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Sugar substitutes for hummingbirds? Stevia, xylitol nectar for hummingbirds?

 
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Ok I had a crazy question and couldn't find any answer online, which sort of made me think it should be posted somewhere so why not here. In my quest I think I probably figured out the answer, but felt it worht posting so there is some resource for others searching to find. And of course would love to here from others about the topic.

So the general question is simple, could stevia and or xylitol make a decent hummingbird nectar?

I had the thought since these are awesome sweeteners, and stevia at least is an easy to grow at home sweetener. Xylitol I am less sure if it could be an easy at home creation, but has possibilities. So if these sweeteners could be used for hummingbird nectar that would be awesome. Instead of bringing in a sugar to make nectar you could make it at home

So off to research I went. Yet no mention of these, though plenty of other alternatives were addressed. I found this handy chart that really helped understand the pros and cons of different sweeteners.

found at https://joybileefarm.com/organic-sugar-hummingbirds/


This and other info pretty much told me, while stevia and xylitol might be good for humans, they are very unlikely to provide the energy needed for hummingbirds. So to answer my own question, likely a bad choice for these wonderful little birds.

Any other thoughts or alternatives would be much appreciated.
 
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Is there a reason you can't plant a variety of nectar-producing flowering plants?  That seems the most permie solution to me.  Otherwise, maybe if you had access to an evaporator, some kind of high-sugar fruit (like a date or fig or sugar beet) could be juiced and then condensed to the right liquid:sugar ratio?  You would need to determine what the sugar concentration is (brix meter maybe?) and what trace minerals are in it, though.

Also, in regards to xylitol, even if it had enough calories I'd be very careful putting it anywhere a cat or dog could get it, since it only takes a little bit to kill them.
 
Devin Lavign
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S Tonin wrote:Is there a reason you can't plant a variety of nectar-producing flowering plants?  That seems the most permie solution to me



You mean like providing food for hummingbirds in latitudes and elevations where flowers would not have bloomed yet, or have since died off? Or providing a better view for some who can't have flowers outside their window but want to see the hummingbirds? Or like I stated in my OP that I was posting this less because I needed the answer but because I noticed there was no direct answer on the internet yet?

But yes, I prefer the actual planting of flowers. That is a good idea and one I have indeed already thought of. Thought about enough to know they also have their draw backs. Like not being available as long as the the hummingbirds are actively searching for food. As well as not always possible to place in places to optimize hummingbird viewing. The use of feeders is most common for that exact purpose, to attrct the birds to optimal windows to view them from. Putting flowers is not always possible, due to sun exposure or other concerns.
 
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Most of the substitutes are low in sugar but very sweet tasting which sort of defeats the point of eating it if you are a hummingbird.

Suggestion for plants for hummingbirds its best to look at what grows in the wetter parts of Chile and Argentina if you are in the pacific northwest. Here in England we can grow nearly a lot of the plants of the Aruacaria and Patagonia regions so I think you will be fine with your more similar hotter climate.

For example the nation flower of Chile, the Copihue: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapageria would be a good suggestion as it provides an edible fruit, a beautiful flower and is becoming increasingly threatened in its natural habitat.

 
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The hummingbird feed because they need the calories. They are balanced on a knife edge day to day; too many missed meals and they won't have the energy to forage. If you feel you must feed them, then please make sure you feed them a syrup that actually has the sugar they need. If they feed from artificial sweeteners you could literally starve them to death, as they think they are getting the calories they need, but aren't.
 
Michael Cox
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This and other info pretty much told me, while stevia and xylitol might be good for humans, they are very unlikely to provide the energy needed for hummingbirds.



I'm not at all convinced that either stevia or xylitol are good for humans. Food with artificial sweeteners deceives the body's taste/nutrient measuring mechanism. We end up craving sweeter and sweeter foods. Plus xylitol has been linked to all sorts of health issues, including (if I remember properly) prostate problems in men.

Sugar, when consumed in moderation, is a perfectly good part of any human diet. It is the "moderation" but that we tend to get wrong, not the sugar itself.
 
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S Tonin wrote:Is there a reason you can't plant a variety of nectar-producing flowering plants?



Unfortunately, this doesn't work so well in the winter when nothing flowers here.

I have a feeder for hummingbirds during the winter because they are a major part of my fruit pollination programme.  I gather a charm of hummingbirds around my feeder and they are very happy to pollinate the fruit when it's too cold for insects.  I blame the hummingbirds for why we have such great harvests when the rest of the city has a crop failure.  
 
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Michael Cox wrote:

This and other info pretty much told me, while stevia and xylitol might be good for humans, they are very unlikely to provide the energy needed for hummingbirds.



I'm not at all convinced that either stevia or xylitol are good for humans. Food with artificial sweeteners deceives the body's taste/nutrient measuring mechanism. We end up craving sweeter and sweeter foods. Plus xylitol has been linked to all sorts of health issues, including (if I remember properly) prostate problems in men.

Sugar, when consumed in moderation, is a perfectly good part of any human diet. It is the "moderation" but that we tend to get wrong, not the sugar itself.




Agreed insofar as the commercially available stevia... I grew stevia for a time and found it a nice addition to teas, mild sweetness when muddled. Xylitol is a poison full stop. It's extremely toxic even in tiny amounts to dogs, one piece of xylitol-sweetened gum will kill a dog. I categorize it with the other poisonous sweeteners like sucralose, nutrasweet, aspartame and whatever other fancy fake sweeteners are out there.
 
S Tonin
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My point was more along the lines of "if you're looking to grow the plants to make the nectar yourself, why do 10x more work than necessary?" but I can see where I didn't articulate that clearly.  I'm not knocking feeders or the people who use them.

After reading r. ranson's response, I can see now that East Coast and West Coast hummingbirds obviously have different migration habits.  Here in PA, ours don't show up until a variety of flowers are already blooming and usually leave before first frost (when there's still plenty of forage for them), so season extension can have a negative effect on the birds over time (mostly because of temperature).  Using hummingbirds to pollinate your fruit trees might be a good tip for the "Permaculture hacks that work" thread!
 
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We have several species of migratory hummingbirds, but they arrive after the fruit trees are finished.  The annas (and their crosses) hummingbirds are year round.  They often eat from woodpecker holes in living trees during the late winter.  But we have fewer and fewer woodpeckers these days.  Their hunger gap is Christmas time so we usually start feeding them in mid-December.  We have four that understand what time of year our 'flower' opens and they also understand to tap on our window if it's frozen or empty.  It's spooky.  There are the other permanent residents that live a few yards away that often feed at ours.  We have a great feud with someone in our neighbourhood that started because of the hummingbirds liking our feeder more than theirs.  We keep our solution fairly mild (1:4) to encourage natural foraging and I think that's the key.  The neighbour uses red liquid mixed double strength.  

The annas love early fruit blossom and are a huge fan of beans.  They also like licking ashes I put out in the garden.  I don't know why but one girl will sit for hours next to me while I garden and lick the ashes on the soil.  I have stopped working the ash into the soil and she seems happier (in so far as a tiny bird can seem to be happy)
 
Devin Lavign
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r ranson wrote:Their hunger gap is Christmas time so we usually start feeding them in mid-December.  We have four that understand what time of year our 'flower' opens and they also understand to tap on our window if it's frozen or empty.  It's spooky.



That is awesome they have learned how helpful humans like you are and communicate their needs to you. Thanks for sharing that, it made both my brother and I smile and laugh hearing it.
 
Devin Lavign
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Carrie Nicole wrote:Xylitol is a poison full stop. It's extremely toxic even in tiny amounts to dogs, one piece of xylitol-sweetened gum will kill a dog. I categorize it with the other poisonous sweeteners like sucralose, nutrasweet, aspartame and whatever other fancy fake sweeteners are out there.



OK, thanks for this info, I had not known this about the substance since I have never actually had an interest in it before. I had only mentioned it as a possible because I was looking for possible sweeteners that could maybe be created from home for hummingbirds.

Yes home grown stevia is different than the commercial extracted products. It makes a great mild sweetener.
 
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r ranson wrote:They also like licking ashes I put out in the garden.  



Ash is a source of minerals.  Humans can eat it too (from safe plants).

In climates warm enough to grow it, Agave might be something to try for making a nutritious syrup.  I'm growing many Agave (probably americana but I'm not certain) and plan to try producing syrup from them eventually.

 
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I found this, a year late, but hey, so might someone else, so here goes.  

Hummingbird nectar is only recommended to be made with refined white sugar - not brown, not raw, not Stevia, not honey - only white refined sugar. This is for several reasons, caloric content, as many mentioned, is critical; but also as critical is spoilage which can also be life threatening.  

The sweetness ratio directly relates to swiftness of bacterial growth, mold and alcohol conversion. The overwhelming consensus for homemade nectar is one part sugar to four parts water, then boiled to ensure sugar is fully dissolved, and to kill pathogens.

Never, ever add red food coloring. The general consensus is that it is, at minimum, unnecessary, and at worst toxic.

Personally, I create a concentrate of 1:1 which I cool and store in the fridge. I then add three parts water when filling freshly cleaned (scrubbed, rinsed and air dried) feeders. Ideally have double the number of feeders required so half are in use, and half are cleaned and ready for rotation.  

Outside temperature determines how frequently feeders should be changed/cleaned. Here, in winter it could last week's, in hot summer maybe only days. Check with local Wild Bird Store for recommendations for your location.

Never feel you must completely "fill up" the feeder. Instead, determine how much is consumed, in three days (or however long is suggested where you are), add 10% more and only put that much in the feeder - less waste, less chance of bugs. Better to have to fill more frequently than leave out too long and have it spoil.

Multiple smaller feeders are often better than one big one...hummers prefer to "own" a feeder, and will waste precious energy defending it.

Personal musing:  I've often wondered if it is in their best interests to have "communal feeders" from a disease transmission perspective (none that I know of, but...), as it creates unnatural contact - multiple tongues in a communal "bowl", sitting for days...

Oh, came across something I intend to try this year, a "bug feeder" for hummers. Supposedly they love fruit flies, placing a bit of banana, past it's prime, very near a feeder or their favorite flowers was said to provide a protein feast for the hummers. If it works it would be more natural, and hey an excellent way to spruce up the compost!
 
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I have seen hummingbirds feeding in a cloud of gnats (or fruit flies, or some sort of little swarming bugs) and it was one of the coolest things I`ve ever seen. Mine definitely prefer the planted flowers first, feeders next. But once it gets cooler and these flowers fall, I`m back to 100% feeders again. Bright side about the cooler weather is less wasps/bees/ants in them.
 
Devin Lavign
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Lorinne Anderson wrote:I found this, a year late, but hey, so might someone else, so here goes.  

Hummingbird nectar is only recommended to be made with refined white sugar - not brown, not raw, not Stevia, not honey - only white refined sugar. This is for several reasons, caloric content, as many mentioned, is critical; but also as critical is spoilage which can also be life threatening.



Good job saying all the important things, even stressing bacterial growth.
 
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