Sunday, March 1, 2020

Why are hummingbird feeders red?

Perhaps you've noticed that hummingbird feeders are covered in red plastic. Some people put red food coloring in the nectar they feed hummingbirds. You may wonder, though, is it necessary? Are hummingbirds really attracted to the color red more so than other colors? Just why are hummingbird feeders red?

After looking at all the research and experiments one conclusion is apparent:
Hummingbird feeders are red because the people who buy hummingbird feeders think that they need to be red!  

Experiments show that hummingbird feeders can be any color--the hummingbirds don't show preference for one color feeder over another. Read on for more information on hummingbird color perception, flower color and sugar content, and some interesting experiments using different-colored hummingbird feeders.

Anna's Hummingbird at a red feeder
Photo by Greg Gillson

Hummingbird eyesight--does red attract hummingbirds?

Hummingbird vision is more sensitive to the warmer red, orange, yellow colors than the cooler blue colors. However, even though red and orange flowers appear more vibrant to hummingbirds, they will also feed from any color flower that has enough sugar content in the nectar.

Hummingbirds see the same colors as we do, plus some more in the near ultra-violet range. But they are more sensitive to the warm reddish colors. Such colors stand out to them, making colorful flowers easier to see against the green leaves.

But just because they can see and detect flowers better than leaves, does not mean that any particular color attracts them more than another.

Hummingbirds feeding on red flowers

The flowers that hummingbirds love the most have a 19-21% sugar level. These tend to be flowers colored red, orange, and yellow. Thus, the 20% sugar level recommended for homemade hummingbird nectar (1 part white table sugar to 4 parts water).

Flowers colored white, blue, violet tend to have a lesser sugar concentration of 5-18% and are less desirable to the hummingbirds.

Nevertheless, hummingbirds do not seem to visit red flowers first compared to other bright colored flowers. Why?

Even different flowers on the same plant can have different amounts of sugar. So hummingbirds rely more on location than on color for finding and returning to the sweetest flowers.

What is the best color for a hummingbird feeder?

In the 1990's the Wild Bird Store, in cooperation with Aspects, Inc., a bird feeder manufacturer, experimented with many different colored feeders (source). The result? Hummingbirds showed no preference to any color of hummingbird feeder--they visited all feeders equally.

This was the same conclusion reached by other researchers. 

An article in the journal Animal Behavior (source) showed that flower color (on artificial feeders) was not important for hummingbirds for finding the sweetest nectar. Rather, once they found a sweet feeder, they came back to that location to drink, regardless of color.

Why are hummingbird feeders red?

It turns out, though, that the buying public thinks that hummingbird feeders need to be red. Aspects (as reported above) came out with a limited number of hummingbird feeders in several various colors. But buyers wanted red colored feeders and didn't readily buy the alternate colors.

Hummingbirds will investigate any bright red, orange, or yellow colored objects to see if it might be a flower or a hummingbird feeder. But most hummingbird feeders are red, because that is how they are made by the manufacturers.

So it's human bias that dictates that hummingbird feeders have to be red. We "know" that hummingbirds prefer red, even though experiments prove that statement is not true.

Do hummingbirds need red feeders?

Nope. Hummingbirds do not need feeders that are red. Hummingbirds taste flowers and taste feeder nectar. They find the nectar (flower or artificial feeder) with a sugar ratio near 20%. Then they keep coming back.

Go ahead and buy or make a hummingbird feeder that's a different color, if you want. Any bright color will do. The hummingbirds will still come to drink and feed if the sugar concentration is from 15-25%.

However, you can attract the attention of hummingbirds to your feeder by hanging up red ribbons (or other bright colored) objects. 

You can plant flowers or hang bright blooming flowers in hanging baskets, up higher where hummingbirds can see them at a distance. These bright objects and flowers will attract hummingbirds to come over and investigate. Then they'll drink from your hummingbird feeder--no matter the color.

More information on attracting hummingbirds...

How to get more hummingbirds to come to your yard

How to make the perfect hummingbird food

Check the Amazon website for all their hummingbird feeders, including a few that aren't red!


  1. Its true, red color always attracts the hummingbirds. That's why I always put food in red feeder and hummingbirds eat the food always.

    1. Thank you for your comment (and link), Robert.


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