Nectar

Hummingbird Sipping Nectar
Hummingbirds have evolved long, needle-like bills to sip nectar. Linda

Definition:

(noun) A sweet liquid produced by some flowers to attract pollinators such as insects, bats and birds.

Pronunciation:

NEHK-turr

About Nectar

The production of nectar is a way some flowering plants attract pollinators. As the visitors drink the nectar, they rub against the pollen-producing anther of the flower, and then transfer pollen to other flowers as they feed in different areas. This allows the plant to reproduce, and the nectar is the pollinators' motivation for visiting multiple flowers.

The quantity and composition of nectar varies for each flower species, but generally contains mostly water and sugar with trace amounts of proteins, salts and amino acids. The sugar content ranges from 3-80 percent depending on the type of flower and the soil quality. Flowers will regenerate their nectar over time, though the time for regeneration also varies from a few minutes to several hours. Temperature, soil moisture and plant age can affect how quickly nectar is replenished.

Birds That Drink Nectar

Many different birds sip nectar, either as a major part of their diet or a supplemental treat when it is easily available. Birds known to drink nectar to varying degrees include:

  • Bananaquits
  • Flowerpeckers
  • Hummingbirds
  • Honeyeaters
  • Lorikeets
  • Orioles
  • Sunbirds
  • Verdins
  • Warblers
  • White-eyes
  • Woodpeckers

No bird has a diet exclusively of nectar, however. If a bird did nothing but drink nectar, they would suffer from nutritional deficiencies from a lack of protein, amino acids and essential minerals.

Many nectar-drinking birds get those other critical parts of their diet from eating insects, including spiders and caterpillars. Birds with a more widely varied diet have no trouble meeting their nutritional needs, even if they do sip from flowers occasionally.

Nectar-eating birds are called nectivorous if nectar does make up a large proportion of their diet, such as with hummingbirds.

In addition to birds, bears, bats, insects, lizards and other wildlife may also drink nectar.

Artificial Nectar

Artificial nectar can be purchased in powder, concentrate and ready-to-drink forms, or a simple nectar recipe of four parts water to one part sugar can be easily made to supplement flowers or fill nectar feeders. This recipe contains a sugar concentration of 20-25 percent, which most closely mimics the sugar concentration in natural nectar that birds prefer. If birders do opt for commercially produced nectar products, it is highly recommended that they avoid any varieties that include extra dyes, flavoring or preservatives, any of which could prove dangerous to birds. Extensive studies have not yet been conducted to conclusively prove the problems or benefits of such additives, but conscientious birders will not take the risk of endangering birds with excess ingredients are easily avoided by making homemade nectar.

Planting nectar-bearing flowers is another great way to attract birds with a natural, renewable food source. Bee balms, salvias, zinnias, columbines, butterfly bushes, larkspurs and petunias are all nectar-rich flowers.

Photo – Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird © Linda