Feeding Honey Solution to Hummingbirds

hummerwatcherApril 17, 2008

I found in the FAQ for this forum the following statement:

"A honey water solution served up in hummingbird feeders can quickly become toxic and deadly. Honey rapidly ferments and also cultures a deadly bacterium. Contrary to popular belief, honey is not "more natural" than the cane sugar that is sold as white sugar. Honey has been chemically altered by honey bees: it is flower nectar and whatever ever else the honey bee ingested, digested, and spit back out again. Honey is nothing like the sucrose found in flower nectar and white sugar."

I have fed a solution of pure honey/water in my hummingbird feeders for 12 of the 27 years I've maintained the feeders. I've noticed no ill effects on the apparently happy, healthy and certainly populous hummers who live, breed, nest, fight, flee, dipsy-dive, display, perch, torpor, twitter/screech and otherwise carry on as hummers do around here from April to October each year. I first started using dilute honey as hummer feed after I noticed hummers feeding from an open-source feeder I had placed near my garden beehives one Spring day (a modified chick feeder with an inverted quart jar of feed solution).

I have not observed any difference between the fermentation proclivities of honey/water as compared with cane or beet sugar/water solutions. Nor have I observed any greater tendency to culture bacteria or fungi... Of course, cleanliness of feeders and frequent sterilization are a given when feeding hummingbirds.

Is there a specific bacterium which a honey/water solution will culture and not refined white sugar/water?

I would like to know if anyone has any serious data on feeding honey solution to hummingbirds. Is there any scientific, physiological, biological chemical-analysis research to back-up the broad, generalized and somewhat inaccurate statements made in the FAQ quote shown above? (Honeybees neither 'digest' plant nectars, nor 'spit back out' the nectar... they do add certain enzymes to the nectar while carrying it in their 'honey stomach'... and, yes, the nectars are, therefore, chemically different from the pure plant nectars. But pure plant nectars -- the natural and best of hummer food -- are also quite different chemically from monosource and chemically-refined cane or beet sugars.)

I will appreciate any well-researched information which anyone here might offer on this subject. Even anecdotal observations...

If someone can show to me that feeding honey/water solution is harmful to the hummers, I will, naturally, have to re-assess what I have been doing these past 12 years... with no apparent ill effects.


... a hummer feeder and watcher since 1981

... a beekeeper since 1970

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From what I understand from doing a search on google, honey contains a fungus (unsure of the type) that can be transferred to a hummingbirds tongue and could prove fatal. However, I couldn't find an actual research study cited.

I do know that you are not suppose to feed honey to human babies under the age of 1-year because honey may contain the harmful bacterium Clostridium botulinum which causes a rare case of food poisoning. I would guess that hummingbirds would be susceptible to this as well, since the type C form of this bacteria is what causes huge die-offs of waterfowl when they ingest it...usually from fermented grain or other sources, they die, maggots containing more concentrated amounts of the toxin are then injested..you get the picture.

Thus, I wouldn't feed honey solutions to hummingbirds based on the above possibilities of contamination. Boiled sugar water is probably safer and is what is pretty much universally recommended on most of the sites I visited from the google search. Not sure what would happen if you boiled the honey solution first?


    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 1:41AM
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This is so sad...

Quote" If someone can show to me that feeding honey/water solution is harmful to the hummers, I will, naturally, have to re-assess what I have been doing these past 12 years... with no apparent ill effects."

What ill effects would you like to be shown?

Studies like this?


I just love people like this. A pile of leading experts tell them something and that isn't good enough.

This link says "Honey ferments rapidly when diluted with water and can kill hummingbirds."


What you're really saying Alicia is that your research since 1981 is better than the experts and scientists in the hummingbird field.

How about this then, you show us your research proving honey is OK to use?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 11:22AM
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You know if you Google "honey hummingbirds" there are 343,000 links most of which say pretty much the same thing, and that is never put honey water in hummingbird feeders it's been found to kill them.

Now why would someone in their right mind argue with that? Unless?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 11:56AM
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The tough thing is that it's tough to tell what long-term effects anything is having on hummers. Unless they drop over at the feeder, you can't always really tell if honey or red food coloring or whatever is having any effect on them. I know we all have our hummers we know by sight, but unless you're banding the little guys, how can you be sure the bird that returns this year is the same "Junior" or "Betsy" from last year?

Point is, why take the chance? Plus, honey's way more expensive (unless you keep hives, I guess)...I'd break the bank if I used it instead of sugar water!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 2:23PM
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Just want to point out that this user joined TODAY. For some strange reason, people like to get a rise out of people on GW forums. Take it with a grain of salt, and let this thread fall down. Christy :)

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 8:37PM
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mbuckmaster makes a good point. Unless you are scientifically studying the hummingbirds you don't have any idea what the honey is doing to them. I have an old book by an English guy named Mobbs who wrote about keeping hummingbirds in aviaries. It's not a scientific book but he goes into a lot of detail on particular hummingbirds including how long they lived in captivity. It was usually just a few weeks or months, which made me really sad and angry to read. When he could tell what they died of it was usually a yeast infection (candida). He fed them honey because back then they thought it was more natural. Now that we know better and make their artificial nectar from white sugar some zoos have been able to keep hummingbirds alive for years. What does that tell you?

Here is a link that might be useful: Troll

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 11:53PM
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Good info, sidk...and anecdotal evidence like that is really the best we have with hummingbirds. Sounds fairly conclusive to me as far as it goes.

And a shrewdly included link! ;)

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 10:45AM
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Sidk, One thing many people in North America don't know is that in Europe "humming birds" (two words) is a common word for a type of nectar eating sunbird. They are found through the middle east and into Africa, and are kept in Europe as caged birds much like people do to parrots over here. When you read on the internet or in books about "keeping" humming-birds it's a totally different genus of bird.

I hope that person is a Troll and not someone killing our hummingbirds through sheer arrogance.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 20, 2008 at 4:17PM
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Mobbs may have also written about sunbirds or other nectar drinking birds but the book I have is specifically about hummingbirds. I haven't run across any examples of that confusion in other books about aviculture but I guess there's no shortage of ignorance about nature on either side of the Atlantic. I can't imagine why anybody would call any other bird a "humming bird" since only hummingbirds have wings that hum.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2008 at 5:02AM
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