Okanagan hummingbirds can see more colours than you can even fathom | Kelowna News | iNFOnews

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Okanagan hummingbirds can see more colours than you can even fathom

Rufous hummingbird
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
June 17, 2020 - 8:06 AM

The world of a hummingbird is more vibrant than even the human imagination.

Harold Eyster, a UBC PhD student and co-author of a recent study that examined the relationship between hummingbirds and colour, collaborated with researchers to determine if the birds can see colours the human eye cannot. He said the study can be applied to Okanagan hummingbirds, other birds, and even older reptile species.

“Birds have four colour cone types in their eyes, compared to three in humans. In theory, this enables birds to discriminate a broad range of colours, including many non-spectral colours,” according to the study.

The team first trained wild hummingbirds in Colorado to tell the difference between colours associated with different feeders. Once they trained the birds and validated their experimental setup, they used colours invisible to the naked eye to see if the hummingbirds could determine which colours the food was located in.

READ MORE: Three main types of hummingbird may be spotted at your feeder, says Okanagan birdwatcher

“I could be standing looking at the feeders and thinking, ‘those look identical’ but we would see the hummingbirds able to choose the sugar water just as they would with the (colours humans can see,)” Eyster said.

The experiment took place at the Rock Mountain Biological Laboratory and determined the hummingbirds can see a variety of non-spectral colours.

“It’s nice to be able to share with the world and inform future experiments on colour vision and we hope this will help people understand how birds are looking at the world,” he said. “The way that we see the world isn’t the only way and there’s other ways that other animals are doing it, and I think it’s (fascinating) that there are such diverse ways of seeing the world and ours is a very particular limited one.”

Hummingbirds were chosen for the experiment because they are a visual species, so they're easier to study than other types of birds.

READ MORE: North Okanagan yard abuzz with hummingbirds

“Over the course of the day, they’re making all these choices based on vision. They’re choosing different coloured flowers from the different coloured background. That means they’re already going to be thinking of colour as a source of food,” Eyster said.

Hummingbirds also look different to each other, as they have colours on their plumage that we can’t see, colours that we "can't even imagine," he said.


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