Change in bird feeder mixture won't harm hummers

I enjoy watching hummingbirds sip at a feeder outside my kitchen window. I've always followed a 4-parts-water to 1-part-sugar ratio for their syrup. But I ran short of sugar the other day, and the ratio in the current mixture is probably 5 to 1. I've noticed the hummingbirds are not drinking this up as quickly. I am wondering if that is simply because it doesn't taste as sweet? I'm not causing damage by feeding a weaker mixture, am I?

— Jody R., Eagle Point

Breathe easy, Jody. You're doing no damage at all, according to local bird-feeding experts.

Howard Sands of Wild Birds Unlimited in Medford said the mixture you're feeding probably does taste a little less sweet to your hummingbirds.

And you always can add a little more sugar to your feeder. But don't be flummoxed into thinking you're doing the hummers harm, even if they're turning up their pointy beaks and sipping slower than usual.

Sands said the typical hummingbird syrup recipe is, as you stated, a 4-to-1 ratio of water to sugar. But making it a little stronger, or weaker, won't make a difference in the long run, he said.

"They came up with the 4-to-1 ratio because it most closely mimics the natural nectar hummingbirds get in a flower," Sands said.

But those hummingbirds are eating a lot of different things right now. Flowers are in bloom, and insects are abundant, he said.

"Believe it or not, they eat a lot of insects," Sands said.

Sands said key points to remember when mixing up your syrup is to ensure you do not to put in additives, colors or even vitamins into the mix.

Also, do not use powered sugar, as it will make the mix cloudy, Sands said.

If you feed your wild friends year-round, Sands recommends increasing the ratio of sugar to water in the winter because it makes the liquid less likely to freeze.

Be sure to clean those feeders regularly to prevent bacteria or toxins that could sicken or even kill the little flying beauties.

By the way, the zippy birds may seem to be endlessly darting hither an yon. But the reality is they are more like Since You Asked sleuths than one would think.

"Believe it or not, they spend three quarters of their lives sitting," Sands said.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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