Hummingbird watching activity
Written by: Amanda Sibley
Illustrated by: Jo Ramirez and Sabine Deviche

show/hide words to know

Observations: a statement about something you have noticed : a comment or remark

Qualitative: having to do with characteristics of an object such as color.

Quantitative: having to do with amounts and often using exact measurement.

Variable: factor that may affect a particular experimental group. In an experiment a variable is something that can be changed such as temperature or length of time.

In backyards all over the country we often get to see beautiful birds and hear their calls. One bird is a standout for its beauty, grace and elegance—the hummingbird. As you learned in the Hummingbirds story, they are often attracted to the red hummingbird feeders that we hang outside. But why? Would they be just as attracted to a white feeder? In this activity, you will set up feeders of different colors and measure how much nectar hummingbirds drink from the different feeders.

Anna's Hummingbird

What You Need

  • Four hummingbird feeders (exactly the same)
  • Nectar (exactly the same for the entirety of the project)
  • White paint that bonds to plastic
  • Measuring cup (to measure volume)
  • One permanent marker
  • Four shepherds hooks (or another place to hang feeders)
  • Two additional feeders if you want to control for effects of evaporation (especially important for hot climates—see step 7 of procedure)

Before you begin: Do an internet search of your state or town and "hummingbirds" to make sure at least one species of hummingbirds lives in your area (they are only found in the Americas).

Make sure to have one feeder outside for a week or two before you try the experiment so local hummingbirds will know they can get food in your school yard. The time before they notice it may vary.

Read the Hummingbirds story to make sure you are familiar with what and how hummingbirds eat, as well as the importance of color to this type of bird.

hummingbird silhouetteWatch the video on the hummingbird vision and color page and make 5-7 observations. Look at what the hummingbirds are doing, and write down interesting things that you noticed. If students have a feeder in their yard with hummingbirds that come to eat, they can observe that as well. 

A good place to record your observations would be a science notebook. This will help you keep your thoughts and ideas in one spot.

Once you have at least 5-7 observations, come up with some related questions. See the table below for two examples.

Observations Questions
Red feeder Are hummingbirds attracted to red feeders?
Lots of hummingbird species feeding What hummingbirds are in my area?

Procedures

  1. Gather all materials. Wash and dry your feeders with hot water and make sure they hold water without leaking.
  2. Using the white paint, paint the red parts of only two of the feeders to make them white. Allow them to dry.
  3. Using the appropriate tool to measure the volume of liquid (mls or cups), place a small, predetermined amount of water in your feeder.
  4. Once you have put the small amount of water in the feeder, place the feederhummingbird silhouette upright. Using the marker, place a dash on the plastic with the amount of liquid written. Continue doing this in even increments to make a scale on the side of the feeder. Repeat this step on all four feeders.
  5. Repeat these steps on all four feeders.
  6. Fill one red and one white feeder with nectar. Mark the bottom or very top for easy recognition.
  7. Fill one red and one white feeder with water. Mark the bottom or very top for easy recognition. The water-filled feeder will help you determine whether it is the red feeder that attracts the birds, or a combination of the feeder and the nectar. Place the feeders in your predetermined location. (Note: if your resources allow, you can use additional feeders in a non-accessible location—one that has similar temperature and air flow—to test for effects of evaporation. This will be especially useful in hot climates. Measure the amount of water that evaporates from your non-accessible feeder and subtract that from changes in your accessible feeder. Controlling for evaporation will be most important for the feeder with only water, but is useful for the nectar feeder as well.)
  8. Check on the amount of liquid in your feeders every day or every few days (just keep it consistent). Continue this experiment for a few weeks. Use a table to organize your data that you collect.
Analyze graphic of magnifying glass and chart

After You Do the Experiment

Analyze your data: What trends have you noticed? Are the hummingbirds drinking nectar from one feeder more than the other? What data do we have to support this?

Communicate your results. Pick a format of your liking and communicate your results. Be sure to consider the role, the reader and the effective communication of the results. (Choose from: newspaper article, formal written scientific paper, or an online media source-blogs; see Teaching Tips for more information.)

Virtual Hummingbird Feeder

Hummingbird feeder 360 VR
Computer 360 smart phone 360 goggles 360
View with Computer View with Smart Phone View with Goggles


As you explore this hummingbird feeder, take notes on the types of hummingbirds, you find. Here are a few questions to get you started. Also try making up your own set of questions.

  • How many hummingbirds can you find?
  • How many species of hummingbirds did you find?
  • How are they different?

Learn more about these tiny birds and other birds that live in the southwest United States using our Bird Finder tool.


Amanda Sibley is a graduate of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She teaches 8th grade at Kino Jr. High in Mesa Arizona.

Virtual Hummingbird Feeder by CJ Kazilek. 360 VR image taken in Keystone Colorado.

View Citation

You may need to edit author's name to meet the style formats, which are in most cases "Last name, First name."

Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Hummingbird Lunch
  • Author(s): Amanda Sibley
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: May 28, 2014
  • Date accessed: July 23, 2018
  • Link: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/hummingbird-feeder

APA Style

Amanda Sibley. (2014, May 28). Hummingbird Lunch. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved July 23, 2018 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/hummingbird-feeder

American Psychological Association. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Chicago Manual of Style

Amanda Sibley. "Hummingbird Lunch". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 28 May, 2014. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/hummingbird-feeder

MLA 2017 Style

Amanda Sibley. "Hummingbird Lunch". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 28 May 2014. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 23 Jul 2018. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/hummingbird-feeder

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
flying hummingbird

This activity has a companion article Hummingbirds that talks about hummingbird ecology.

 

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