In the column Since You Asked in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our January-February 2017 issue:
I saw a new product at the store: premade hummingbird nectar with added electrolytes. Is this effective and healthy for the birds? — Philip Hardy, Americus, Georgia
Hummingbirds do need electrolytes, but the birds obtain what they need from sources other than human-provided hummingbird feeders. The addition of electrolytes to premade nectar is based on unpublished, apparently corporate-sponsored research that suggested hummingbirds fed only sugar water could be electrolyte-defficient and lose weight. Not only is this inconclusive, but hummingbirds in our gardens do not feed exclusively from our feeders, so the point is moot.
Now that it is widely accepted that red dye in premade nectar is unnecessary and potentially harmful, manufacturers may be finding it difficult to sell clear sugar water for $9 a gallon and looking for a new marketing angle. It is silly to buy any premade nectar. Use one part plain sugar to four parts water to make your own nectar, at a cost of about 50 cents a gallon.
You can use the extra cash to buy hummingbird-pollinated plants. As a bonus, you won’t be supporting nectar manufacturers that are usually also part of companies that sell pesticides, herbicides, and other lawn-care products. — Julie Craves
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.
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