Please DO NOT purchase commercial “hummingbird food” which is essentially expensive sugar water with red dye. Even the “clear” commercial hummingbird food that claims to have vitamins and electrolytes specifically for hummingbirds should NOT be purchased.
Many commercial “hummingbird food” preparations contain Red Dye #40, which is an artificial colorant derived from petrochemicals, more specifically coal tar.
Red Dye #40 has proven carcinogenic and mutagenic (meaning that it induces tumors) in rats and mice. Further, it decreases reproduction rates and increases the incidence of both internal and skin tumors in these animals. It is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Norway, but is still in use in the U.S.
Because it has not been directly tested on hummingbirds, manufacturers of artificial nectars containing red dye claim that no proof exists that it is harmful to hummingbirds. But neither is there any research that indicates that red dye is not harmful to hummingbirds.
The FDA has also set limits for human consumption of red dye and recommends that people not ingest large quantities of a single dye product. However, when we set up a hummingbird feeder with dyed nectar, this is just what we’re encouraging hummingbirds to do. And that’s the core of the problem.
A hummingbird taking artificially dyed nectar may be ingesting the dye in concentrations that are 17 times the accepted daily intake recommended for humans, and 12 times higher than the concentration found to induce DNA damage in mice. And they may be ingesting it every single day, all summer long.
It’s true that no solid research yet exists to prove that red dye is harmful to hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are not humans; are not mice. But all hummingbird feeders have red parts that serve to attract the birds, so the dye is unnecessary at best, and potentially harmful at worst. Artificial nectars have little if any added nutritional value over sugar water. To avoid causing any possible harm, stick to the home-made formula of one part white table sugar to four parts water, and let the red feeder parts do the work of attracting hummingbirds to my door.
If you chose you may boil the water, remove it from the stove and then stir in the sugar. Do not “cook” the sugar-water. However if you have good quality tap water that you drink you can simply mix your solution using the hot water from the tap and cane sugar.
PLEASE DO NOT USE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS, HONEY OR RAW SUGAR it will harm your birds. In the fall when our feeders are buzzing with activity you may choose to mix your sugar water in larger batches and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. But always check the quality of solution before filling you feeders.