Search of the Week: “is molasses ok to feed hummingbirds”


Feeding stations in southeastern Arizona attract rare beauties such as Lucifer Hummingbirds with plain old sugar water.

NO. Molasses (and brown sugar, which contains molasses) is absolutely not safe to feed hummingbirds. It’s high in iron, for which nectar- and fruit-eating birds have a very low tolerance. When hummingbirds consume more iron than their natural diet provides, the excess builds up in their organs and kills them slowly and painfully.

As I’ve covered here before, there are only two things that are absolutely safe to put in your hummingbird feeders: white sugar and water. Just add 1 part white granulated sugar to 4 parts good quality water. Stir until dissolved (no boiling necessary). Adding to or substituting for this recipe could put their health at risk, and what intelligent, caring person would want to do that to a hummingbird?

But since there have been so many searches like this lately, let me repeat and expand the list of things that don’t belong in hummingbird feeders:

No-sign-20px Honey
No-sign-20px Molasses
No-sign-20px Any non-white sugar, including brown, organic, “raw,” turbinado, “natural,” Zulka Morena, colored baking sugars, and evaporated cane juice
No-sign-20px Powdered sugar (which contains anti-caking ingredients)
No-sign-20px Pancake syrup, maple syrup, or agave syrup (misleadingly marketed as “nectar”)
No-sign-20px High-fructose corn syrup (e.g., Karo Syrup)
No-sign-20px Artificial sweeteners (Sweet ‘n’ Low, Equal, Splenda, or their generics)
No-sign-20px Natural nonnutritive sweeteners (stevia derivatives such as Truvia, Stevia In The Raw, various others)
No-sign-20px Anything containing artificial or nonnutritive sweeteners
No-sign-20px Artificial food coloring, including but not limited to Red #40 and Red #3
No-sign-20px Anything containing artificial coloring (including most “instant nectar” and “hummingbird food” products)
No-sign-20px Anything containing sodium benzoate or other preservatives (including most “instant nectar” and “hummingbird food” products)
No-sign-20px Protein or vitamin supplements (protein powder, pet bird vitamins, dried insects, etc.)
No-sign-20px Jell-O or similar products
No-sign-20px Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, or equivalents
No-sign-20px Gatorade or other sports drinks
No-sign-20px Alcoholic beverages of any kind
No-sign-20px Carbonated beverages of any kind
No-sign-20px Caffeinated beverages of any kind
No-sign-20px Fruit juices (except a small amount of concentrate added to sugar water for color, if you must)
No-sign-20px Beet juice or other vegetable juices
No-sign-20px Lemonade, limeade, or other fruit-based beverages
No-sign-20px Coffee, regular or decaf
No-sign-20px Teas, whether black, green, or herbal, regular or decaffeinated
No-sign-20px Dairy products or substitutes
No-sign-20px Vegetable oils
No-sign-20px Soup, broth, or consommé
No-sign-20px Vanilla extract or other natural or artificial flavorings or extracts
No-sign-20px Essential oils or herbal extracts
No-sign-20px Perfumes or other fragrances, whether natural or artificial, designer or fake
No-sign-20px Colloidal metals, including silver, gold, platinum, uranium, plutonium, and unobtanium
No-sign-20px Anything other than pure white granulated sugar and good-quality water. 




25 thoughts on “Search of the Week: “is molasses ok to feed hummingbirds”

  1. I just wish to say I appreciate the info you have posted on here. I was at a friend’s house this weekend and she was talking of putting up a hummingbird feeder. They drink well water and it is slightly colored with minerals (I hope, but we’ve never gotten sick drinking it) I was able to tell her that the well water is not good for the hummies and she said she will get filtered water specifically for them.

    Now I just need to convince some one they do not need to spray their hummingbird feeders with perfume. They think the scent attracts the hummingbirds…

    • Glad to help! As for your other “someone,” you should encourage them to sniff hummingbird-pollinated flowers such as Trumpet Creeper, Coral Honeysuckle, and Scarlet Lobelia. Even in the aromatic-foliaged sages, the flower itself has no fragrance, which is thought to help avoid attracting competing insects.

  2. Wow- I thought white (granulated) sugar was dyed and that the brown form of it was in its natural state, therefore being more healthy for Hummingbirds. Good thing I’ve been using regular white sugar. I didn’t know about the honey/ molasses either- who knew! Thanks for this valuable information.

    • Kirkland organic sugar from Costco is light cream in color. States that it is “organic cane sugar” and can be used as a “one-for-one replacement for refined white sugar.” I’m not privy to the processing and wonder if there is too much iron in this product and that I should use pure white sugar (e.g. C&H). Personally, I like the taste of Costco’s organic sugar over pure white sugar but want to use the healthiest product for hummingbirds. Thank you.

      • As the post indicates, organic sugar is non-white and contains potentially dangerous amounts of iron. I like the taste of organic/raw/turbinado sugars, too, but I use only fully refined white sugar to make feeder solution.

  3. Pingback: Search of the Week: “what can I feed hummingbirds to get them protein” | Life, Birds, and Everything

  4. Wow, I’m so glad I read that. I’m going to the store and buy the WHITE sugar. First I’m taking my feeder s down

    • It depends on the quality of your well water, Sandy. Surface contamination can introduce bacteria, protozoan parasites, and chemical pollutants (pesticides, fertilizers, petrochemicals from roadways, etc.), and the underlying geology can contribute “natural” (but still potentially dangerous) contaminants such as iron, arsenic, lead, and hydrocarbons. Boiling well water will get rid of potential pathogens, but the other contaminants aren’t so easy to remove. If any of these are known or suspected to be in your well water, it would be wise to use reverse-osmosis filtered water for drinking, cooking, and making hummingbird feeder solution.

  5. Dear Sheri, I’ve cut slices in non GMO lemons and oranges and hung them in my fruit trees ,Do you see a health risk to the hummers ,I’ve done this for years and years ,seams they always come back

    • No. Hummingbirds sometimes drink the juices of overripe fruits, especially when competition for flower nectar is high. Oranges and lemons aren’t native to the Americas, but there’s nothing in them that would be toxic to hummingbirds, even if they were GMO. Pesticide residues are an actual threat to hummingbirds and other wildlife, so give them organically grown fruits or wash conventionally grown fruits well before serving.

  6. If I boil the well water that is somewhat high in iron, will it be safe to use. I do not have any filter on well and my family has never had any problems. Will boiling remove iron. Also, will a salt flush system be harmful to the birds if I add one onto my well aystem?
    Thanks so much.

    • With rare exceptions, humans don’t suffer health problems from high concentrations of iron in their tap water. If your well water has passed tests for contaminants dangerous to human health, then your main concern is the iron content. As I replied to Sandy above, mineral contaminants are difficult to remove. This page talks about the different sources of iron in well water and several approaches to reducing or eliminating it:

      University of Minnesota Extension: Treatment systems for household water supplies: Iron and manganese removal

      Unless you feed huge numbers of hummingbirds, I’d recommend using bottled water to make your feeder solution, at least until you come up with a way to treat your well water. My tap water comes from wells contaminated with arsenic, so I mix it with water purified by reverse osmosis to make feeder solution.

      I don’t know what a “salt flush system” is, but as long as it doesn’t raise sodium levels in the water it shouldn’t be a problem.

  7. as there such a thing as organic white sugar? I don’t want to feed them all of the pesticides sprayed on regular white sugar.

    • What is marketed as “white” organic sugar hasn’t been purified to remove the residual iron, so it should not be used to feed hummingbirds. Conventional white sugar is a purer product, even though the crops it is extracted from were treated with pesticides/herbicides. There’s no evidence of health risks from whatever minute traces of these chemicals might remain in the final product, even at hummingbird consumption levels. Of more concern is their effect on the environment where the sugar is grown.

  8. I read this article just in the nick of time! I was going to try agave in place of sugar this morning, but decided to check internet, first! Thank you!

  9. This Bird Watchers Digest article argues that maple syrup is not bad for hummingbirds. It writes, “A favorite sap of the hummingbirds is that of the sugar maple tree—the same substance from which maple syrup is made. Several researchers have offered maple syrup—the boileddown sap, not the artificial stuff—to hummers over the years to observe the birds’ reaction to it, with positive results. The birds readily take to the sweet drink.”


    • On the contrary, Jane: The article doesn’t argue that it’s not bad, only that hummingbirds will drink it. There’s a big difference.

      There are three main problems with using maple syrup in your feeder:

      Reason 1: Maple syrup isn’t the same as maple sap. To become syrup, the natural sap must be boiled long and hard to concentrate the sugars and filtered to remove particulates. Unlike the multistage purifying processes that turn sugar cane sap into granulated sugar (which is 99.7-99.9% pure sucrose), these processes concentrate soluble contaminants present in the original sap and may introduce others, including heavy metals and cleaning compounds. Unscrupulous producers may subject their product to further adulteration to improve profits. Exponentially different consumption rates, metabolic rates, and lifespans make these issues relatively inconsequential for humans but potentially problematical for hummingbirds.

      Reason 2: Being a concentrated form of sap, maple syrup contains a much wider range of nutrients than either sugar water or the nectars of hummingbird-pollinated flowers, including approximately twice as much iron as conventional white sugar. If you think more nutrients in feeder solution is a good thing, keep in mind that the yeasts, fungi, bacteria, and molds that that infest feeder solutions think so, too. More nutrients in feeder solution translates to faster spoilage, creating more work for the person maintaining the feeders and increasing the risk of disease for the birds that visit them.

      Reason 3: Genuine, high-quality maple syrup is a prohibitively expensive substitute for white sugar unless you feed very few hummingbirds or own a maple grove. If money’s no object, you’d still be better off switching to quick-dissolving caster sugar (a.k.a. baker’s or superfine sugar) rather than using maple syrup.

      There are many scientific and practical reasons why white sugar has been the experts’ choice for feeding both wild and captive hummingbirds for more than half a century. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

      • Thanks for the answer Sheri! I’m switching to quick-dissolving caster sugar immediately!

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