirds." Personally, this makes logical sense to me because in nature, natural flower nectar is clear, not red, and made up only of sugar and water. You can mix your own using 1/4-cup of sugar to every 1 cup of water.

The color of the red flowers (and your feeder) is enough to attract hummingbirds to the nectar. If your feeder isn't red or brightly colored, tie a bit of red ribbon to it to get the bird's attention.

Ellen

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

Recent Answers

Here are the recent answer to this question.

By missolainious (Guest Post)10/26/2006

but i dont see why you would need to give hummingbirds food colourings.....i dont understand..what does it do?

Editor's Note: People add food coloring to make it red to attact the hummingbirds.

By Paula [14]10/12/2006

I don't find it necessary to add color to my hummingbird food, the feeder is red and attracts them. I also have plenty of flowers around that will attract them too; they absolutely love hanging baskets with Fuscia in them! I don't know if the red coloring is dangerous or not, but why take a chance?

By Margie Minard (Guest Post)09/13/2006

I have heard that food coloring, especially the red food coloring, can soften the eggs. If you have an established humming bird feeder, there is no need for food coloring. I haven't used it in years, and we have plenty of hummers all season. I just use 1/4 c sugar to 1 c water, bring it to a boil to dissolve all the sugar, cool, and keep any extra in the fridge till needed. I wash the feeder between every filling.
I will use this forum to tell you that we just saw 3 little Bob White quail out browsing with our chickens this evening!!! I am 55 and haven't seen them since I was a kid!! We were so excited.

By Foxfire (Guest Post)09/13/2006

look on the back of a box for a Hummingbird feeder and it'll tell you that the red dye is poisonous to the little birds.I guess it builds up in their systems until it kills them.it's not natural anyway and the liquid they get from a flower is.

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