Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What Is on My Desk
My Son's Science Project

With my love for polymer clay, I think it is quite expectable that my kids very often use this material in their projects. Here is the latest example: my son's science project. Last spring, shortly before they had to start planning their project, I showed him the works of Bird Artist, which he really liked. So, I was not surprised when he asked if he could use some polymer clay to make humming bird feeders for his study.

We have lots of humming birds in our backyard, and usually feed them using a regular store-bought feeder with four red plastic flowers. My son decided to find which color is the most attractive for these birds. He made five feeders: yellow, white, red, blue, and black. I thought it would have been better to vary the intensity of one color, and make white, red, and a three or four pink feeders with different proportions of white and red clay. This way, he could use graphs to present his results. However, he and his teacher decided to go with various colors, so that's what we have now.

First, we made just one test feeder. We replaced our regular one with it to see if the birds would use the new feeder. It looked as if they did not even notice any change.

This weekend, my son made the rest of the feeders, and we placed them around our gazebo. The gazebo has eight sides, and on five of them we placed the feeders. Every day, my son is going to put an exact and equal amount of syrup into each feeder, and then record the amount left in each of them at the end of the day.

Since there is a chance that some feeder locations are more convenient for the humming birds than the others, he is going to vary the position of each feeder every day. Thus, a yellow feeder, for example, will be placed in the first opening of the gazebo on day 1, in the second on day 2, and so forth, until it's been moved through all positions at least a few times. My son wants to run this experiment for a month, but we are afraid that the birds may migrate before the time is over.

It will be interesting to see what he finds out, but I am pretty sure that humming birds do not care what color is behind the hole with their syrup. Once, when we were cleaning and refilling our regular feeder, a humming bird flew to the empty feeder spot (right in front of our kitchen window). She looked quite puzzled by the absence of her food, and tried to get her syrup by sticking her beak first through the feeder hook, and then through these little vent holes we have under the roof. It was very funny! Clearly, neither the hook, nor the vent holes were the color of the feeder, and they definitely did not look like any flowers...


Doda said...

Those are very cool. Wish we had hummingbirds here!

Kristin said...

I am the Birdartist Etsy artist that you acknowledged. I'm only just discovering this reference to me several years later. Thank you! Now I'm wondering, after all these years, what was the result of your son's hummingbird feeder color science experiment?

I've read other studies showing that they do show color preferences, usually preferring pinks, reds and orange colors. Speaking from experience, I can also say that my hummingbirds totally love my blue feeders, and they use my white ones as well with seemingly equal interest.

I've never even tried to make a black feeder. I'd be very surprised if the black feeder drew many birds, but hummingbirds are inquisitive and might check out just about any color. Perhaps they can also learn to recognize a particular feeder shape and configuration, and will learn to visit no matter what the color. If it provides sugar, I suspect that they will come, regardless of color.

In running an experiment like this, you also have to be VERY careful that the handmade feeders are identical in dimension. Hummingbirds definitely prefer a shorter and/or wider feeding port to a longer, more narrow one. It would seem that with their high metabolisms, It is critical for them to optimize their efforts, and the more easily they can get to the sugar water, the more popular the feeder will be, regardless of color. Unfortunately, shorter/wider ports are more prone to leakage, so you do have to find the right balance.

I'm pleased that he controlled for location, and even though this was quite a while ago, I'm really curious to hear how it all turned out.

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