Red dye in hummingbird nectar

Posted by Douglas Everett on

  • Never use red food coloring.
  • A very comprehensive link about Red Food Coloring
  • Most feeders have the color red incorporated into their manufacture. Most feeders made today have enough red in their design and manufacture that the red coloring in the nectar is not necessary to draw the birds in. Also, once the hummingbirds have found the feeder, and if the nectar is replaced regularly, they will keep coming back to the same location. Coloration enables them to first find the feeder. They do not depend on the coloration after initial visits to the same location.
  • Red dye #40, named Allura Red AC is petroleum based. Red dye #40 was originally made from coal tar, but it is now made mostly from petroleum. There is little reason to use it. It may be toxic to their little systems. In Europe, red dye #40 is not recommended for consumption by children. (Source:
  • There really is no scientific proof that red dye #40 definitely harms or is safe for hummingbirds but knowing its source, why use it, especially if it has no benefits to the hummingbirds and will not attract hummingbirds any more than clear nectar does.
  • For feeders that lack enough color, try tying a red ribbon to the feeder and/ or paint bright red nail polish on the food ports.
  • Once they find it for the first time, their internal "GPS" system will effectively enable them to return to the same exact location time after time.
  • Natural flower nectar isn't colored, so why put something in your nectar solution that the real thing doesn't have?
  • The red dye passes though the hummingbird's system. The Hilton Pond Center website (Myth #11) has an image showing red dye #40 stains on a hummingbird at the site of excretion. And the dye also stains their excretions red.
  • Naturalist and author Julie Zickefoose made an interesting observation while rehabbing a female hummingbird. The bird had been fed red nectar before entering her care, and she was shocked by the red droppings that the hummingbird continued to excrete for over a day after the red nectar was stopped. You can see pictures of the red-stained droppings.

    These indicators mean the red dye is "not metabolized, but passes through the kidneys, where it might cause problems." (Source: Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History)

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