Journal of comparative physiology

, Volume 130, Issue 3, pp 209–220 | Cite as

Discrimination of colors by the black-chinned hummingbird,Archilochus alexandri

  • Timothy H. Goldsmith
  • Kenneth M. Goldsmith


The color vision of a population of black-chinned hummingbirds was studied by behavioral methods. Birds were attracted to feeders equipped with tungsten lamps and interference filters. Results are based on counts of approximately 5700 visits by 92 ± 5 birds. Population size was estimated by mistnetting and marking 29 hummingbirds, 22 of which could be recognized individually during the course of the experiments.

Following experience with red (620 nm) at all feeders, the birds showed a modest tendency to visit red (620 nm, 650 nm) and blue (490 nm) rather than intermediate greens and yellows. When sugar was presented at only one wavelength, however, choices became much sharper.

When positions of the feeders were randomized, trained birds selected feeders on the basis of hue. Brightness was not used as a significant cue. This finding thus provides a more rigorous demonstration of color vision in hummingbirds than has heretofore been available.

Either position or color could be learned in several hours (6–22 visits). Red (620 nm) and green (546 nm) were learned at the same rate. Two different (and opposing) color associations could be learned simultaneously at sites approximately 30 m apart.

Discrimination of hue was measured following training to each of four wavelengths: 620, 590, 546, and 480 nm. Light from interference filters with transmission maxima at 546 and 550 nm were differentiated by the birds to a statistically significant extent. 546 and 590 nm appear to lie near the boundaries of hues; a boundary near 540 nm is found in pigeon but not human color vision.


Color Sugar Population Size Tungsten Color Vision 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy H. Goldsmith
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kenneth M. Goldsmith
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Southwestern Research StationAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryPortalUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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