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Please, use only white sugar

April 3, 2009

This subject comes up at least once each season, and since some members have mentioned using organic sugar, we need to address it before any hummers are harmed. These quotes are from 2 men who know at least 10 times more about hummers than all of us combined. The first 2 are from Lanny Chambers, the gentleman who hosts and updates the Ruby-throated hummingbird Migration Map:

"White sugar is the only syrup that has been tested extensively for safety as a hummingbird food supplement, as far as I know. Hummingbird metabolism is radically different from that of humans (or of other birds, for that matter). It's a mistake to assume otherwise, and a compounded mistake to apply unproven theories of human metabolism to hummingbirds. It's unethical to perform uncontrolled experiments on wild animal populations."


"The so-called raw sugar (also known as turbinado) common in third-world countries and marketed by health food stores is actually refined by the same process as white sugar, but without removing all the molasses and other non-sugar components. The results is a less-pure sucrose that contains about five times as much iron as white sugar, since iron is essential but normally rare in hummingbird diets, their bodies hoard it, and even a modest amount of iron can POISON them. If you have the choice, use only white sugar in hummingbird feeders."

The emphasis on POISON is mine, not Mr. Chambers'. The first quote can be found at http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/HUMNETf/feedersugar.html, and the second one can be found at the same website as the Migration map.

And this from Bob Sargent, a hummingbird researcher/bander/author/lecturer, can also be found at the lsu/HUMNET site:

"I feel compelled to comment on this "health-food" approach to feeding hummers...If you are into the health food scene, that is great. This is not an attack on those that enjoy that lifestyle. The trick is to separate what you want for yourself and what sugar is found in the flowers that hummers seem to prefer. That sugar form is primarily sucrose, pretty much the same as our plain old table sugar."

Pure, white, refined, granulated table sugar is best for our hummers, and is the cheapest form of sugar. Why use anything else?

Comments (13)

  • barbzeee

    Have no fear.. I am still using white sugar.. I bought the Organic..but still had 5lbs of white sugar left..so guess I'll give the organic to those that use it... being a diabetic I don't use sugar anyway... but my hummers are a thristy group and I'll tell ya... they sure do drink from my feeder...I change mine ever 3 days right now..and there is not much I have to waste..maybe only putting in 8oz at a time is the trick...

    Thanks again for the info...I printed it out .

    God Bless

  • vickilovesboxers

    Thanks ctnchpr for getting this important message up early in the season! Good job.

  • joozgrdn

    excuse me, but have you ever considered how white sugar is processed compared to organic sugar (and I am not talking turbindo sugar)? Look it up. Two things you'll want to consider...bone char and lime. Both are used, along with carbon dioxide, to make sugar white.

  • joozgrdn

    Oh and the cane or beets that make conventional white sugar are grown with pesticides and herbicides...and in the case of beets, usually also GMO. You can't ignore those factors either.

  • Esther Harrison

    I use More a pure cane...it is slightly beige but they love it!

  • mehitabel zone 6

    Thank you for this post, CTN. I was dismayed by the the canned peaches syrup and orange water offerings. I didn't know about the iron in the other sugar. Excess of iron even in humans *can* cause blood to become super thick and lead to strokes. Much more so in a tiny thing as big as your thumb that eats sugar water..

    First, do no harm.

  • lilacinjust

    Oh good. I thought perhaps I was being a deadbeat by making my hummer food with plain old white sugar, instead of honey gathered by Vestal Virgins.

  • docmom_gw

    If folks are concerned about the damage to the environment caused by the process used to create white sugar, another approach would be to simply grow the native plants that actually produce exactly what the hummingbirds need. In addition, plants will also attract the insects that hummer so need to feed their offspring. Plants also support the broader wildlife network of creatures. If you really want to help the environment, trade in your lawns for native grasses and forbes that only need mowing once every few years, do not need chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and need no watering, once established.


    I had to come back to point out to those who have been alive as long as me the change in insect populations. Someone pointed out to me how different it is to take a drive and check the windshield or front grate afterward. In decades past, there would be a nearly solid coat of insect who met their end on the front of your car. Today, kids have no understanding of what it took to scrub off baked-on bugs from the windshield. That lets me know that the numbers of insects have decreased dangerously, since insects are the base of the natural food chain, and are the main food/protein source for baby birds of every species. Please, plant native shrubs and flowering plants and grasses in as much of your yard as you can make possible. Encourage others to do the same.


  • chezron

    Because I can't find organic sugar that does not have iron, I will quit feeding the hummingbirds. I have always had hummingbird plants, now I will just buy more of them. It makes me sad. I didn't know that the iron in organic sugar is harmful or can kill hummingbirds. The thing is, I am not going to feed my hummingbirds pesticide-treated white sugar, and I am certainly not going to feed them white GMO beet sugar, which is so heavily treated with herbicides and pesticides. Just because there haven't been studies about the harmful affects of GMO on the little birds, does not mean that harm is not being done. Numerous studies involving the harmful affects of GMO feed on laboratory animals exist. There is every reason to believe that GMO also harms these tiny little birds.

  • Elaine Cliotis

    White sugar is processed with chemicals and full of pesticides.The white sugar that you get at most grocery stores is highly processed and any mineral content is lost in order to make the fine uniform crystals that we are all so familiar with. But it isn’t only nutritionally deficient. Table sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. An alarming 95% of the sugar beets grown in North America have been genetically modified to allow them to withstand the application of Monsanto’s pride and joy, Round-up pesticide. Sugar beets are beginning to keep pace with sugar cane as the source of sugar sold in North America. This means that you have a high chance of consuming GMOs whenever you eat something containing sugar unless that sugar has been carefully selected. Leave the Hummingbirds alone unless you want to shorten their life span!

  • chezron

    Hi Elaine, I totally understand. I am normally an all organic eater and feeder, but in this one particular case, feeding organic sugar to hummingbirds can KILL them. It is because it contains iron. If you feed hummingbirds nectar made with organic sugar they will develop iron toxicity and die. The way around GMO sugar is to use C & H Pure Cane Sugar. That way, there is no GMO and no iron.

  • KRAN Lopez
    stewartlopez69's ideas · More Info

    Docmom, Thanks so much for the reminder. I read "Bringing Nature Home" last year when I decided to give up on tomatoes and concentrate my gardening on pollinators and hummers. There are so many better plants for my area and biosphere than what I had been planting. I do have a pure 4/1 sugar water feeder for every house on my street. I just painted the clear bottles red with spray paint and added plastic lids for perches.

  • mblan13

    I like it!

    If you want to do the organic non GMO for your hummers, Plant more Hummer plants!

    Cuphea 'Vermillionaire' and Salvia Guaranitica 'Black and Blue' are 2 of the best, readily available, grow well in pots or ground and look fabulous together!

    That would be the best as the birds and plants evolved as a symbiotic relstionship, so I am sure there are other compounds that benefit hummers in there too

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