Is Salt Softened Water Dangerous for Hummingbird Food?

Updated: Jul. 27, 2023

Find out whether salt water in hummingbird food is OK—or whether you need to stock up on bottled water during peak feeding season.

Is Your Tap Water Safe for Hummingbirds?

Ruby-throated hummingbird at sugar-water feederAndree Jannette
Ruby-throated hummingbird at a sugar water feeder

Depending on your situation, the water that comes out of your tap may or may not be safe to mix into your homemade sugar water. This is especially true if you have a water softener that adds salt to your water, because it will also add salt to your hummingbird food.

Before mixing up a batch, Birds & Blooms reader Gerre Jaroch of Petoskey, Michigan, wondered about the water she was using. “I recently had a water softener installed. Is it OK to use that water to make sugar water for hummingbirds? Or should I be using distilled water instead?” asks Gerre.

The truth is, it’s best not to use either softened or distilled water in sugar water for hummingbirds. Most water-softening systems raise the salt content of the water, at least by a little, and this could have a negative effect on hummingbirds’ health.

On the other hand, distilled water has all of the salts removed, but actual flower nectar does contain traces of natural salts. If you don’t have a source of unsoftened tap water, we’d suggest buying bottled water to combine with sugar (and stick to a 4 to 1 ratio). Pure white sugar is all they need, in addition to the other natural foods they consume. Find out how much and how often hummingbirds eat.

Hummingbirds Need Sugar Water, Not Salt Water

Ruby-throated hummingbird at sugar-water feederCOURTESY LEAH BOYNTON
Make sure your water is safe before mixing up homemade hummingbird food.

It’s important to never put salt in hummingbird food. Also avoid using red dye, honey, fruit juice, artificial sweeteners or other additives in your hummingbird mixture. Although you might think it’s a good idea to add extra sweetness or nutrients, most of the time these do more harm than good.

Next, read answers to the most frequently asked questions about feeding hummingbirds.