USING A HIGHER SUGAR TO WATER RATIO DURING WINTER CAN HARM HUMMINGBIRDS
OR CAN IT?
I WANT TO CLARIFY HERE WHEN IT IS OK TO USE A 1 TO 3 RATIO OF SUGAR TO WATER AND THAT IT IS FOR SHORT TERM (NO MORE THAN QUARTER OF A DAY USE ONLY) USUALLY 4 HOURS IN THE MORNING UNTIL TEMPERATURES RISE. This is a little behind the scenes video blog otherwise known as a vlog. In the video I mentioned that I use a 1 part sugar to 3 parts water ratio during winter which has caused a little uproar among the hummingbird community and for good reason!
When I photograph hummingbirds I spend all day near the feeders. By all day I mean I'm out of the house at 8am or earlier stopping for the occasional coffee, lunch and then dinner until the sun starts to set. Tending to the feeder regularly as the temperature changes. I never leave it unattended. This responsibility and dedication has lead me to using a higher ratio for a short period of time during those frosty mornings where the temperature hits zero degrees Celsius or 30 Fahrenheit. BUT THE HIGHER RATIO CAN CAUSE HUMMINGBIRDS HARM.
I have read a couple of articles stating that higher sugar ratios cause a hardening of the kidneys in hummingbirds causing them great harm and even death. While not disagreeing with what the article is saying; observation, logic and research and a little science is something that I take great pride in when it comes to making decisions on how my actions will affect animals. By no means do I have a PHD in animal science and the last thing I want to ever do is harm any of my little subjects!
DETERMINING WHY YOU ARE PUTTING UP A FEEDER
Well its a relatively simple question are you a dedicated professional spending many hours over many days with hummingbirds tending to the feeder or are you fascinated by the little birds and simply want to see them visit your back garden?
If you happen to frequently be (AFF)- away from feeder and just want to attract them to your garden then use a ratio of 1:4 and don't change the ratio! 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water.
If you are a professional photographer like myself and you want to take advantage of the early morning light in winter you might have considered using a higher ratio of sugar to water to stop the feeder from freezing. A great idea to be used in moderation and Never use a ratio greater than 1 part sugar to 3 parts water only during the morning while it is below freezing. switch the feeder back to a 1:4 ratio as soon as the temperature outside rises.
Plants themselves produce nectar with sugar levels between 8% and 50% sugar in the nectar and of course plant nectar fluctuates throughout the year. Hummingbirds feed all year round even during times when the ratios of nectar contain 50% sugar. Nectar and sugar water are similar the only thing that is different are the sugars used and created, refined sugar and natural sugar. Studies have shown that even pine tree sap is a high concentrated source of sugar hummingbirds feed off.
Refined sugar gets digested super fast and spikes sugar levels and can put more stress on the digestive system and kidneys while natural sugar is absorbed more slowly. I can see here how this would harm hummingbirds over a long period of time such as using a 1 to 3 ratio for more than 3 days. what we have to understand is the speed at which hummingbirds digest. I would relate It to humans getting diabetes and kidney failure at the same time while going on a diet of just candy and soda.
WHEN AND WHY TO USE A RATIO OF 1 TO 3?
- During the morning when the weather is cool a higher sugar to water ratio stops the feeder from freezing up. Just like how plants and flowers constantly change due to weather and season I do the same with the ratio of sugar in the feeder. THIS IS THE ONLY TIME YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE RATIO ADDING MORE SUGAR.
Only if you are constantly spending time by the feeder as you need to change it back to a 1:4 ratio as soon as temperatures rise.
WHY NOT TO USE A 1 TO 3 RATIO?
- long exposure to this ratio can cause kidney failure in hummingbirds remember diabetes and kidney failure at the same time!
- The temperature outside never goes below freezing and you are not willing to spend all that time outside by the feeder ready to change it to a ratio of 1:4 when the temperature rises.
- You are (AFF) Away from feeder and can't maintain it.
All in all weather you are just simply putting up a feeder to enjoy hummingbirds in the garden or are a photographer looking to get some early morning light images during wintertime. With enough responsibility and dedication we can all enjoy hummingbirds without harming them.