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Investigating the colour preference of birds

Two teenagers from Somerset have won the GSK UK Young Scientists of the Year award at the annual Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers competition. George Rabin and Ed Thurlow won their award after conducting a study of British garden birds. The duo wanted to investigate which colour birds are most attracted to and the conclusions they reached were somewhat surprising.

Coloured Bird Feeders

George and Ed attend Churchill Academy and Sixth Form in Somerset. They studied birds’ responses to colour by painting feeders in different colours, filling them with bird food and then watching which feeders attracted the most birds. They recorded which feeders were visited most and how much food the birds ate from each feeder .

What is Birds’ Favourite Colour?

George, 14 and Ed, 15, discovered that the bird’s favourite colour was blue. This could be because blue is in the middle of a bird’s visual spectrum and so is the colour that will appear to be the most vivid to them. Their findings not only suggest which colour of feeder would be the best choice for your garden, they also have implications for the designs of aeroplanes and wind turbines. By painting these the right colour, bird strikes could be reduced. This would help birds and improve safety in the skies.

Detailed Study into Colour Preferences

There has been research into the colour preferences of bird before. A Study by the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Hull, also used coloured bird feeders and suggested that overall, silver feeders attract the most garden birds but that preferences vary between species. This study found that red and yellow feeders were the least popular colours with almost every species. Further research is clearly required to establish which colours birds prefer and why.

Avian Colour Vision

It is hard to know exactly how birds perceive colour. But it is possible to make an educated guess. Male birds often have colourful feathers to make them attractive to potential mates. This suggests that birds are able to perceive colours well and that they are attracted by certain hues.

In birds the eye can make up almost 15% of its body weight whereas in humans the eye is less than 1% of our body weight. Birds’ eyes have cones featuring diverse visual pigments which means that birds almost certainly have a highly developed sense of colour. Certain species such as hummingbirds are believed to be able to see ultraviolet light as the flowers from which they drink nectar have patterns that are visible only under ultraviolet light.

What have you discovered about birds’ colour preferences? Do you use colourful feeders in your garden? Let us know how the birds behave in your garden.


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