Is Cane Sugar Okay for Hummingbirds? (The Bitter Truth)

No, cane sugar is not recommended for hummingbirds as it lacks the necessary nutrients. They prefer a solution of white table sugar and water in a 4:1 ratio.

In order to provide the best nourishment for hummingbirds, it’s important to understand their dietary needs. 

One common misconception is about using cane sugar to feed them. Let’s explore why cane sugar might not be suitable for these tiny birds.

What Kind of Sugar is Best for Hummingbirds?

The best sugar for hummingbirds is refined white sugar. This is because it is the closest to the natural nectar that hummingbirds find in flowers. Other types of sugar, such as brown sugar, honey, or corn syrup, can be harmful to hummingbirds.

Here is a recipe for making hummingbird nectar at home:

  • 1 part refined white sugar
  • 4 parts water

Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Let the mixture cool completely before filling your hummingbird feeder.

It is important to change the nectar in your feeder every 2-3 days to prevent mold and bacteria growth. You should also clean the feeder with a mild soap and water solution.

cane sugar and natural hummingbird nectar

Differences between cane sugar and natural hummingbird nectar

AspectCane SugarNatural Hummingbird Nectar
Nutritional ContentLacks essential nutrientsContains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids
Nutrient DiversityLimited varietyOffers a diverse range of nutrients from various flower sources
Energy SourceSucrose-basedNatural sugars like glucose and fructose
Impact on HummingbirdsMay not meet all nutritional needsSupports overall health and vitality
DigestibilityMay be harder to digestEasily digestible due to natural composition
Long-Term EffectsThis may lead to health issuesSupports hummingbirds’ long-term well-being
Mimicking Natural NectarDiffers significantly from wild nectarResembles the nutritional content of flowers

The Potential Dangers of Other Types of Sugar

Beet sugar undergoes a different processing method and could contain additives that are not safe for hummingbirds. 

Brown sugar, honey, and artificial sweeteners should also be avoided. These contain additional elements that can be harmful to these tiny birds. 

Other types of sugar can be dangerous for hummingbirds because they can:

  • Cause digestive problems: Hummingbirds have a very fast metabolism and need to eat frequently to maintain their energy levels. Harmful sugar can be difficult for them to digest.
  • Lead to weight gain: Hummingbirds are very small birds and do not need a lot of food. Other types of sugar can be high in calories and can lead to weight gain.
  • Attract pests: Sugar can attract pests, such as ants and wasps. These pests can be a nuisance to hummingbirds and can even harm them.
  • Ferment: It can create a mold that is toxic to hummingbirds.
  • Energy deficiency: Hummingbirds need a diet that is high in sugar and low in protein. Improper solutions may not provide them with enough energy, which can lead to fatigue and weakness.
  • Infection: Improper solutions may not be clean, which can lead to infection.
  • Death: In severe cases, improper feeding can lead to death.

Improper solutions that can be harmful to hummingbirds

  • Honey: Honey can contain bacteria that can be harmful to hummingbirds.
  • Corn syrup: Corn syrup is high in calories and can lead to weight gain in hummingbirds.
  • Red dye: Red dye is not necessary for hummingbirds and can be harmful to their health.
  • Sugar water that is too concentrated: Sugar water that is too concentrated can cause dehydration and other health problems.
  • Sugar water that is not changed frequently: Sugar water that is not changed frequently can ferment and become toxic to hummingbirds.
What Else Can I Feed Hummingbirds?

Beyond Sugar Water: What Else Can I Feed Hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds need a diet that is high in sugar and low in protein. Their primary food source is nectar, which they get from flowers. However, they also need to eat small insects to get the protein they need.

Here are some other things you can feed hummingbirds:

  • Butterfly nectar: Butterfly nectar is similar to hummingbird nectar, but it is made with honey instead of sugar. This is a good option if you do not have any refined white sugar on hand.
  • Bee pollen: Bee pollen is a good source of protein for hummingbirds. You can buy bee pollen at most health food stores.
  • Small insects: Hummingbirds will also eat small insects, such as mosquitoes, gnats, and fruit flies. You can attract insects to your yard by planting flowers that attract them, such as bee balm, lavender, and mint.
  • Agave nectar: This is a natural sweetener made from the agave plant. It is sweeter than cane sugar and has some vitamins and minerals. It can be used to add variety to the hummingbirds’ diet.
  • Natural fruit juices: These juices can also be used to sweeten hummingbird feeders. They are not only sweet, but they also have vitamins and antioxidants that are good for hummingbirds.
  • Homemade flower syrups: These syrups are made from flower extracts, like hibiscus or lavender. They mimic the natural flavors and nutrients that hummingbirds get from real flowers. They can add a unique twist to the hummingbirds’ diet and may have additional health benefits.
  • Maple syrup (in moderation): This syrup has more minerals than cane sugar, but it should be used in moderation because it has a strong flavor. It is important to dilute it enough so that it does not overwhelm the hummingbirds’ taste preferences.

Hummingbirds need water for drinking, bathing, and preening. A shallow bird bath or a mister in your garden can provide a water source for hummingbirds.

Is it okay to feed hummingbirds sugar water?

Is it okay to feed hummingbirds sugar water?

Yes, it’s perfectly okay to feed hummingbirds sugar water. It can serve as a supplemental source of energy, especially during migration and breeding seasons when their energy needs are high. 

It should not replace their natural nectar intake. Placing your feeder near flowering plants can encourage natural feeding behaviors.

Final Thoughts: The Sweet Balance for Hummingbirds

While cane sugar might seem like an appealing choice due to its natural origins, it’s not ideal for hummingbirds due to the presence of molasses. 

White granulated sugar, on the other hand, is more similar to the nectar they find in flowers and is safe for them to consume.

Encourage natural feeding by maintaining a hummingbird-friendly garden. You can complete with native, nectar-rich flowers, and a clean water source.


Can you use organic cane sugar for hummingbirds?

No, you should not use organic cane sugar for hummingbirds. Organic cane sugar is not as refined as regular white sugar, and it contains small amounts of iron and other minerals.

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