Hummingbird Question...Colibri?

Now’s the time when folks are putting out feeders to attract the arriving hummingbirds. They’re filled with either regular table sugar water, or commercial hummingbird food, which is a mix of sucrose and dextrose, from the labels. I know that honey can be toxic, and that the feeder should be kept clean and changed regularly. My question is, since concentrated sugar is a recent addition to the hummer diet, is it really good for them?

Nectar, the natural version of what goes in the feeders, is mostly water with natural sugars mixed in (like sucrose and dextrose). Hummers need a LOT of sugar because they run at such high speed.

Wild hummers that visit artificial feeders don’t stop visiting flowers. Their flower visits provide them with trace amounts of pollen and other nutrients, and the occassional bug for protein (I presume some bugs hang around artificial feeders, too, because of the sugar water).

In other words - don’t worry about it unless you’re trying to keep hummingbirds as captive animals. In which case diet gets much more complicated.

I think that you got the notion that sugar is bad since it is so hyped that way in the media. Sugar is necessary for energy, as it is oxidized (burned) by the body for energy, similar as gasoline is burned by cars. The low carbo diets so popular preclude you from doing much exercise.

Since hummers flap their wings an enormous amount of times per second (I don’t recall the figures), it is obvious that they need all the fuel they can get.

Hah! Beat Colibri to the punch again :smiley: ! Gloat :stuck_out_tongue:

Broomstick is correct - Hummingbirds will quite happily use feeders and just supplement their diet with insects to make up for the lack of protein and other nutrients. A mix of 5 parts water to one part sugar is probably the best approximation to natural nectar. Just be sure to clean out your feeder regularly ( even if not empty ) to prevent build up of nasty bacteria and fungi.

Hummingbirds raised in captivity are most often fed a special supplement called Hydramin. But it really isn’t necessary for wild birds, that will do the supplementing themselves. And they’ll appreciate the feeders - The energy demands of being a hummingbird are enormous. Daily expenditures of calories are in the the 6,500-12,500 range, depending on species and activity level. A staggering amount relative to their size - a human with the same weight-specific metabolic rate would burn 155,000 a day!

  • Tamerlane

Another question - I read that if you start feeding hummers, you need to keep the feeder stocked or they will starve. How true is this?

Well, geez, we’re talking about critters than need 12,000 calories a day just to exist, deprive them of food for a couple hours sure, they could starve.

It’s really a matter of what else is available in the neighborhood. If you have a feeder in an area with a lot of flowers that can supply the birds with food, then keeping the feeder probably isn’t as critical. But if you set up a feeder in an area with little other option for the birds then yes, they could starve and you could be faced with many brightly colored little corpses piled where the feeder used to be. Assuming some scavenger doesn’t make off with them first. (Isn’t nature wonderful?)

This can be a problem on migration routes, where the birds push themselves to the limit to cross natural obstacles like the Gulf of Mexico. If they don’t have a ready source of food on the other side of the obstacle they can (and many do) starve to death shortly after arrival.

Hummingbirds, like many birds, have excellent memories for things that are important to them. They will return to a location where a feeder used to be for up to two years, hoping for it to come back. Obviously, the bird hasn’t starved in the meanwhile or else it couldn’t come back.

Smithsonian magazine had a recent article about hummers, which was reprinted in this month’s Reader’s Digest. If you’re interested in hummers you might want to check it out.

Dammit, this is the third thread with my name on it where someone’s beaten me to the punch. You guys should start these things when I’m having a slower day at work.

Regarding the OP, pretty much what everyone else said. Flower nectar is mostly just sugar water (in flowers adapted for pollination by hummingbirds, usually around 15-20% concentration by weight), sometimes with a few amino acids thrown in. Most flowers contain a mixture of sucrose (table sugar), fructose, and glucose. Sucrose is a compound sugar (a disaccharide), made up of fructose and glucose (monosaccharide) units. Hummers generally prefer sucrose to the simple sugars, so a solution of table sugar and water isn’t much different from their natural diet. Besides sugar, hummers also need protein and vitamins, which they normally get by catching small insects and spiders. In captivity, it is usual to add a protein and vitamin supplement to the sugar water.

I have had people ask me if it wouldn’t be better to give hummers honey water than sugar water, presumably on the theory that honey is somehow more “natural” than refined sugar. However, honey solutions often seem to promote fungal infections in hummingbirds that can quickly be fatal. Also, it is completely unnecessary to put red food coloring in the food. As long as there is some red color on the feeder itself, hummers will be able to find it easily.

Untrue. Hummers are well adapted to ephemeral food supplies. Once a patch of flowers stops blooming, they’re quite used to having to move on to better pastures. I’m sure if they find a feeder empty, they will just go look elsewhere. And if they have had access to a feeder for a while, they should have ample energy reserves to see them through the search.

Curse you, Tamerlane! Just wait til there’s a question on the Mongol Hordes, and I get to it first!

I’ve found this place to be pretty interesting. For the past few years I’ve had problems with Carpenter Bees and the posters at this site offered me all the info I needed on how to deal with them.
Here’s a link to their Hummingbird Section:

Hummingbirds, like many birds, have excellent memories for things that are important to them. They will return to a location where a feeder used to be for up to two years, hoping for it to come back. Obviously, the bird hasn’t starved in the meanwhile or else it couldn’t come back.

I’ve seen this happen. A hummingbird came back and hovered (April in MSPI) to where the feeder used to hang the previous season, with no other red/sugar cues to guide it. It’s amazing that a tiny creature can hurtle over the Gulf of Mexico and remember a feeder in the middle of the woods hundreds of miles away!

Thanks for your answers, all. I saw my first tiny colibri yesterday, and plan to entice him to stay with the newly hung feeder.

Ummm… that first paragraph is, of course, meant to be a quote from Broomstick’s post. Never get too cocky wit’ tha preview function…