PBS hummer special - Magic in the Air - question

Kingsport, TN(Zone 6b)

Hello everyone. A few days ago I watched this absolutely wonderful and riveting show on hummingbirds. It is chock full of information with amazing video. But... the lady who made the special said something that really surprised me. While talking about home feeders she casually mentioned the ratio of sugar to water for the feeders should be 1/1. I was very shocked at this as I have always thought 1 part sugar to 4 parts water was the recommended recipe. I would think half and half would be very heavy and syrupy. What do you all put in your feeders?

Putnam County, IN(Zone 5b)

I have always used the 1 to 4 ratio with sometimes uping it to 1 to 3 in the fall.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I normally use 1 -4 except when they first show up in the spring. I think they have spent so much energy in getting here I make it 1 - 3 for a couple of weeks.

I thought any stronger was not good for them. Wonder why she gets away with putting that in a show. And on PBS!! Don't they check anything?

One tip I want to give you, last week I had one in the house and my ceiling is a peak at 28 feet and of course that is where the bird stayed. In the windows all the way up. Finally I thought it had died. The next morning all of a sudden I saw it up there sitting on a beam.

I went out and got one of the feeders and brought it in. The bird flew right down to it so I walked outside with the bird on the feeder. Probably wouldn't necessarily work until they were really hungry tho. Don't know.

Marlton, NJ

Strongest I've heard from hummingbird experts is 1 - 3. I wouldn't go any stronger than that myself.

Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)

Boy, that's quite a bit off from the common recipe.

I use about 1 to 3 or 4 concentration (I don't always measure accurately).

I have read recently that some hummingbird nectar flowers produce nectar at higher concentrations than 1-4, so juicing up your feeder ratio to 1-3 or even a little more through out the summer isn't unheard of . Which is what I am doing since I read the article. Don't know if it makes a difference really.

I have never heard of 1 to 1 though. Sounds intense.

I also read on one of the hummingbird expert sites (maybe Cornell) that using the nectar with red food coloring isn't all that bad, it's just unnecessary. (Making your own sugar water is cheaper and easier). I guess the big negative on the red colored liquid started when the old style red dye was found to be a carcinogin but now all that is history and not relevant.

Kingsport, TN(Zone 6b)

Thanks for all the responses. I feel reassured that I hadn't missed out on any new thoughts about hummer feeding. I would be curious to know if anyone else caught that if they watched the show. Her comments weren't in the movie she made, but she was there in person making comments during the fund raising breaks that PBS has during those twice a year fund raisers. I wonder if I just missheard her.

Putnam County, IN(Zone 5b)

Maybe she was nervous and/or mis-stated what she meant.

Lincoln, NE(Zone 5b)

I always use 1 to 3...

Salinas, CA

No, you didn't mis-hear her. My mom called me last night specifically to tell me that she had heard a PBS show recommend a 1:1 ratio.

After all these years of being told that flowers produce a 21% to 23% ratio - thereby validating the 1:4 proportion, it was extremely disconcerting to hear this strong solution recommended. I expected to find many posts through Google, but yours was almost the only one to question it.

I would like to know more before I try something that concentrated!

This message was edited Aug 8, 2010 12:48 PM

This message was edited Aug 8, 2010 12:49 PM

Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)


If you were really really curious you could contact the film maker Ann Prun thru her website (above)...

If you do, I'd love to know what she says (but I'm too shy to contact her myself!). t.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I wrote. We'll see if I get a response. For some reason I kept getting cut off but think I finally got one to take.

Marlton, NJ

Something to keep in mind here is that Ann Prum is a producer and cinematographer not a hummingbird expert.

There are some higher nectar flowers than have been stated but nothing that would justify a 1-1 ratio.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Well, no matter what she is, it might behoove her to check the facts and do a correction of needed.

Salinas, CA

Well, I would have written if you didn't. In fact, if you don't hear anything soon-ish, I might write too.

I'll be curious to know what she has to to say!

Fort Worth, TX(Zone 8a)

OOops! maybe?

Kingsport, TN(Zone 6b)

Thanks for sending an e-mail Jnette. I am hoping you get an answer and will be watching to see what they say.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Well, it is going on a week and nothing yet. I suppose she would have to find the place on the program where the lady said it and then get hold of her to verify. And that isn't always easy either.

Guess we should give her a few more days???

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I borrowed it from the Library and watched it recently, too. I didn't catch that part - I would assume it is a mistake.

Kingsport, TN(Zone 6b)

It wasn't part of the documentary - it was something the person who make the film said on the PBS special while being interviewed during pledge request time.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Oh, I didn't get it right then. She might be looking in the wrong place for it. I thought it was part of the doc. Funny she hasn't sent something tho.

Why don't you write Ed8r and clarify it? Thanks.

Salinas, CA


Sorry, I guess I didn't subscribe to the thread properly and I just now returned and saw the latest.

Yes, I wrote immediately, and I mentioned that it was during an interview while the show was being broadcast, is that right?

This message was edited Aug 21, 2010 5:36 PM

This message was edited Aug 21, 2010 5:37 PM

Granite City, IL

I've been using 4 cups sugar to 8 cups of water, they seem to love it,

Salinas, CA

Ann wrote back to me right away. Here is what she said:

"I use half and half or 2:1.
That is the info I had from various folks who feed a lot of hummingbirds.
But, I have heard different ratios as well.
Obviously it is not an exact science!"

I wasn't positive that what she meant was a range of sugar ratio, and she confirmed that she uses (for example) from 1/2 up to one cup sugar for 1 cup water.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Ok, what Ann said and Sunshine 2 said are the same thing. I don't know, I just don't think that is healthy for the birds. I am sure they love it. That doesn't mean it is good for them.

I don't know. I am not an expert on birds.

Marlton, NJ

I agree 100%. I do not know of a single well known hummingbird expert that would recommend this strong of a solution.

There are not any plants that carry that strong a nectar.

I really hope that most people will not go any higher than a 1/3 solution.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I use 1/3 first thing in the spring when the birds first show up after their long flight. I use it for about a week, maybe 2 depending on how many more birds show up. Then I switch to 1/4 for the rest of the summer.

Edinburg, TX

I also use a 1:4 ratio and up it to 1:3 during the drought season and winter time.

~ Cat

ps...yes, we do get them all year long here :o)

This message was edited Aug 24, 2010 2:54 PM

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Oh, I have heard you guys have them year 'round down there. That is cool but don't know if I could afford them for that long. I had so many here for a while this year I was going thru 5# of sugar a week.

Salinas, CA

I think I may have thought of the rationale behind Ann Prum's nectar recipe.

What if the hummingbirds in tropical areas . . . especially in the Andes where the elevation increases their energy output . . . need a higher proportion of sugar to water? Maybe the flowers there naturally produce a nectar with a higher proportion of sugar as well.

I've emailed a couple of the wildlife refuges listed in the production credits of Magic in the Air. I'll let you all know what their answer is.

Salinas, CA

Well, interestingly enough, the two reserves I contacted (one in Peru, the other Ecuador) confirmed that they use a 1:4 or even slightly less concentrated ratio.

I suppose I could go on and contact every source involved in the film, but for now, I think this is confirmation that the "experts" do not suggest 1:1 or even 1:2.

Frankly, this leaves me really curious about who Ann Prum would identify as her sources. But I'm not sure I have the temerity to ask.

Salinas, CA

I'm not OCD . . . oh, no, not a bit! ;)

Another production credit listed for the film was Doug Altshuler, who researches hummingbird flight at the University of California, Riverside. I contacted him and he said his lab uses a 1:3 ratio.

A production credit was included for researchers at UC Berkeley, who fly hummers in a large wind tunnel in order to examine their forward flight maneuvers. They use approximately a 1:4 ratio for their nectar.

And finally, a production credit was also listed for a flight lab at the University of Portland (Oregon). A contact there assured me that he could not have been one of Ann's "various folks" and cited the usual ratio of 1:4.

That's all folks! I don't know who was advising Ann Prum, but it wasn't one of the professionals.

I'm going to keep my nectar at a casually measured 1:4 up to 1:3 at the most.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Same here. Thanks Ed8r.

Kingsport, TN(Zone 6b)

Thank you so much Ed8r for pursuing this. I just checked back in after a bit of an absence and am astounded at all the great info you have collected. You aren't by any chance a reporter for the Times? ...lol You have great researching skills.

It is a bit unfortunate that Ann made this statement during such a widely televised show.

Salinas, CA

Yes, lilyfantn, it is. Although if people were really concerned, I'm surprised she hasn't heard more about it.

Interestingly for me, a friend who feeds hummingbirds tells me that she knows at least one other person who uses half and half. I would have thought that that ratio would be too thick, but I guess not.

Granite City, IL

It's not thick, and I have about 15 to 20 birds in my yard at a time, as does my next door neighbor.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Of course they love it. All that sugar? I would love it too but probably would end up with diabetes or worse.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I changed my solution to 3:1 last fall for a feeder that tended to freeze over-night. I wasn't happy about it because of health concerns for the little birds. I decided to take that feeder down and just use feeders that I could mount on or close to the windows of the house. Heat loss from the house kept the feeders from freezing. This fall, I may rig perches near windows so the birds themselves have a warmer place for the night.

I have a feeder with larger holes that I put 6:1 for orioles and finches. The hummingbirds don't use it - I don't know if it is the weaker solution or the larger holes or both.

Salinas, CA


I wasn't thinking that your 2:1 solution was too thick. But I did think that a half and half ratio would be.

This message was edited Sep 2, 2010 3:00 PM

McMinnville, TN

I'm glad everyone is feeding the hummingbirds, I always put out 5 feeders in the same place every year. I have never measured my sugar that I put in my 4 cups of hot water that I heat in the microwave, I just put in alot and they love it so I guess I'm doing ok without measuring the sugar. I don't put any red food coloring in my water at all, somewhere along the line I heard it could cause birth defects in baby hummers. I don't fill my feeders full 'cause ants try their best to get all they can. I have learned that if I put vaseline on the hanger it really helps keep the aints away. I have a 2 acre yard and they seem to love anything that blooms and they don't mind if you are in their way, when I'm gathering seeds they just fly around me sometimes almost close enough to touch if your fast enough. I've tried to count them but they are just too fast and will sit in the trees and make their noise. If a feeder is almost emply and I can't see water I bring it in, wash it, put fresh water in it and as soon as I hang it up here they come-its like they are waiting for it.
I love 'em, my kitchen and bathroom both are decorated with hummingbird pictures, figures and windchimes.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Wanted to tell you all that PBS is airing the show again tomorrow. Didn't catch the time.

Magic in the Air.

Boopsie, they don't always eat what is good for them. LOL, just like humans they will eat what tastes good to them.

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