Q: I have heard if you give hummingbirds sugar water it will cause liver disease. Is it true?
A: I called the Audubon Society about this question just to be sure no new problems had cropped up of which I was unaware. I was particularly interested in your question as I know many gardeners supplement our landscapes with hummingbird feeders.
The University of Florida would suggest you always have trees, shrubs and flowers in your yard to attract hummingbirds and provide them with sufficient nutrient sources. Planting a red buckeye or wild azaleas in a shaded site in your landscape will provide nectar in the early spring as these native plants are the first to put out nectar flowers in Northeast Florida.
A sugar solution can be made for feeders using 4 parts clean water, and 1 part white, granulated sugar. Use warm water so the sugar will dissolve easily but be sure to stir the solution sufficiently so all sugar particles dissolve. Allow the water to cool before pouring it into the feeders. 1) Never use artificial sweeteners or honey as these can be toxic to the birds. 2) Never add red food coloring as the bird’s kidneys cannot process the dyes. These two important factoids, regarding the sugar water, may be where the rumor of sugar feeders being lethal got their start.
If you use multiple feeders, keep them about 10 feet from each other to avoid fights between the birds as hummers are very territorial. Change out the water every 3-5 days as it can become rancid. Wash the feeders when changing out new sugar solutions. Do not use soap or chlorine to clean the hummingbird feeders – just warm water. Bottlebrush trees, butterfly bush, firespike, plumbago, and coral vine are easy care plants to attract hummers to your yard. For more information on hummingbirds check out the University of Florida publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05900.pdf