There has been debate in the birding community about the practice of putting red food coloring in the nectar in hummingbird feeders with the hope of attracting more hummingbirds. While many people claim that the colored hummingbird nectar in their feeders attracts more hummers, others feel that this practice is unnecessary and possibly dangerous to the birds. Possible side effects include weakened eggs and premature death to the birds.
Natural nectar, which the birds get from flowers, is colorless, so adding color to the feeders is seen by some as unnatural. Some studies have shown that red dye has been known to cause pre-cancerous DNA damage in laboratory animals. It is interesting to note the no research has actually been done by the Food and Drug Administration, which approves food additives, to determine the safety of red dye for wild birds.
To be on the safe side, it’s recommended to make your own homemade nectar solution, using 4 parts water and one part sugar, or to buy commercial instant nectar, such as the clear dry concentrate sold by Perky Pet (retail $2.49 pkg.). Songbird Essentials, also makes a nectar concentrate without artificial dyes that you mix with water. Both of these are available at USA Bird Supply, either through their website http://www.usabirdsupply.com or at their retail store at 11163 Main Street, Clarence.
And if you simply must have color in your nectar, some recommend mixing a bit of naturally colored fruit juice concentrate into the nectar. It is far better to have a red feeder or have red decorations on the feeder to attract the hummers, than to have red nectar.
By Christine A. Smyczynski