A hummingbird drinks nectar from a flower Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, at Chapungu Sculpture Park. (Loveland Reporter-Herald file)

A conversation between three people redirected when I entered the room. They were chatting about hummingbirds and had a question for me, and that question reminded me of advertisements in old magazines like Saturday Evening Post and on television commercials.

The ads in both media promoted the superiority of cane sugar though they seldom if ever identified any other sugar. The ads made no impression on me because as a youngster I accepted sugar as sugar.

Then, in 1991 I started writing the question-and-answer column for Bird Watcher’s Digest. Without exception every summer for the next 24 years I received many letters asking whether to use cane sugar or beet sugar for hummingbird feeders. Some people believed that sugar was harmful to hummingbirds and people should stop feeding them.

Those three people had read some website information that claimed hummingbirds prefer cane sugar. So, do they?

Diverse research has investigated this from several perspectives that ultimately interconnect. One line of research involved determining whether cane and beet sugar were different. That research expanded to determine the different kinds of sugars that plants make. Other research involved controlled taste tests to learn if people could tell the difference. And considerable research has focused on hummingbirds and their preferences.

Science-based research clearly shows that sugar cane and sugar beet both produce the same kind of sugar, sucrose, but produce it through different metabolic processes. Multiple taste tests with volunteer tasters repeatedly showed no detectable difference between cane and beet sugars. Taste tests with hummingbirds clearly indicates that they do not favor one sucrose source over another. Research that disputes this has been discredited for bias.

Botanical research has revealed that plants do produce different kinds of sugars. Some plants make nectar with glucose, which is favored by moths. Some plants make nectar with fructose, which is especially sweet. And a whole lot of plants make nectar of sucrose.

Though sugar beets make sucrose, which hummingbirds prefer, the plants store their sucrose sugar in enlarged taproots where it’s not accessible to hummingbirds.

So, regardless of old Saturday Evening Post ads and current websites claiming cane sugar is better, the hummingbirds don’t care so you shouldn’t either.

Focus instead on how you prepare sugar water for hummingbirds. Keep the sugar concentration between 20 and 25 percent. That means one cup of sugar to every four or five cups of water. If hummers don’t feed enthusiastically at your feeder, it could be too much chlorine in the water.

Don’t use red food coloring. Research indicates food coloring can adversely affect hummers, so let the red color of the feeder do the attracting. Clean the feeder regularly, inside and out, because sugar water can grow bacteria and fungi that hummers reject.

And finally, don’t worry about wasps at the feeder. If wasps and hummers appear to compete, put some sugar water in a big lid like one from a peanut butter jar. Place it in the general vicinity of the hummingbird feeder. When they find it, the wasps will use it; and since wasps prey on spiders and caterpillars, having them around isn’t all that bad!

Keep your hummingbird feeders up until late September and enjoy the show!