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Old Saturday 24th August 2013, 23:25   #1
Bird_Bill
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Home made Hummingbird nectar, a seasonal reminder

Hello everyone,
As movement is progressing in the states and from further north, many questions relating to home made nectar are showing up on various web sites. A few questions on some very large web sites are seemingly aimed at harming birds, for what ever reason. Below is generally accepted as default recipe.

Use pure white cane sugar ONLY,.....no substitutes
Ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part pure white cane sugar ONLY,.no substitutes
Please do not use any type of red food coloring in hummingbird nectar
Food coloring has been found to be possibly harmful to hummingbirds
and unnecessary as an attractant.

This page from Cornell/Audubon All about Birds, covers in extensive detail.
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=1181

Bill

Last edited by Bird_Bill : Sunday 25th August 2013 at 02:37. Reason: Added "to be possibly" to reflect research findings accurately.
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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 00:33   #2
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Originally Posted by Bird_Bill View Post
Please do not use any type of red food coloring in hummingbird nectar
Food coloring has been found harmful to hummingbirds
and unnecessary as an attractant.
Red food coloring may be harmful to hummingbirds--I don't believe there's direct proof one way or the other. But it's certainly useless and should be eschewed for that reason alone. Flower nectar is colorless & is generally hidden away in the depths of the flower so the hummer never sees it anyway.
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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 01:44   #3
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Red food coloring may be harmful to hummingbirds--I don't believe there's direct proof one way or the other. But it's certainly useless and should be eschewed for that reason alone. Flower nectar is colorless & is generally hidden away in the depths of the flower so the hummer never sees it anyway.
Thank you Fugl.
Correct and is clearly stated in the first paragraph in text of the link I embedded. Cornell did have research available that further detailed red dye #2 and possibly problems in the kidneys, and lower intestine. Do recall reading that osmoregulation as it is in hummers, and their metabolic rate being so high, that "indicates" dyes can cause a problem. As you say, nothing was conclusive.

Apparently, those papers are no longer available.
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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 04:08   #4
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But it's certainly useless and should be eschewed for that reason alone.
Maybe, except that many people see making their feeder prettier as a valid use of red dye.

Nobody in their right mind would want to test dyes directly on hummingbirds, but the research on them [dyes] strongly suggests a potential for harm in the quantities hummingbirds consume. A few years back, my friend and fellow hummingbird bander Stacy Jon Peterson summarized a number of medical studies on the health effects of synthetic red dyes and how the results relate to hummingbirds. His site is defunct, but the page is still available through the magic of the Wayback Machine:

Trochilids RED DYE page

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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 08:23   #5
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Maybe, except that many people see making their feeder prettier as a valid use of red dye.

Nobody in their right mind would want to test dyes directly on hummingbirds,
I disagree. Direct testing is the quickest route to establishing the effects of the dyes on hummers & direct testing is what I would advocate. How else to establish the facts and get the dyes banned if that's how the chips fall? It's not as if years of thunder from the pulpit have accomplished anything very much after alI. I continue to see the red nectar everywhere, both on store shelves and in back yards.

"Nobody in their right mind". . .. Sigh.
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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 09:38   #6
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Hello Fugl,
Been in this neighborhood for over 15 years, and one thing noticed is more & more nectar feeders, yearly.
I have no evidence other than vivid recollections of seeing less & less red nectar in those nectar feeders, yearly.

Whether that can be attributed to better connected and educated birders, or the economic climate, I do not know. I have noticed it, though.
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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 14:40   #7
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Hello Fugl,
Been in this neighborhood for over 15 years, and one thing noticed is more & more nectar feeders, yearly.
I have no evidence other than vivid recollections of seeing less & less red nectar in those nectar feeders, yearly.

Whether that can be attributed to better connected and educated birders, or the economic climate, I do not know. I have noticed it, though.
Well, yes, I'm sure that the propaganda has had some effect, but the fact remains that colored nectar is still quite widely sold and used. To get it stamped out entirely IMO it needs to be legally banned and for that to have much chance of happening we need hard evidence that it's harmful.
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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 21:32   #8
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That propaganda word seems to be a two edged sword. On the one hand, some very learned researchers applying a hypothesis, and summarizing that there could be a negative physiological response. And, on the other hand a group of essentially mystery researchers claiming the subject matter (red dyes) are perfectly safe and wonderful. Despite little data being available to substantiate that claim. In addition, pretty much everyone agreeing that the natural derivative, native nectar, is colorless. It's only my opinion that those entities producing and marketing commercial, colored nectar have already done much to clarify the argument by merely not doing anything.

Another point should be made that the food coloring dyes, used in the home kitchen may not be the same product, and used in the same volumes as those in commercial mixtures. Perhaps that being the least virulent propaganda
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Old Sunday 25th August 2013, 23:58   #9
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I have made a hummingbird feeder in the past with a GREEN basin and a WHITE sling, there was no red, orange, or yellow in the feeder. I hung it in a place familiar to my birds, and they went for it just like my normal red feeders. I believe that sunlight glistening on the glass of feeders attracts the birds, or at least cues them that they are seeing a feeder.
Red dye is a scam on the public.
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Old Monday 26th August 2013, 00:17   #10
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I have made a hummingbird feeder in the past with a GREEN basin and a WHITE sling, there was no red, orange, or yellow in the feeder. I hung it in a place familiar to my birds, and they went for it just like my normal red feeders. I believe that sunlight glistening on the glass of feeders attracts the birds, or at least cues them that they are seeing a feeder.
Red dye is a scam on the public.
I have this "theory" (not in the Scientific Method sense, of course) that I could paint all my feeders black and the hummingbirds that frequent them would still frequent them. Now, black feeders may not attract passing, migrating, or stray hummers, but I'm sure that would be OK with my resident birds.

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Old Monday 26th August 2013, 23:02   #11
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I disagree. Direct testing is the quickest route to establishing the effects of the dyes on hummers & direct testing is what I would advocate. How else to establish the facts and get the dyes banned if that's how the chips fall? It's not as if years of thunder from the pulpit have accomplished anything very much after alI. I continue to see the red nectar everywhere, both on store shelves and in back yards.

"Nobody in their right mind". . .. Sigh.
You must favor direct testing on humans, too, then. How else to establish the facts and get potentially harmful chemicals banned for human consumption? Oh, wait... that would be unethical. Maybe that's why regulatory agencies require testing on lab animals and/or in vitro cultures but frown on administering tests like the LD50 and Draize to people.

The sad fact is that, with the proper permits, facilities, and funding, you could force-feed red dyes to hundreds of captive hummingbirds, kill them, examine their innards, and quantify the risks beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it wouldn't get the red out of hummingbird feeder solutions. Even if you managed to convince the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that artificial dyes in commercial "instant nectar" products violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and should be banned from products intended for hummingbirds, there would still be hundreds of millions of bottles of red food coloring on store shelves and in pantries all over the western hemisphere.

"Thunder from the pulpit," a.k.a. education, is all we've got. Without it, you'd see far more feeders with red "nectar" than you do, and companies such as Perky-Pet wouldn't bother offering "lite" and dye-free versions of their products.
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Old Monday 26th August 2013, 23:05   #12
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I have this "theory" (not in the Scientific Method sense, of course) that I could paint all my feeders black and the hummingbirds that frequent them would still frequent them. Now, black feeders may not attract passing, migrating, or stray hummers, but I'm sure that would be OK with my resident birds.
Science backs you on that. A study published last year suggests that once hummingbirds learn where the sugar source is, it doesn't matter much what color it is as long as it stays put. (The title of the linked article is an overstatement, though - they do use color to find flowers and feeders in the first place but appear to associate resource quality with location rather than with color differences.)

Black feeders might get a bit warm in the southern Arizona sun though.
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Old Monday 26th August 2013, 23:10   #13
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"Thunder from the pulpit," a.k.a. education, is all we've got. Without it, you'd see far more feeders with red "nectar" than you do, and companies such as Perky-Pet wouldn't bother offering "lite" and dye-free versions of their products.
Thanks for posting the study.

I do my part by trying to educate those people (I know) who feed the hummingbirds. I usually use the argument that the red dye is useless and a waste of money but I have bent the truth a bit by saying that it is harmful to the birds. I also direct them to this sub-forum.

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Old Monday 26th August 2013, 23:19   #14
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Black feeders might get a bit warm in the southern Arizona sun though.
You got that right!

Three of my four feeders are hung under trees so they are out of the sun most of the day. They each have a cover so the one that's out in the sun is protected a bit from mid-morning till late afternoon. The covers keep the other (big) birds that perch above from crapping on the feeders -- really saves time when refilling them (I bring each feeder in the house and clean them up a bit before refilling.)

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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 00:13   #15
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I do my part by trying to educate those people (I know) who feed the hummingbirds. I usually use the argument that the red dye is useless and a waste of money but I have bent the truth a bit by saying that it is harmful to the birds.
Try asking them if they'd be willing to eat/drink 130 packets of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid every day. That would give a 175-pound person a dose of Red 40 similar to that in a hummingbird's average daily intake in bright red feeder solution.

Some of my friends and I have been known to do a little guerrilla education by sidling up to fellow shoppers looking at "instant nectar" and asking them if they know that one part white sugar to four parts water is cheaper, more convenient, better tasting*, and recommended by hummingbird experts.

* Informal backyard tests suggest that the birds don't like the taste of the dye.
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 00:17   #16
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Try asking them if they'd be willing to eat/drink 130 packets of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid every day. That would give a 175-pound person a dose of Red 40 similar to that in a hummingbird's average daily intake in bright red feeder solution.
I'm going to commit that to memory to be used when the next opportunity arises. Thank you.
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 04:26   #17
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You must favor direct testing on humans. . ..
What a childish remark. You mean as opposed to the rats or rabbits or (at least until very recently) chimpanzees that are actually used in the testing of human medicine (or cosmetics)? Direct testing involving hummers would at least be for their good, not for ours, and would not be at the expense of some other species.

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The sad fact is that, with the proper permits, facilities, and funding, you could force-feed red dyes to hundreds of captive hummingbirds, kill them, examine their innards, and quantify the risks beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it wouldn't get the red out of hummingbird feeder solutions.
Nobody need be "force fed" as I'm sure you know. All that's required to settle things once and for all is the banding & periodic recapture of free-living hummer populations in backyards (or big outdoor aviaries) with feeders filled with red nectar matched with control populations feeding on 4:1 sugar solution.

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"Thunder from the pulpit," a.k.a. education, is all we've got.
No, not education but propaganda, and propaganda is all it is and can ever be unless & until we get the facts (as opposed to your gut feelings on the subject or whatever it is that makes you so damn sure you're right). Like it or not, in matters of this kind science is the only game in town.
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 07:02   #18
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We should not discount the future and what education and experience might bring us. To myself, embryonic stem cell research looking at toxicity, and modeling algorithms to project, would be a perfectly viable alternative to live research. At perhaps a far less intrusive exercise to the birds, and capital outlay of people. Until that happens, then that "propaganda" is the only hammer we have, to drive home the point there might be something wrong here. Personally, I'm willing to take that chance, to at least remind people, nectar is transparent and pretty much unseen by the birds or us.
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 08:34   #19
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Nobody need be "force fed" as I'm sure you know. All that's required to settle things once and for all is the banding & periodic recapture of free-living hummer populations in backyards (or big outdoor aviaries) with feeders filled with red nectar matched with control populations feeding on 4:1 sugar solution.
As a biologist, hummingbird bander, and former zookeeper, I'm curious as to how you'd design either a banding study or a non-lethal captive study to address the toxicity of dyes with results rigorous enough to prompt an unprecedented regulatory decision (if there are any legal restrictions in the U.S. on food additives in products intended for wild animals, I've never been able to find them). Keeping the free-living hummingbirds away from flowers and other feeders and keeping the captive hummingbirds alive and otherwise healthy long enough to demonstrate adverse effects from the dye are just two of many challenges.

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No, not education but propaganda, and propaganda is all it is and can ever be unless & until we get the facts (as opposed to your gut feelings on the subject or whatever it is that makes you so damn sure you're right). Like it or not, in matters of this kind science is the only game in town.
Then I guess it's a good thing my "propaganda" is supported by peer-reviewed "gut feelings": Shimada et al. 2010, Sasaki et al. 2002, Tsuda et al. 2001, Voorhees et al. 1983, Kobylewski and Jacobson 2012, etc. There are more references at the link I posted above, and the chapters on FD&C Reds Nos. 3 and 40 in this publication from the Center for Science in the Public Interest summarize the science behind the broader controversy over the safety of these additives.
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 09:54   #20
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Well, Sheri, this is going round in circles. You're convinced on no direct evidence whatsoever that the dyes are harmful to hummers. Ok, suit yourself. Just don't expect to be taken as seriously as you might if you were relying less on pure bluff to get your views across.

You know, everyone here is agreed that the dyes are worthless as attractants. It's a pity it can't be left at that.
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 17:09   #21
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And you're arguing on no evidence at all that hummingbirds require a higher standard for evidence of harm than regulatory agencies worldwide require for humans - now that's a position that's hard to take seriously. I'm done here.
Simply incoherent. And I'm done too (almost).
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 17:12   #22
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I'm a little put off by the use of the word "propaganda" when describing what we often say to neophyte hummingbird enthusiasts. While I know the word has a simpler, more basic meaning (that most don't know) and that basic meaning does somewhat apply here, the negative connotation is more widespread.
Well, I'm afraid that in my use of "propaganda" in this context, the negative connotation was intended, contrasting it as I was with "education".

Educate = to convey true information
Propagandize = to seek to persuade (often by appeals to emotion) regardless of the truth (which is not to say BTW that a given piece of propaganda is necessarily false). And propagandizing IMO is what Sheri has been engaging in on the dyes-are-toxic-to-hummers question.

And now I'm done here too
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2013, 17:30   #23
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Well, if Sheri is guilty of "propaganda" then so am I. I think most of us tend to err on the side of safety. If we can keep people from purchasing/using the red dye nectar, then what does it matter if my argument is not backed up by a modern scientific study, at least I've saved the would-be customers some money. I can sleep well knowing that.

And if the study is ever made and it finds that red dye is harmless, oh well, then all I've done is save would-be customers some money. But if the study shows that red dye is harmful, well then I've saved the lives of a few hummingbirds (and saved the would-be customers some money).

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Old Saturday 31st August 2013, 22:30   #24
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Take this you Red-Dye Commie-Pinkos!
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Old Sunday 1st September 2013, 10:19   #25
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Ain't that sweet, it's true after all, love is blind
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