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Are Hummingbirds Colorblind? Science Explained

Are Hummingbirds Colorblind? Science Explained

Many people think birds, mammals, and insects have a poorer vision than humans. They are color blind and cannot see vibrancy like us. Is it true for hummingbirds? Are they colorblind? We will find about these facts and more in the article below! 

Are Hummingbirds colorblind?

A big NO! 

Hummingbirds aren’t color blind. They have better color vision than even human beings.

Humans can see the spectral colors, that is, the colors in the rainbow. Besides, we can see only one non-spectral color, purple which is not present in the rainbow. 

Hummingbirds might appear small and helpless creatures to you. But, they are no less than natural wonders in the science domain. Their vision and eye structure invite numerous scientists to study their eyes and carry out numerous experiments to see how their ophthalmic cells work.

Hummingbirds have four different types of color cones in their eyes, but humans only have three. As a result, hummingbirds are tetra chromatic, whereas humans are trichromatic.

Hummingbirds can theoretically discern a wide variety of hues, including numerous non-spectral colors. When nonadjacent cone types (sensitive to widely separated regions of the light spectrum) are primarily stimulated, nonspectral colors are perceived.

Purple (stimulation of blue- and red-sensitive cones) is a non-spectral hue for humans; nevertheless, the fourth color cone type of birds opens up a world of possibilities.

Hummingbirds can see non-spectral hues, although it can be difficult for them to understand how these colors appear to them. It’s impossible to know exactly how hummers see these hues. Is the hummingbird’s ultraviolet and red a spectral color combination or a completely new hue? Without a definitive answer from the researchers, we can only conjecture.

You already have a hint that hummingbirds have better vision than humans. Moving on, let’s closely understand the new colors they see that humans can’t.

Can hummingbirds see more colors than humans?

Hummingbirds do see more colors than humans. They have a much better vision which we can only imagine. Now, you might be thinking, how did we reach such conclusions about hummingbirds? Scientists knew that birds, primarily hummingbirds, have a better vision than human beings. So, they performed numerous research, the results of which were exceptional. 

One of the most prominent studies showing the birds’ abilities to view the non-spectral colors is right below. Have a look! 

Princeton, UBC, Harvard, the University of Maryland, and RMBL collaborated on the development of a pair of unique ‘bird vision’ LED tubes that can display a wide spectrum of colors, including nonspectral. They then conducted studies in an alpine meadow frequented by broad-tailed hummingbirds in the area.

The researchers got up early every morning and set up two feeders: one with sugar water and the other with plain water. They installed an LED tube beside each feeder. The tube next to the sugar water released one color, whereas the tube close to the plain water emitted another. The researchers switched the rewarding and unrewarding tubes regularly so that the birds couldn’t just utilize location to find a sweet treat. Wild hummingbirds learned to visit the rewarding color over several hours.

Hummingbirds were able to identify ultraviolet+green light from pure ultraviolet and pure green light, as well as two different ultraviolet+red light mixes — one redder, the other less so.

Finally, the researchers looked at 3,315 different feathers and plant colors. They discovered that birds, unlike humans, view many of these colors as non-spectral. However, the researchers point out that non-spectral colors are unlikely to be particularly unique in comparison to other colors. The ancient four-color cone visual system of birds allows them to see a wide range of non-spectral colors.

Why do hummingbirds see more colors?

So, we all know that hummingbirds can see more colors than human beings. They have a more developed eye structure, helping them to see what we can only imagine. 

Have you ever wondered why hummingbirds see more colors than humans? Let’s take a closer look! 

Identify members of their species

Birds have bright plumage and carry a blend of various colors. Although they are separable for us, thanks to our developed brains, hummingbirds rely on their visionary abilities to distinguish them. Also, they use their ophthalmic senses to identify members of their species. 

As they see more colors than us, the plumage, feather patterns, and markings on other birds appear more vibrant to hummingbirds. So, they can easily separate other hummingbirds from a flock of birds of other species. It helps them find their mating partners, offspring, or even rivals. 

Find food

Hummingbirds are vigorous eaters. They consume small amounts of sugar and energy-rich food every 10-15 mins to maintain their metabolic activities. These birds need rapid food sources to never go starving. However, hummingbirds might have tremendous difficulties finding a food source during flight. 

Thanks to their visionary abilities, they can recognize previous food sources. They remember the color of the feeder or flowers and map them to the sugar reward they got earlier. So, using colors, they know which feeder or flower has nectar and which of them look similar but don’t have any energy-rich food. 

Locate danger

In nature, every evolution occurs for better survival chances. Hummingbirds are small and easy to get trapped. So, they needed a weapon to defend themselves from potential dangers. What helps them fly away from a dangerous situation? 

It’s their powerful eyesight! Hummingbirds locate dangers using their proactive vision. For example, they remember the color patterns on a stinging bee. So, they are likely to view such patterns on a flower, identify it to be a potential danger, and fly away from it for safety. That’s how their vision works. 


Overall, hummingbirds can see the world better than we do. They can see more bright and vibrant objects and view colors out of our spectral range. That makes humans color blind to some extent when compared with the hummers. So, hummingbirds aren’t colorblind and they have solid reasons for having such an exceptional vision.