What do hummingbirds really eat? Will they come to my garden if I don’t have any red flowers? Do I need to add food coloring to my feeder? Will they starve if my feeder runs dry? Don’t they have to eat all the time? Find the answers to these questions here as the Top 5 Hummingbird Feeding Myths are… busted.
1) MYTH: Red food coloring is necessary in hummingbird feeders.
FACT: It is true that hummingbirds’ eyes are most sensitive to colors in the red to yellow range, but virtually all hummingbird feeders these days are made with some red components, which is all you really need to convince the birds to come to your feeders. Besides, hummingbirds don’t metabolize red dye well, so making your own simple sugar water recipe is really best for them.
Something like this pinch-waist Perky Pet glass feeder is ideal.
2) MYTH: Hummingbirds only eat nectar.
FACT: Most people are surprised to learn that hummingbirds primarily eat insects and arachnids. Nectar does provide energy to support their high metabolism, and they do need a good bit of it for quick flight and successful hunting. But it doesn’t provide much else, like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, oils, fats, and fiber. Those come from their preferred diet of tiny spiders (60-80% in fact) and other little bugs that can be eaten whole, like beetles, mosquitoes, aphids, weevils, parasitic wasps, gnats, and flying ants. The outer edges of a hummingbird’s tongue are fringed to help catch the insects, most of which are captured in flight; spiders are snatched right off their webs near flowers.
If you want to watch your hummingbirds feed on insects, get a fruit feeder like this Kettle Moraine Recycled Stick Feeder. Add an overripe banana to attract fruit flies, and they will be a smorgasbord for the hummingbirds.
3) MYTH: Hummingbirds only like red, tubular flowers.
FACT: Scientists speculate that flowers in the warm, ultra-violet spectrum (yellow, peach, pink, orange, red, and purple) may have slightly sweeter nectar and are therefore preferred by hummers. But research has proven that hummingbirds will investigate any flower, regardless of color. Likewise, even though their beaks may be built for tubular flowers, they are known to frequent flowers of many shapes while searching for delicious nectar.
Learn about some of their favorite flowers to plant in your garden, here.
4) MYTH: Hummingbirds must feed constantly.
FACT: Like any animal, they don’t have to feed 24/7. They do, in fact, sleep. And mate. And defend their territory (males). And incubate eggs (females). Adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can actually lose weight in the middle of summer when they’re more concerned with chasing away other birds than eating.
5) MYTH: Hummingbirds will starve if my feeder is empty.
FACT: If you go on vacation, the birds will, at most, abandon your yard… as least until you return. This will even happen if you are at home, but the nectar in your feeders has spoiled. The birds do not become dependent on artificial feeders, and if you have plenty of flowers and insects for them to feed on, they’ll be just fine without them.
See these recommendations for hummingbird feeders, here.