MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Do hummingbirds really always prefer red? Is that inborn?

Date: Wed Jan 6 07:44:56 1999
Posted By: J.M. Wingert , RM(ASM), Staff, Comparative Pathology Department, Baylor College of Medicine
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 910475637.Zo

Dear Alice,

 Hummingbirds are drawn to red, pink, and orange flowers. Somgood 
hummingbird flowers are impatiens, salvia, lilies, trumpet
vine, and monarda (bee balm). Although trumpet-shaped flowers
are famous for attracting hummingbirds, the diminutive blossoms of coral 
bells receive more hummer attention than any flower in the garden except 

 It's best to plant several kinds of flowers, so that something will
be in bloom for hummingbirds all the time, whether they are
migrating north in spring, spending the summer (if you're lucky),
or heading south in the fall. Hummingbirds prefer flowers planted
in big same-species clumps, rather than scattered around. And of
course you will want to avoid chemicals and sprays.

Hummingbird feeders impose a responsibility on the provider. Tobe safe, 
they must be clean, and that is a challenge in hot weather.
The solution should be changed at least every other day, even if
no hummingbirds are using it, so that it doesn't ferment or get
moldy. Once a week the feeder must be washed with vinegar and
water or a 10% chlorine solution and scrubbed with a
baby-bottle brush. (Most experts advise against using soap or

 If all this is too much trouble, just plant the flowers and skip the
artificial feeders. You'll still attract hummingbirds, and you won't
be harming them with unsanitary feeders.

   Here's the recipe for hummingbird syrup. Boil four cups of water
   and stir in one cup of white sugar. Do not use honey, which can
   cause a fatal fungal infection on the birds' tongues. Do not add
   food coloring to the solution. The red color on the feeder is
   sufficient. You can store the excess syrup in the refrigerator for a
   week or two.

    Hang the feeder where you can see it from a window. If ants
   discover the feeder, discourage them by applying petroleum jelly
   to the wire that suspends the feeder. If bees begin to dominate,
   purchase a hummingbird feeder that comes with bee guards.

The following information was taken from the website

 Experts empahasize the fact that Red dye is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY to 
attract hummingbirds.
 In fact, there are reports of informal experiments using side by side 
feeders, one with red syrup and one with plain, and given this choice the 
birds refused to use the  red syrup. 

 Natural flower nectar is clear, not red. Hummingbirds don't look at 
nectar anyway, they look for flowers of the right shape and color, and 
nearly all hummingbird feeders are red plastic. For the ones that aren't, 
tie on some red ribbon or surveyor's tape if the birds need help finding 

Another excellent site on hummingbirds can be found at

I hope this is worthwhile information for your project.

June Wingert  RM ( ASM )
Baylor  College of Medicine
Houston,  Texas

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