Why Some People Add Gatorade To Their Hummingbird Feeders (& Should You Try It?)

After a sweaty session on a bike or a day hiking a mountain trail, a sports drink can make you feel like you're ready for yet another workout. Gatorade is one way athletes hydrate and replenish minerals they use while they sweat. If it can be so helpful to us, it must be just as beneficial for hummingbirds, right? There are rumors fluttering around the interwebs that Gatorade is great for restoring essential electrolytes these birds lose through so much feeding and excretion. Just like grapes are healthy for us but harmful to dogs, Gatorade's benefits for humans do not transfer to hummingbirds.

Despite the horrified gasps coming from experts after they hear about feeding Gatorade to hummingbirds, it's understandable where this trend came from. Gatorade contains sugar and water, after all. There are also nectar mixes on the market that contain potassium chloride, intended to replenish birds' tiny bodies with minerals. Plus, scientific research about supplementing the birds' diets with electrolytes even suggests the promise of such mixes.

Going with what we know, the short answer is, no, do not feed hummingbirds Gatorade. Mix up our homemade hummingbird nectar instead and save the sports drinks for after a soccer game. But where did this potentially dangerous trend come from, and why should you stick to good old sugar water for your hummingbirds instead of Gatorade?

Why are people flocking to feed Gatorade to hummingbirds?

Gatorade is sweet, brightly-colored, and is a favorite drink of human athletes. That makes Gatorade seem like a recipe for a hummingbird health boost. A team of scientists hired by a national garden and pet company conducted a study suggesting that adding electrolytes to a sugar and water formula helped hummingbirds stave off dehydration. This study has gotten some fair criticism from other experts concerned about how and why the research was conducted. Hummingbird enthusiasts have shared their success stories on online forums, however, claiming that the birds go crazy for this novel mixture. Just because they love it, though, doesn't mean it's good for them.

There's plenty of evidence that Gatorade can help attract butterflies to your garden. Perhaps well-intentioned humans think what's good for one nectar-eating creature should be good for any other. This is not the case. If we truly want what's best for our tiny feathered visitors, we need to hold off on under-tested food supplements until we learn definitively whether or not they're safe.

What's the possible harm of Gatorade as hummingbird food?

Hummingbird expert Sheri L. Williamson confirms that there are ingredients you should never feed the hummingbirds visiting your yard. Williamson advises us to feed the birds nothing but sugar and water. As the author of many highly respected books on hummingbirds, Williamson advises us never to feed the birds a nectar with dyes or nutritional supplements. Gatorade contains both, making it a no-no according to Williamson's guidelines. In addition, she cautions that any additives to hummingbird nectar may make the batch spoil more quickly, something that most definitely threatens hummingbirds' health.

There are anecdotal fears that Gatorade doesn't have a high enough sugar content to provide hummingbirds with sufficient energy and that its salt content may be dangerous to their tiny systems. Whether or not those worries can be backed up in a lab, the dyes in Gatorade are enough reason to steer clear.

Research on red dyes — specifically red dyes numbers 3 and 40 — have connected their use to maladies including tumor growth and cancer. Red Gatorade contains Red 40. These studies also indicate that the more red dye the subjects ingest, the more severe the effects are. With hummingbirds consuming several times their body weight per day, the concentrations they could consume of dyed nectar is both staggering and dangerous.