Claim: The red dye commonly used in nectar for backyard feeders is harmful to hummingbirds.
This morning I got a stern lecture from the checkout lady at the grocery store because I was buying red food coloring to use in a hummingbird feeder. "Don't you know red food coloring weakens their egg shells?" she demanded.
[Collected via e-mail, 2001]
I have heard that the use of red dye in Humming Bird feeders will wipe out the family of the birds using the feeder in three generations. The dye is surposed to weaken the eggs.
Origins: In the 1970s DDT, a highly effective pesticide then widely in use in the U.S., was believed to be threatening the continuation of a number of bird species. Reports claimed that bald eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons exposed to the chemical laid eggs with abnormally thin shells which broke during incubation and resulted in markedly fewer successful hatchings, so new generations were not surviving to replace earlier ones as older birds died off. Because of this looming extinction threat, DDT
Half-remembered fragments of the many news stories about the effects of DDT on those threatened raptors may have contributed to a related widespread conviction regarding hummingbirds — that the red dye commonly added to the nectar used in hummingbird feeders works to thin the shells of their eggs, placing them in similar jeopardy. Or the suspicion could have been fueled by a more general wariness attached to red dyes, especially in the wake of the longstanding controversy over Red
The red dye traditionally added to attract hummers to nectar dispensers may never have been necessary anyway. While it is true hummingbirds are drawn to red, there is more than one way to entice a bird.
According to an entry found in the Audubon Society's FAQ:
Rather than take a chance with the little birds' health, many bird fanciers have chosen to omit red dye from the liquid feed they offer their airborne visitors. A mixture of
The feeding of hummingbirds has attracted a second rumor, one of a more sinister nature:
I heard that a man was recently arrested for cruelty to animals after starving a number of humming birds by putting out feeders with nutra-sweet in them.
Some bird lovers fear the presence of their nectar dispensers will tempt the little birds to delay migration, causing coddled hummers to become trapped by the sudden onset of cold weather. Yet they need not so fearful, because the hummingbird's instinct to migrate is too strong to be sidetracked. When it's time to go, they know.
Barbara "bye bye birdie" Mikkelson
Last updated: 27 April 2015
Banks, Susan. "Feeding Hummingbirds in Your Back Yard Can Be a Sticky Business." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 4 May 1996 (p. D1). Shalaway, Scott. "The Truth About Hummingbirds Flutters Around Misconceptions." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 29 August 1999 (p. D19). Van Buren, Abigail. "Dear Abby." 5 June 1990.