The pros and cons of hummingbird feeders Home » Forums » Birding » About Birds

Hummingbird feeders are becoming more and more popular, but are they good for hummingbirds?

1) Hummingbird feeders allow humans to see and enjoy a unique and beautiful family of birds. Hopefully these humans will then engage in conservation activities or support others that do, eventually benefiting the hummingbirds.

2) Feeders may benefit hummingbirds whose normal food supply has been altered by changes to their environment.

Some possible arguments against hummingbird feeders include

1) Feeders could change the natural balance between species. A aggressive species could thrive at the feeders, grow in numbers and then also take resources (food, nesting sites or nesting material) from a more timid species. An example of this is with gulls and terns; gulls compete with terns for nesting sites, and gulls are thriving because they can live from human garbage.

2) The close proximity of many birds/animals could facilitate the spread of diseases.

3) Feeders could allow a species to enter an area in which it normally would not have enough resources, again affecting the natural balance.

4) It has been suggested feeders could cause migrating hummingbirds not to migrate.

5) Improperly maintained feeders could harm birds. The most common example is sugar water that not been changed frequently enough. Also containers that are not cleaned well will grow bacteria and mold.

6) Fierce territorial fights at the feeders could result in injuries to hummingbirds. Although I have never seen a pierced hummingbird, it is hard for me to believe it doesn't happen frequently. Possibly the greater concentrations of hummingbirds at the feeders could make such injuries more common.

7) Feeders near buildings could cause hummingbirds to crash into windows.

8) Bees at feeders can sting hummingbirds. I have heard of one feeder in Colombia which was shut down because bees had killed some hummingbirds.

9) Hummingbirds like bees perform the function of pollination. Hummingbirds at feeders are not pollinating, and will become even more reliant on the feeders when the local flowers suffer.

10) Feeders that are suddenly shut down could leave large numbers hummingbirds without sufficient food. Hummingbirds can and do eat insects, especially when protein is needed for nesting. I don't know how well hummingbirds can adapt when sugar supplies are low.

11) In general, altering the natural order of things has short and long term consequences that can not be predicted.

12) Busy feeders require a lot of sugar, which might affect the hummingbirds adversely when land is converted to sugar cane farms.

13) The hummingbird feeders will attract multi-flash hummingbird photographers who will need props for their photos and will cut flowers in the forest, making the hummingbirds more dependent on the feeders.

14) Predators might learn to find hummingbirds at the feeders. This is a problem with some bird feeders, but hummingbirds or the species that visit sugar water feeders are small and fast and are generally not prey to hawks (although the Tiny Hawk is said to predate hummingbirds). I don't think snakes could learn to come to a feeder, but they might grow in numbers in the area as more hummingbirds come in.

15) Hummingbirds waste a lot of energy visiting empty feeders.

16) Hummingbird feeders are generally made of plastic and there are environmental costs associated with the creation and disposal of plastics.