Red food coloring

bug_key(z6MA)June 23, 2006

I have read pro and cons regarding red food coloring in HB solution, my orginal receipe called for 2-3 drops per 2 cup portion. Does this hurt the birds? Should I stop doing this?


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It's not necessary, so why add it? There may be others on this forum who can say if it has known negative effects, but I, myself, don't know. Still, even if there were no known negative effects, why add something that is totally unnecessary, only to perhaps find out later that it was harmful? Remember thalidomide? I'm not suggesting it's that bad, but that's a classic example of something thought to be safe that turned out to be dangerous. As for positive effects, I can't imagine what those would be other than the red color.

Red is a very attractive color to hummingbirds, but I think it's best when found on the exterior of the feeder, around the feeding port. That is sufficient to bring the birds in without coloring the solution, itself.

I'll be interested to see if anyone has read any studies of specific harmful effects from red food coloring. I haven't, but that doesn't mean they aren't out there.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2006 at 8:00PM
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Havent found any specific studies. I just use 1 part sugar to 4 parts water and boil. Let cool and serve. My feeders have red on them and the h.b.'s have no problem with the uncolored dye. I took this pic a few days ago. 4 hummingbirds were flocking this feeder, I caught this one in silhouette. Note there is no color in the food. If its not broken, then dont fix it. Kristin is right.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 8:01PM
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According to Sally Roth the author of "Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to Your Backyard" a Rodale Organic Gardening Publication published in 2001 she discusses this very point in her paragraph on nectar recipes. She states that nectar does not need red food coloring but that it is essentially harmless and no one need worry that if it is included it will hurt the hummingbirds."So if you like the convenience of ready-mix nectar powders and all you can find is the red variety, don't worry. You aren't harming your hummingbirds by using it." She says the myth of red food dye being harmful gained headway when Red Food Dye #2 was pulled off the FDA's list of approved additives to human food several years ago. Suddenly we all feared red food dye, and hummingbird nectar caught some of the fall out.

So I guess you can do whatever your preference is without any worry about harm to your hummers.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2006 at 7:22AM
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tzunun(z8 SS10 SE AZ)

Even though the most troubling research on this issue came to the attention of the hummingbird community well after the publication of Ms. Roth's book, I'm still surprised that someone who's a recognized authority in organic gardening circles would so breezily dismiss concerns about a synthetic coal-tar dye in food.

The big issue is not whether Red #40 (the azo dye used in both "instant nectar" products and food coloring for home use) is safe at normal human rates of consumption but whether it - or any other unnatural additive - is safe in the vastly higher quantities that hummingbirds consume. Would YOU drink three to five times your weight in bright red Kool-Aid every day?

Here's what you need to know about hummingbirds and Red #40: Please Don't Use Red Dye Should I Add Red Dye to My Hummingbird Food?

Feeding Hummingbirds: The Dangers of Red Dye #40

    Bookmark   June 27, 2006 at 4:52PM
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Thank you so much, tzunun, for those links about Red#40. I had never actually read any studies for or against, but just couldn't understand the benefits of using it. It's more expensive, and unnecessary. Why use it, even if there is the faintest glimmer of risk?

Even if it actually were harmless, we could never be experimentally certain that it was. If we did huge, expensive experiments, all we could show, perhaps, would be that there did not seem to be a link between the dye and increased long term health risks in hummingbirds. Can Perky Pet show us research in which red dye was fed to huge, statistically relevant samples of birds, and show that they did not experience an unusual rate of health problems? The answer is no, and given the unnecessary nature of the stuff, the burden should be on them to show that there are no long-term ill effects.

The absence of solid research showing toxicity in hummingbirds is simply not a reason to feed the stuff to them in megadoses. Think about it. The type of experiment necessary to indicate safeness, or harmfulness would be close to impossible to run on hummingbirds. Aviaries would not want to jeopardize the health of their valuable captives, and would suffer from small sample size. Studies in the wild would be close to logistically impossible. How would you follow them, find their nests, and do a wide enough study for it to mean anything? I suppose you could test it with large numbers of chickens, but they still aren't all that similar to hummingbirds. In any case, if an experimental link were found between the dye and certain health problems, it could always be argued that proper controls weren't in place, or perhaps something else was killing the birds other than the dye. Given these sad realities, why bother with the study?

It's illuminating that toxicity has been found for rodents, and at much lower concentrations than a hummingbird would receive. I already saw no reason to expose them to this dye, and now I'm even more sure.


    Bookmark   June 27, 2006 at 6:08PM
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Very well put Kristin! I was the hummingbird keeper at the San Diego Zoo for many years and have always stressed the potential harm of adding red food coloring to hummingbird nectar. When I started working in the Zoo's Hummingbird Exhibit in the Spring of 1976, they weren't using the red dye and I was told that it was because studies had shown the detrimental effects to hummingbirds. Over the years I have written several hummingbird articles and never found evidence of any studies. I came to the conclusion that the Zoo's orginal decision not to use the red dye probably came about because of the Red Dye #2 situation. Thank goodness somebody had the foresight way back then to realize the potential harm to the hummingbirds even in the absence of a formal study. Since then I raised hundreds of baby hummingbirds, and I was always very distressed at the droppings of those babies whose mothers were drinking from feeders which contained colored nectar. Their droppings were virtually black due to the concentrated dye in their systems! That only served to make me more fearful about what effect it was having in those tiny little bodies! As you said Kristin, if it's not necessary, why use it?
One thing that really bothers me is the article regarding Perky Pet's justification for using the dye. It upsets me that they used Wayne Schulenburg to bolster their position. Wayne was a very dear friend of mine, as well as my former brother-in-law, and knew more about birds than anyone I've ever known. (Sadly he died a couple of years ago.) Although he did agree that there was no record of any study done on the subject, he would never have recommended the use of red dye! He not only worked in the Zoo's Bird Department for many years, but he also had a very impressive private collection of birds at home, which included exotic hummingbirds. I can say unequivocally that he never used food coloring in his feeders! It bothers me that Perky Pet is using his reply to their inquiry (taken out of context, I'm sure) to justify their continued use of the dye. In fact he was adamant about NOT using it. How sad that they should use him to mislead people about the safety of their product.
Fortunately, I think that people are becoming educated about the situation because I see very few feeders with colored nectar here in Southern California. When I do, I try to approach the homeowners in a nice way and let them know of the potential dangers of the dye. They always take it quite well and are pleased to learn about the simple sugar/ water mixture they can make themselves. Let's hope that we can make enough of an impact to the point that the PP nectar becomes obsolete!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 2:57AM
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jobird(z6 Ky)

This is a very controversial subject and I suggest you look here for answers.

Here is a link that might be useful: Controversial subjects

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 9:31AM
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Why use it? the only reason anyone ever used it was because of the red attractant. Most feeders already have red on them and thats really all you need, in fact there are feeders that are all red. I dont know if the red dye harms the hummers or not. Im sure you can find as many articles for red dye as against it, but why waste the money when plain sugar water works just as well. There was a time when I was uninformed years ago , but now I would never use it, each to his or her own I guess

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 4:13PM
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penny1947(z6 WNY)

This discussion comes up periodically on any and every forum where hummingbirds are discussed just as the ratio of sugar to water is discussed. We already know that plain granulated cane sugar dissolved in water is the closest to natural plant nectar since sugar comes from sugar cane. The red dye is manufactured in a lab. it is not naturally found in any plants used by any wildlife. So why would anyone in good conscience use something that MAY cause long term harm that is manufactured and not natural. You have to use common sense. If something works well and is already known to be safe why try to enhance it with chemicals that may not be safe.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 6:29AM
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is grenadine bad for hummingbirds?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 11:03AM
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