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Hummingbird Insticnt: Location vs. Color


Ever wonder why most hummingbird feeders are red? It’s because hummingbirds have the strongest attraction to that color, right? Maybe not! Research conducted by the University of St. Andrews suggests that the Hummingbird’s attraction to feeders has more to do with location than color.

In the experiment, researchers varied the sweetness and refill rate of four different colored feeders in order to find out if color played a role in the ability of the hummingbirds to learn the best feeders to visit. What they found was that the hummers learned which feeder would be the sweetest and which would be refilled more frequently independent of the feeder color. A study published on Planet Earth Online states:

"Ultimately, this suggests they ignore color and just focus on location… I guess it's a bit like us in the supermarket. We know exactly where to look on the shelves and isles for our favorite products, which means that when the supermarkets move them, we have to readily search to find them again.

A separate study performed by a professor at Yale University generated similar results. In this study, red, green, blue, yellow and clear feeder solutions of the same sweetness were placed side by side. Over the course of several days, the researchers changed the placement of the feeders and observed the number of visits to each color. Their conclusions were that hummingbirds are more strongly influenced by the location of their food source than by the color and that color played less of a role if any at all.

So what does all this mean for the everyday birder? Keep your feeder in the same location. Moving it around might cause the hummingbirds to search for food elsewhere!

Planet Earth
Richard S. Miller - Yale University


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