John Sponsler enjoys watching hummingbirds around his North Baltimore home. He’d read about the concerns of red dye as an attractant in feeders, yet he noticed that many commercially made nectars have red added to help attract the little buzz bombs.
I’ve heard the concerns before, so it was time for a little research. Is the dye used harmful to hummingbirds? Ron O’Kane, of Perky-Pet Products and a producer of red nectars, declares the controversy is unfounded:
“Rumors about red dye being bad for hummers have been around for many years. Each time that rumor surfaces, we do our best to track it down to see if there is any basis in fact “¦ in every instance we’ve found not only no conclusive evidence of harmful effects of coloring, but in every case have found absolutely no evidence at all!
“One reincarnation of the rumor had its start in an article that appeared in the February 25, 1990 Day Newspaper of New London, Connecticut. This article quoted a study by the San Diego Zoo which was purported to have discovered that “birds which ingested nectar containing red dye produced baby birds which were blind, deformed or had shells which would not open.” Someone forwarded a copy of this article to the headquarters of the Wild Birds Unlimited chain which subsequently quoted the article.
“A copy of the Wild Bird newsletter to the general manager of Perky-Pet “¦ The first thing he did was to get on the phone to the San Diego Zoo and talk to the Animal Care Manager of Birds, Mr. Wayne Schulenburg, to try and find out about the study. What Mr. Schulenburg told him was that the Zoo had never done such a study, that the whole thing was totally fabricated.” answers O’Kane: “Mr. O’Kane is correct that there is no definitive research one way or the other. It’s important to understand that this means there is also no research that proves red dye is safe for hummingbirds.”
They add that several experienced, licensed wildlife rehabilitators have said that they see disturbing damage in hummers that were known to use dyed syrup, including tumors of the bill and liver. They admit that nothing has been published in a refereed journal.
The Audubon Society has long been an authority concerning birds. Their California Chapter offers this statement in their frequently asked questions: “Current thinking is that the red dye may not be good for them, nor is it necessary to attract hummingbirds.”
Most of the concerns for the hummingbird’s safety involves the use of artificial dyes (Red No. 40 and No. 3) that have been FDA approved for human consumption. Part of the approval of the dye as part of our diets considers the amount that would likely be taken into our systems.
Obviously, a human is quite a bit larger than a hummingbird and the likelihood of overdosing is unlikely. These tiny birds burn calories so quickly that they may eat 1½ to 3 times their body weight each day. That’s a lot of red dye.
Even so, there seems to be no definitive scientific answer, and I like my facts. So, what do I suggest? Buy commercial nectar if you want, but it’s really unnecessary.
A simple, inexpensive mixture of 1 cup sugar to every 4 cups of water heated to a boil, then cooled, is perfect. The colors on your feeder will be enough to attract the birds for their first visit; the food will bring them back. Coloring your concoction dye-free cherry, raspberry or other fruit juice concentrate makes a safe and simple alternative.
Regardless of your decision, keeping feeders clean may be more important. The sugar/water mix can ferment fairly quickly, making it bad for the very wildlife it’s meant to energize. It will also help keep bacteria and molds from forming a deadly brew.
“A flash of harmless lightning, A mist of rainbow dyes, The burnished sunbeams brightening From flower to flower he flies.” — John Banister Tabb
Along the way
State wildlife officers were recently checking walleye anglers in Ottawa County. Three out-of-state fishermen were contacted as they returned to the docks. The anglers said that they’d been out fishing earlier in the day and got skunked, but had better luck during the afternoon and caught their limit of four walleye each. They added that they had also caught eight walleye the day before.
The officers asked to see their previous catch and were told that the fish were in their hotel refrigerator. When the officers arrived to inspect the catch, no fish were found. Acting surprised, the fishermen claimed their room must have been burglarized and the culprits swiped their catch. Yes, indeed, the officers believed something fishy was going on.
The officers quickly sniffed out the hidden fish along with a few more that the anglers had neglected to mention, enabling them to wrap up the investigation. The judge found the poached fish a bit too much to swallow and demanded the court net $458 from each of their wallets, along with their fishing license.
Step outside
• Applications are being accepted for controlled deer and waterfowl hunts on selected areas during the upcoming hunting seasons. The application period runs through Monday, July 31.
Hunters can apply by completing the application process online using Ohio’s Wildlife Licensing System at Specific information about hunt dates and locations, including opportunities dedicated to youth, women and mobility impaired hunters will also be found online.
• Ohio hunters checked 21,015 wild turkeys during the spring wild turkey season and the youth hunting season. In 2016, 17,793 birds were bagged. Local harvests and the comparative number from last year are: Allen: 91 (89); Hancock: 52 (53); Hardin: 86 (87); Putnam 66 (87); Seneca: 179 (141); Wood: 24 (36); Wyandot: 108 (103).
• Tomorrow: 3-D mixed animal archery match, registration opens 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay.
• Tomorrow: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Monday: Women on Target, 6 p.m., HCCL, 13748 Jackson Township 168, Findlay.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at