Hummingbirds are small but very big eaters. They need a lot of energy to keep their bodies working.
If you want to provide food sources for hummingbirds, you can plant certain flowers in your yard. You can also put out a feeder specifically for hummingbirds.
If you choose to mix your own nectar, be careful what ingredients you use.
Hummingbirds can’t eat honey because it’s too thick in its natural state. If it’s watered down to make nectar, it can grow dangerous bacteria that can harm hummingbirds. Hummingbirds should not eat honey in any form. Use regular sugar and water or plant-specific flowers to safely attract these birds.
Why Hummingbirds Should Not Eat Honey
A major part of a hummingbird’s diet is nectar. Nectar is a watery, sugary solution that plants produce. It contains sugars fructose, sucrose, and glucose.
Depending on the type of plant, nectar can have 3-80% sugar content.
Honey is also a sugar substance, but it’s a byproduct of nectar consumption by bees. It’s much thicker than nectar and has a sugar content of 95-99%.
Because it comes from nectar, honey may seem like an ideal choice to attract hummingbirds. However, hummingbirds should not eat honey as it can pose several health issues.
First, honey, either in its natural or store-bought form, is too thick for hummingbirds. It can get stuck on their beaks and feathers, and they may have difficulty drinking it.
In order to make it ingestible, you would need to water it down. This leads to another problem: bacteria growth.
Honey is a natural preservative and antibacterial substance. Its high sugar levels kill bacteria through dehydration instead of feeding them.
That dehydrating effect becomes much less effective when you dilute honey with water. The bacteria will have enough water to feed on the remaining sugar content and multiply.
This dangerous bacteria can be harmful to a hummingbird’s health.
Hummingbirds Require A Lot Of Energy
A hummingbird’s body is constantly working, even to its detriment. They have one of the highest metabolisms relative to body size on earth.
Their hearts beat up to 1,260 beats per minute. Even when resting, they take about 250 breaths per minute. Their average body temperature is 102.2°F (39°C).
In order to keep this up, hummingbirds have to consume food to make energy almost constantly. In human terms, we would have to eat 155,000 calories a day if our metabolisms were as fast as hummingbirds.
They also digest their food very quickly to make room for more. This, along with the rate at which they burn their energy, makes sleeping dangerous.
But hummingbirds have a way to keep themselves alive without burning so much energy. Each night they enter a mini hibernation period or “torpor” state.
This torpor state slows their heart rate. It even stops their breathing, sometimes for several minutes. This keeps their energy levels low enough to make it through the night.
In the morning, they start their metabolisms back up. Then they begin their almost constant search for food again.
A hummingbird can’t waste time on food that offers no metabolic benefit, and feeders with honey do just that. They endanger birds already pushing themselves to their starvation limit.
How Do Hummingbirds Eat?
Hummingbirds rely on the unique build of their beak and tongue to eat. Their length helps them eat nectar deep inside flowers.
The bone and musculature, meanwhile, help them catch insects.
They Use Their Tongues To Eat Nectar
Contrary to the old school of thought, hummingbirds don’t use their long beaks as straw. Instead, the length of their beak is to support their tongue.
Their tongue is what they actually use to eat nectar. They lap their tongue like a dog up to 13 times a second.
They Open Their Beaks To Catch Bugs
Another common idea about hummingbirds is that they can’t open their beaks. This is untrue, and in fact, hummingbirds have a unique way of snapping their beak shut after it opens.
They use a snap-buckling ability that no other vertebrates use. It’s similar to the method a Venus flytrap uses to catch insects.
Insects are an important part of a hummingbird’s diet. They have to be quick to catch those bugs, and their beak structure is vital.
The bottom beak is very thin and flexible, like a diving board. When the beak opens, the bottom half can bend up to 25 degrees. This puts pressure on the base of their beak, which is bone instead of cartilage.
The bone stores that pressure as energy, which the beak then uses to snap shut at high speed.
What You Can Use To Attract Hummingbirds
There are much better ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard than honey.
If you’re using a hummingbird feeder, you can buy pre-made nectar. You can also make your own if you want to avoid additives or use a cheaper alternative.
Mix together one part sugar to four parts water. Be sure to only use white table sugar and dissolve all of it in the mix. Then add it to your feeder just like you would from the store.
Note that there is no need to add red dye to your mixture, although some store versions use it. It offers no benefits and may even harm them. Many store-bought feeders are already red to attract the birds.
Another way to attract hummingbirds is to plant specific flowers. These include bee balm, honeysuckle, columbine, and trumpet creeper.
Hummingbirds are in constant search of food to fuel their high metabolisms. If they don’t get enough or don’t get the right kind, even for a day, they can die.
Although they also eat insects, hummingbirds need to eat a large amount of nectar. In the wild, this nectar comes from flowers, but you can also make it at home for man-made feeders.
However, you should only use regular sugar to make this nectar. Hummingbirds can’t eat honey in its natural, thick state, and they can’t eat watered-down honey, either.
The water content in a honey-nectar mixture can encourage harmful bacteria. If you want to attract hummingbirds, then plant flowers and use only store-bought or sugar-only nectar mixtures.