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Can Hummingbirds Live on Just Sugar Water?

Can Hummingbirds Live on Just Sugar Water?

You might have heard many times from the feeder owners that they provide fresh sugar water to the hummers coming to their yards or balcony. Even though sugar water tastes similar to syrup, it still affects the health of these tiny birds. So, now you might have a question in your mind, whether these little hummers can stay alive by just drinking the sugar water or not. Continue reading this article and get to know the answer of the question you are wondering about.

Can hummingbirds distinguish between sugar water and fresh flower nectar?

Hummingbirds have taste buds and can distinguish between sugar water and fresh nectar. Mostly hummingbirds prefer concentrated nectar, and the fresh nectar which they get from the flowers in the wild contains 24% sucrose which is equal to making artificial sugar water with 1 cup of water and ¼ cup of granulated sugar. But suppose this sugar water mixture has 1% less sucrose concentration. Then, in this case, the hummingbirds can quickly know that it is not pure nectar from the flower.   

Most birds don’t have genes responsible for identifying the sweet taste. And the receptors created by these genes to identify the sweetness is T1R2. So, now you might wonder how hummingbirds know the tastes. So, let me tell you hummingbirds, swifts & chickens have the T1R1 and T1R3 receptors for identifying the taste. Swifts and chickens use these to identify the savory compounds. At the same time, hummingbirds are known to determine sucrose and other carbohydrates. So, hummingbirds have the taste buds they use to identify sucrose, but they have different ones than us.

Can hummingbirds live on just sugar water?

Sugar water is considered a suitable alternative to nectar, but providing only sugar water to hummingbirds is not ideal for their health. Sugar water lacks the essential nutrients the birds get from drinking the fresh nectar from the flowers.

Nectar provides these tiny hummingbirds vitamins like A, D, E & K, and even calcium and proteins. And these are very essential for them to store the energy which they use while migrating to different places.

Apart from eating nectar or sugar water, the hummingbirds also like to have the following items in their diet:


Hummingbirds also feed on small insects, as even from them, they get a good amount of proteins and fats. These are also essential nutritional components that are required, especially for rapidly growing hatchlings. You might have seen hummingbirds flying zigzag near the trees, and this is how they eat small insects present in the air. They like to eat insects like gnats & small flies, tiny insect eggs, ants, larvae and small spiders.

Ashes & Sand

Sometimes these tiny birds are also seen eating smaller quantities of sand, dirt, and campfire ashes. It might sound weird to you when you hear it for the first time, but the fact is these things are a good source of minerals and salts that are required by their body. They don’t need to eat it much, eating once in a while that too some small quantity is enough to fulfil their dietary requirements.


When there is a scarcity of nectar due to the increase of hummingbird population after migration or when only a few flowers in the region have the nectar, then these small hummers have to drink the sap from the trees, which are drilled by the woodpeckers. Even though the tree sap is not as sweet as the floral nectar, it still provides a good amount of sucrose to the hummingbirds as it helps these tiny hummers fulfil their energy needs.                               


Hummers don’t consume pollen directly from the flowers, but these pollens get stuck to their tongues and bills when they start sipping nectar from the flower and therefore get ingested by the tiny hummingbirds. Pollen is also known to provide them with some protein indirectly.


Hummingbirds are also attracted to fruits that are ripe or juicy. They can be seen sipping the juices from the berries, pears, and apples if they have been peeled out or kept open. Consuming these juicy fruits is also a source of sweet drinks. These fruits also provide them with some vitamins, which are helpful for storing the energy or fats required to migrate to different places.

So, hummingbirds’ diet is varied; therefore, they cannot live only on sugar water.

What precautions should you take while feeding only sugar water to hummingbirds?

Setting up a feeder for the hungry hummingbirds is a fantastic idea, but ensure that you do it correctly. Here are some precautions you must take while feeding sugar water to tiny hummingbirds.

Correct nectar recipe ratio

The standard recipe for making sugar water that would taste similar to nectar is taking 1 cup of water and ¼ cup of sugar. While making this, you should ensure that you take only this ratio. Taking too much sugar will attract bees to the feeder and chase away the tiny hummers.

Avoid adding honey

You should avoid adding honey to the water to make the sweet syrup, as honey can increase the growth of fungus in the feeder if kept for a long time.

Avoid adding red dye

The addition of dye in the sugar water is not a good idea as it can affect the health of these tiny birds. Instead, you can use a feeder with red flowers that can attract the hummers to your balcony or yard.

Change the sugar water frequently

Sugar water should be changed every 3-4 days to prevent the formation of fungus or mold in it. Also, sometimes the dust particles can mix with the sugar water syrup, and if the hummers consume it, then they might fall ill. Also, if you notice that it has become cloudy within 2 days, even then, you need to change it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar Water

Is using tap water safe for making nectar recipes for hummingbirds?

If the tap water supplied to your apartment is clean, you can directly use it to make the nectar recipe. But if the tap water contains certain chemicals or odours, then you should use purified water; else, the unclean water can affect the health of the hummingbirds.

Why should you use only white granulated sugar?

Sugar substitutes like honey, molasses, or brown sugar are heavy to digest by tiny hummingbirds and, therefore, should be avoided while making the nectar recipe. Also, these substitutes ferment very quickly and create a mold that can prove fatal for hummingbirds. Therefore the use of plain white granulated sugar is always the best choice.

How often should I add fresh sugar water to the feeder?

You should change the sugar water frequently so that the tiny birds get fresh nectar to drink. You can change the sugar water every 3-4 days. If the temperature is warm, you might have to change it every 2 days because the nectar starts spoiling and developing mold due to the warm temperature.


Consuming nectar or sugar water is an essential part of the hummingbird’s diet. Therefore they need to consume it every day. But similar to humans, they also need different nutrients like vitamins, proteins, and fats to survive and get the required energy.

Therefore you can plant nectar-rich trees in your yard so that along with the sweet sugar water, they can get all the other nutrients from the sweet nectar. They can also get to eat the insects that might come to these plants, hence providing all the essential nutrients to the tiny hummers.