All that a hummingbird needs is energy through its diet. Generally, sweet foods are rich in energy. So, can you give artificial sweeteners to hummingbirds? Or, more precisely, can hummingbirds have artificial sweeteners? You might be getting these questions in your mind, especially if you are a new hummingbird feeder. Let’s find out the answer below!
Do hummingbirds identify the sweet taste of sugar?
You might have seen many birds pecking on almost everything without knowing its taste. Do you know? Most birds cannot taste sugar. They drink nectar due to their natural behavior. However, they cannot get the sweet taste due to a lack of the T1Rs family of genes. They don’t know how sugar and nectar actually taste due to a deficiency of these genes. So, if you give them sugar solution and plain water, they cannot tell the difference by tasting them.
Is it the same for hummingbirds? Let’s have a look!
With hummingbirds, it’s different! Hummers are born with the T1RS genes. They have the pairing of T1R2 and T1R3 genes that give them the sweet flavor. Like humans, they can quickly identify sweet items like sugar and nectar. You’ll be surprised to know that hummers need a quarter of a second to differentiate between sugar water and pure water.
So, you cannot befool them with diluted sugar water. They have been blessed with these genes because hummingbirds need high sugar content to maintain their raging metabolism.
You just saw that hummingbirds get the sweet taste of sugar easily.
Moving on, let’s walk through your mainframe concern regarding hummingbirds and artificial sweeteners. Let’s jump into it!
Can hummingbirds have artificial sweeteners?
Hummingbirds need energy to maintain their raging metabolism. They extensively burn calories faster than their consumption. Hummingbirds have a hard time balancing the drinking sugary food and burning of energy in their bodies. So, they consume small spurts of energy-rich food every 10-15 minutes.
White sugar is their favorite food after nectar. Sugar gives them sufficient energy to stay active all day long. They get high calories from sugar which their bodies burn to get the required energy. That means, every sweet food cannot give them enough energy.
Now, let’s analyze the impact of artificial sweeteners on hummingbirds.
Artificial sweeteners provide a sweet taste to foods and beverages. However, they have significantly fewer calories than sugar. So, humans use artificial sweeteners to manage weight as they have almost no calories.
But, hummingbirds need calories! They are eager to eat sugar and calories to get the required energy. If you give the birds artificial sweeteners, they will drink the solution as it’s sweet. However, it won’t help the poor birds.
As already discussed, artificial sweeteners have no calories. So, a hummingbird won’t get any energy upon consuming artificial sweeteners. They will fill their stomach and satiate their hunger by feeding on artificial sweeteners. However, they will still starve and become extremely lethargic.
Eventually, their body parts and organs will give up due to a lack of required energy. Ultimately, hummingbirds can even die without getting enough energy by consuming zero-calorie sugar or artificial sweeteners.
So, it’s better not to give them artificial sweeteners. They will have artificial sweeteners without hesitation. But, it will take an adverse toll on their bodies.
The best thing you can provide to hummingbirds is white sugar. Hummingbirds will get sufficient energy required by their bodies by consuming white sugar water.
If you still need a sugar substitute, below are some healthy options for hummingbirds.
What can you substitute for sugar in a hummingbird feeder?
Although sugar is the best food for hummingbirds, you cannot always have access to white sugar. So, you can give them some substitutes for sugar water in the hummingbird feeders. Some foods you can consider for the hummers are as follows:
Beet sugar can be an excellent food for hummingbirds. Although they won’t get high energy from beet sugar like cane sugar, it won’t harm them at all. They might need to consume beet sugar more frequently to meet their high energy requirement.
Hummingbirds have been seen consuming sap from maple trees in their natural habitat. Many experts have given them maple syrup and watched them enjoy it without falling sick. So, you can give them maple syrup occasionally.
Homemade fresh fruit juice
Hummingbirds love ripe fruits. Fruit juices are sugary and give them sufficient energy for healthy living. So, you can prepare fresh fruit juice at home and give it to the hummers.
However, please avoid readymade fruit juice as it contains preservatives, natural colors, and additives that might harm the tiny creatures.
Homemade sugar powder
You can also give homemade sugar powder to the hummingbirds. It won’t be as energy-rich as white sugar but won’t kill the creatures.
However, you should never give the hummers molasses and raw sugar. These contain high iron content which can kill the hummingbirds easily.
Can you use honey for hummingbird food?
Like molasses and raw sugar, honey is a killer for hummingbirds. Honey is an excellent medium for fungal spores to grow. The honey-grown fungus can easily create complications in the hummingbird bodies leading them to die over time.
Apart from fungus, honey can ferment easily. Do you know? Fermented honey becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Such bacteria can enter the hummers’ bodies and release toxins. Since hummingbirds have a delicate immune system, they cannot fight against such bacteria and fungi. Ultimately, their bodies give up against such infection and the birds can die.
Hummingbirds dying after consuming honey is more common than you think. So, you should never give honey to the hummers in their feeders.
Hummingbirds can detect sugar naturally. They can easily differentiate between sugar syrup and plain water. Since artificial sweeteners are sweet, hummers will drink such a solution. However, they won’t get any energy from artificial sweeteners.