What Colors are Birds Attracted to?
Grade Level: 5th - 8th; Type: Environmental Sciences
Everyone knows that hummingbirds seem to prefer red. The goal of this experiment is to determine if this true for hummingbirds, as well as for other birds. Students will learn about the differences in animal feeding behavior after their choice of colored feeders.
Supplies are readily available at a large discount house such as Target or Walmart. Alternatively, supplies can be found at a hardware or pet supply store.
- 4 birdfeeders made of a material that can be easily painted. An additional set of four feeders is necessary if the student wishes to put a second set of feeders in a different location.
- 2 humming bird feeders, one of which is red.
- Red, brown, dark green and yellow paint
- Five pounds of birdseed
- A lab notebook
- Paint one of the bird feeders red. Paint the others green, brown, and yellow.
- Paint one of the hummingbird feeders brown. Leave the other red.
- After the paint dries on the hummingbird feeder, make a sugar water solution using one tablespoon of sugar for every cup of water. Fill both hummingbird feeders with this solution and hand them close together in area frequented by hummingbirds.
- Hang the feeders together in an area that you can easily observe such as along your garage or in a tree you see from the window. Make sure that all four feeders are in the same type of environment.
- If you have time and are particularly ambitious, you can hang a second set of feeders in a different environment. For example, if the first set of feeders was hung on a balcony where there are lots of flowering plants, hang the others in a tree. This second step is not necessary. It is more important that you make the time to watch the feeders than to put up a second set.
- Watch your feeders for at least 15 minutes every day. Count the number of birds that goes to each feeder.
- Try to identify the types of birds that are attracted to each feeder. Research their particular feeding habits.
While we don’t know if birds see color exactly the same way we do, we do know that nuthatches and their kin prefer dark green feeders and hummingbirds prefer bright tropical colors that approximate the flowers from which they usually find nectar.
Birds can be seed eaters (like nuthatches and tufted titmice), insect eaters (like swallows), some combination of the two (like chickadees) and nectar drinkers (like hummingbirds. Larger shorebirds dine on fish, and large birds of prey feast on small mammals. Seagulls seem to eat anything, including fried clams with tartar sauce. These feeding habits drive the color preferences in feeding stations.
Any of the Peterson Guides for Birds that is keyed to your particular part of the country is excellent.
Wild Bird Watching: Black-Capped Chickadees
Wild Bird Watching: Types of Birdfeeders
Wild Bird Watching: Ruby Throated Hummingbirds
Birds and Lighting: Color Vision of Birds
Francisco J. Varela, Adrian G. Palacios, and Timothy H. Goldsmith from "Vision, brain, and behavior in birds". Eds. Zeigler and Bischof. 1993. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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