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Does Adding Red Food Coloring to a Feeder Attract Hummingbirds?

A hummingbird eats at a feeder.
Jay Gao/Shutterstock.com

Pollinators are important parts of a garden. While you likely think of bees and butterflies when you imagine the creatures, hummingbirds are pollinators, too. When it comes to getting them to your yard, one old wives’ tale might not be the way to go.

You actually should not be adding red food coloring to your hummingbird feeder.

This common myth is rooted in a bit of truth. That’s likely why it has taken off so easily. Hummingbirds are attracted to the colors red and orange. The hues remind them of the flowers from which they draw their nectar. That’s why so many hummingbird feeders are red.

Since that’s the case, doesn’t it make sense to craft your own hummingbird food and turn it red? Sure, it does, but the red food color is actually bad for the birds. Their delicate systems are not able to digest the food coloring. Over time, consumption of the dye could lead to disease and even premature death.

Joliyoou Hummingbird Feeder

The classic red feeder could bring hummingbirds to your garden.

The red food coloring isn’t the only thing to keep in mind if you make your own hummingbird food, either. Sugar water—the most common thing used in feeders—has to be maintained. When left out in the heat and sun, the sugar can grow mold or bacteria or encourage yeast growth and fermentation. All of this can harm hummingbirds.

If you see your water getting cloudy or developing white strings or black dots, it’s time to empty and clean your feeder.

Want even more ways to attract creatures to your garden? Check out these pollinator-friendly tips.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is an Atlanta-based writer who has written about everything from whether Crisco is a good moisturizer to how to KonMari your space. Her work has appeared in Bustle, My First Apartment, and Make It Grateful. Read Full Bio »
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