Search of the Week: “if refined sugar is so bad for us, then why do we feed it to hummingbirds??”

3 Rufous, 1 Costa'sBecause hummingbirds aren’t humans, as I’ve pointed out here before, and one species’ meat is another species’ poison.

We modern humans are large, sedentary primates whose evolution hasn’t prepared us for our current unnatural abundance of calorie-dense foods, including sugars. We eat vastly more sugars than our ancestors did, and we pay the price in obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and other problems. *

Hummingbirds, on the other hand, are tiny, hyperactive creatures with raging metabolisms fueled in large part by naturally concentrated sugar sources (primarily flower nectar). Our smaller northern species need at minimum the caloric equivalent of ~40% of their body weight in sugar every day just to function. Even at our elevated consumption levels, it would take the average American more than six months to eat 40% of his or her body weight in sugar.

All plants manufacture sugars in their tissues, and many use them to bribe animals for pollination services. Sucrose, a naturally occurring sugar that most of us know as white table sugar, is the main sugar found in the nectars of hummingbird-pollinated flowers and so is the most natural ingredient to put in hummingbird feeders. We get our sucrose from the sap of sugar cane and sugar beets, but it’s chemically identical to the sucrose in flower nectar. (Refining sugar isn’t like refining oil; it involves filtering the plant juices to remove contaminants, including some that are dangerous to hummingbirds, and crystallizing the purified sugars.) 

* I’ve also said here before that sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, based on assurances by ostensibly credible organizations, but recent research has established a very strong correlation between sugar availability and type 2 diabetes. It appears that Big Sugar took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook and worked tirelessly for decades to keep the public from learning the facts about their product.

Related posts:

Feeder Solution Evolution Part 1: The basics

Search of the Week: “why don’t hummingbirds get diabetes?”

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

Beet juice in hummingbird feeders? NO!

Vampire hummingbird expert + urban myth remix

4 thoughts on “Search of the Week: “if refined sugar is so bad for us, then why do we feed it to hummingbirds??”

  1. Pingback: Birdchick Podcast #146: Swifts, Storms and Spiders « Birdchick

  2. Here’s a better and healthier recipe. One chosen and fine-tuned by hummingbirds themselves.

    [link redacted]

    I’d say that droves of hummingbirds returning every year, and will even tap on my windows if their feeders aren’t out in time, is testament to its efficacy and healthfulness. There’s lots of myths and legends being spread on the internet, by those who accept the first hits they get on Google as fact. When IN FACT, those are just the most popular answers voted on by lazy minds giving those answers the most hit-counts — ending-up being not the correct answers at all. Urban legends die even harder these days, they get amplified exponentially via the net.

    • Your recipe, which contains brown sugar, is exposing the birds to a toxic element known to kill hummingbirds.

      Brown sugar is just white sugar with added molasses, which, as I have previously discussed on this blog, is rich in iron. A little extra iron is fine for most humans, but it can be deadly for nectar- and fruit-eating birds.

      The tiny quantity of dietary iron hummingbirds need comes naturally from the arthropods in their diet. When a hummingbird’s iron intake rises above natural levels, the excess iron builds up in the liver and other vital organs. Chronic iron overload such as would result from daily consumption of an iron-rich feeder solution causes a slow, painful death as the organs are damaged beyond repair. Excess iron in their liquid diet wiped out almost the entire population of captive hummingbirds at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in 2001, and iron poisoning has also been recorded in a wild hummingbird found dead in a suburban area. The source of the deadly iron in the latter case is unknown, but it could have been feeder solution made with iron-rich brown, “raw,” or organic sugar.

      Natural hummingbird nectar, whose “recipe” has been “chosen and fine-tuned by hummingbirds themselves” over 40 million years of co-evolution, is the basis for today’s feeder solution recipe of one part refined white sugar dissolved in three to five parts good quality (iron-free) tap, well, or bottled water. Please switch back to this safe and scientific recipe and advise everyone to whom you’ve promoted your toxic concoction to do the same.

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