Hummingbirds See Colors Over (Beyond) the Rainbow

Hummingbirds See Colors Over (Beyond) the Rainbow

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

HUMMINGBIRD acquiring nectar (Wikipedia photo credit)

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.  [ Proverbs 20:12 ]

God has equipped hummingbirds with a range of color vision that exceeds that of humans, so it’s fair to say that hummingbirds see over—or beyond—the rainbow.

This “beyond-the-rainbow” vision helps birds to see food, predators, nectar-producing plants, potential mates, and 3D objects within their physical environment. Recent research corroborates this amazing fact.(1),(2)

Humans have three types of color-sensitive cones in their eyes—attuned to red, green and blue light—but birds have a fourth type, sensitive to ultraviolet light. “Not only does having a fourth color cone type extend the range of bird-visible colors into the UV, it potentially allows birds to perceive combination colors like ultraviolet+green and ultraviolet+red—but this has been hard to test,” said [Dr. Mary Caswell] Stoddard. …  Stoddard and her colleagues designed a series of experiments to test whether hummingbirds can see these nonspectral colors. Their results appear June 15 [2020] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

Nonspectral colors are perceived when nonadjacent cone types (sensitive to widely separated parts of the light spectrum) are predominantly stimulated. For humans, purple (stimulation of blue- and red-sensitive cones) is a nonspectral color; birds’ fourth color cone type creates many more possibilities.(2)

[ see Stoddard , Eyster, et al. citation below ]

HUMMINGBIRDS at suspended feeder (Flickr photo credit)

For years, literally, Dr. Stoddard and her team tested and quantified how wild hummingbirds see colors beyond the spectrum of white light that humans see.

To investigate how birds perceive their colorful world, Stoddard and her research team established a new field system for exploring bird color vision in a natural setting. Working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic, Colorado, the researchers trained wild broad-tailed hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus) to participate in color vision experiments. … [using] a pair of custom “bird vision” LED tubes programmed to display a broad range of colors, including nonspectral colors like ultraviolet+green. Next they performed experiments in an alpine meadow frequently visited by local broad-tailed hummingbirds, which breed at the high-altitude site.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

The experiment was sweet, as one would expect with hummingbirds.(3)

Each morning, the researchers rose before dawn and set up two feeders: one containing sugar water and the other plain water. Beside each feeder, they placed an LED tube. The tube beside the sugar water emitted one color, while the one next to the plain water emitted a different color. The researchers periodically swapped the positions of the rewarding and unrewarding tubes, so the birds could not simply use location to pinpoint a sweet treat. … Over the course of several hours, wild hummingbirds learned to visit the rewarding color. Using this setup, the researchers recorded over 6,000 feeder visits in a series of 19 experiments.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]
See the source image

HUMMINGBIRDS feeding (ReallyCoolGardenStuff.com photo credit)

The results were—one might say—colorful. Unlike human eyes that can see one “nonspectral” color, purple, hummingbird eyes apparently see five “nonspectral” colors.

Stoddard’s team was particularly interested in “nonspectral” color combinations, which involve hues from widely separated parts of the color spectrum, as opposed to blends of neighboring colors like teal (blue-green) or yellow (green-red). For humans, purple is the clearest example of a nonspectral color. Technically, purple is not in the rainbow: it arises when our blue (short-wave) and red (long-wave) cones are stimulated, but not green (medium-wave) cones. While humans have just one nonspectral color—purple, birds can theoretically see up to five: purple, ultraviolet+red, ultraviolet+green, ultraviolet+yellow and ultraviolet+purple.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

Birds have four color cone types in their eyes, compared to three in humans. In theory, this enables birds to discriminate a broad range of colors, including many nonspectral colors. … We trained wild hummingbirds to participate in color vision tests, which revealed that they can discriminate a variety of nonspectral colors, including UV+red, UV+green, purple, and UV+yellow. Additionally, based on an analysis of ∼3,300 plumage and plant colors, we estimate that birds perceive many natural colors as nonspectral.(2)

[ see Stoddard, Eyster, et al. citation below ]

Also, the research team studied minute differences in color, as they are featured in plant material and bird feathers—there is a lot more to color that is appreciated by most human eyes!

Finally, the research team analyzed a data set of 3,315 feather and plant colors. They discovered that birds likely perceive many of these colors as nonspectral, while humans do not … [due to the birds’] four color-cone visual system.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

How colorful the world must be to hummingbirds!

HUMMINGBIRD in Trumpet Vine (Harold A. Davis photo credit)

Dr. Stoddard’s team were not the first to study the beyond-the-rainbow vision of birds. Previous studies have been reported, using finches and sparrows, indicating that diet is important for avian eyesight.

The ability of finches, sparrows, and many other birds to see a visual world hidden to us is explained in a study published in the journal eLife. Birds can be divided into those that can see ultraviolet (UV) light and those that cannot. Those that can live in a sensory world apart, able to transmit and receive signals between each other in a way that is invisible to many other species. … The study reveals two essential adaptions that enable birds to expand their vision into the UV range: chemical changes in light-filtering pigments called carotenoids and the tuning of light-sensitive proteins called opsins. Birds acquire carotenoids through their diets and process them in a variety of ways to shift their light absorption toward longer or shorter wavelengths.(4)

[ see PhysOrg citation below ]

If that seems complicated and mathematically challenging, it is!(4),(5)

The researchers characterized the carotenoid pigments from birds with violet vision and from those with UV vision and used computational models to see how the pigments affect the number of colors they can see. … The study also revealed that sensitivity of the violet/UV cone and the blue cone in birds must move in sync to allow for optimum vision. Among bird species, there is a strong relationship between the light sensitivity of opsins within the violet/UV cone and mechanisms within the blue cone, which coordinate to ensure even UV vision.(4)

[ see PhysOrg citation below ]

[ Stoddard Lab infographic, A.D.2020 / PNAS ]

The more-technical description of the research is even more challenging, to read, but the implications are “clearly seen”—God has given birds amazing eyesight.

Color vision in birds is mediated by four types of cone photoreceptors whose maximal sensitivities (λmax) are evenly spaced across the light spectrum. … SWS1 [shortwave-sensitive cone] opsin is accompanied by a corresponding short-wavelength shift in the spectrally adjacent SWS2 cone.(5)

[ see Toomey, Lind, et al. citation below ]

Hummingbird eyesight is facilitated by some really technical details!

Here, we show that SWS2 cone spectral tuning is mediated by modulating the ratio of two apocarotenoids, galloxanthin and 11’,12’-dihydrogalloxanthin, which act as intracellular spectral filters in this cell type. We propose an enzymatic pathway that mediates the differential production of these apocarotenoids in the avian retina, and we use color vision modeling to demonstrate how …  spectral tuning is necessary to achieve even sampling of the light spectrum and thereby maintain near-optimal color discrimination.(5)

[ see Toomey, Lind, et al. citation below ]

At the practical level, how can Christians benefit from knowing about avian eyesight? Or, what about other features—like wings, feathers, and motion-regulating software—that God has designed and installed into the world’s hummingbirds? Are we missing an opportunity to appreciate God if we ignore what He has done to enable hummingbirds to live as they do?

HUMMINGBIRD approaching flower (Bioluminescent.org photo credit)

Hummingbird beaks, bones, and feathers differ from those of all other living or extinct bird kinds. Their wings don’t fold in the middle. Instead, they have a unique swivel joint where the wing attaches to the body so that the wings rotate in a figure-eight pattern. And they move fast! They have to beat their wings rapidly to hover, levitating with level heads as they extract nectar from flowers for hours per day. Scientists still need to discover the bird’s mental software that coordinates information about the location of a flower’s center with muscle motion that expertly stabilizes the hummingbird’s little head as it drinks.(6)

[ see Thomas citation below ]

Astonishing! What a stupendous and beauty-broadcasting imagination our God has—how can we see His busy, busy hummingbirds without admiring His technical genius and His bioengineering power?(7)

[ see Sherwin citation below ]

Yet every hummingbird alive today is a descendant from the originals made by God on Day 5 of Creation Week.

Their size, flight characteristics and patterns, metabolism, all point to our magnificent Creator who designed these amazing animals and created them on Day Five.(8)

HUMMINGBIRD (Harold A. Davis photo)

References

  1. Staff writer, Princeton University. 2020. Spectacular bird’s-eye view? Hummingbirds see diverse colors humans can only imagine. PhysOrg (June 15, 2020), posted athttps://phys.org/news/2020-06-spectacular-bird-eye-view-hummingbirds-diverse.html .
  2. Stoddard, M. C., H. N. Eyster, et al. 2020. Wild Hummingbirds Discriminate Nonspectral Colors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 15, 2020), posted at  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1919377117 .  
  3. Mitchell, E. 2014. Our Creator’s Sweet Design for Hummingbird Taste (Answers in Genesis: News to Know, September 6, 2014), posted https://answersingenesis.org/birds/our-creators-sweet-design-hummingbird-taste/ (with a link, in Footnote #1, to video footage of hummingbird sugar consumption).
  4. Staff writer, eLife. 2016. How Birds Unlock their Super-Sense, Ultraviolet Vision.PhysOrg (July 12, 2016), posted at https://phys.org/news/2016-07-birds-super-sense-ultraviolet-vision.html?utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Phys.org_TrendMD_1 .
  5. Toomey, M. B., O. Lind, et al. 2016. Complementary shifts in photoreceptor spectral tuning unlock the full adaptive potential of ultraviolet vision in birds. eLife Sciences / Biochemistry, Chemical Biology, Neuroscience (July 12, 2016), posted at https://elifesciences.org/articles/15675 ; doi: 10.7554/eLife.15675
  6. Thomas, B. 2016. Hummingbirds! Acts & Facts. 45(4), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hummingbirds .
  7. Sherwin, F. 2006. Hummingbirds at ICR. Acts & Facts. 35(9), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hummingbirds-at-icr .  
  8. Dreves, D. 1991. The Hummingbird: God’s Tiny Miracle. Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal. 14(1):10-12.  

Garden Longing

“And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where… even as the garden of the Lord” Genesis 13:10

All winter, we long for spring and the day we can get back to dressing and keeping our backyard gardens. We feel a strong inward desire to rejuvenate our backyard bird sanctuaries for the return of our beloved hummingbirds and other avian friends. But why is there such an affinity within us for gardens?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird in my backyard garden; Clarke County, Georgia. July, 2014. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

In the Old Testament book of Genesis, the nomads Abraham and his nephew decide to split up and settle down. In making his choice of a new homeland, Lot looks towards the plains of Jordan and sees a fertile land “like the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10). That same internal “garden longing” in his heart was triggered and leads Lot east.

I believe our love of gardens stems from a longing to return to Eden, that perfect state of beauty and fellowship with our Creator that man enjoyed in the beginning; where man walked with God “in the garden in the cool of the day”. When Adam’s eyes were opened, his first sight was a garden with “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden.” Our love of gardens stems from a desire to return to Eden, to return to a place that place of paradise that was lost through sin.

Even though we see disease, decay and corruption in this world today, one day we will return to paradise. As the story of this present age comes to its final chapter, a new book will be written. One where we will see a new heaven and a new earth brought forth (Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). Until then, let us enjoy our backyard gardens as a small piece of Eden; as a reminder of the blessed and perfect garden in world yet to come. As you till your soil with your hands, remember in your heart that one day, “thou shalt be with me in paradise.”

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7


Hi, I’m wildlife photographer and nature writer William Wise. I was saved under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology at the University of Georgia. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. I’m currently an animal shelter director and live in Athens, Georgia with my wife and two teenage daughters, who are all also actively involved in ministry. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation. William Wise Nature Notes is my wildlife and birding photo blog documenting the beauty, design and wonder of God’s creation.  — “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.” Psalms 104, The Message.

Birds Are Wonderful: G, H, and I !

BIRDS  ARE  WONDERFUL  . . .  D,  E,  and  F !

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Jesus said: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink . . . Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, . . . your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”   (Matthew 6:25-26)

For ushering in the year of our Lord 2020,  below follows the third advance installment of alphabet-illustrating birds of the world, as part of this new series (“Birds Are Wonderful  —  and Some Are a Little Weird*).  The letter G is illustrated by Gila Woodpecker, Grey-Crowned Crane, and Golden Plover.  The letter H  illustrated by Hoopoe, Hoatzin, and Hummingbird.  The letter I illustrated by Iceland Gull, Ibis, and Invisible Rail.

“G” BIRDS:   Gila Woodpecker, Grey-Crowned Crane, and Golden Plover.

BAW-GilaWoodpecker-Grey-CrownedCrane

BAW-GoldenPlover

“H” BIRDS:  Hoopoe, Hoatzin, and Hummingbird.

BAW-Hoopoe-Hoatzin

BAW-Hummingbirds

“I” BIRDS:  Iceland Gull, Ibis, and Invisible Rail. 

BAW-IcelandGull-IbisBAW-InvisibleRail

Birds are truly wonderful — and some, like Hoopoe, are a little bit goofy-looking, if not also weird!  (Stay tuned for more, D.v.)


* Quoting from “Birds Are Wonderful, and Some Are a Little Weird”, (c) AD2019 James J. S. Johnson   [used here by permission].

Hoopoe-wikipedia

 

 

Hummingbird from John 10:10 Project

“Few creatures in the animal kingdom can capture the imagination more powerfully than a hummingbird. Their aeronautical abilities are stunning. But the genius of these birds isn’t limited to flight. Each day, they must consume twice their body weight in nectar to fuel their voracious metabolisms. The incredible biological mechanisms that make this possible are masterpieces of engineering and design.”

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 KJV)

A friend sent me this link. Thanks, Pastor Pete.

Peru’s Marvellous Hummingbird – Again

Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis)©©

Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis)©©

Peru’s Marvellous Hummingbird

(from Creation Moments)

In that day the LORD of hosts will be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to the remnant of His people. (Isaiah 28:5)

In 1835, when scientists first saw Peru’s most unusual hummingbird, they were so overcome with its beauty that they gave it the name “Marvellous.” This little bird treats the eye to iridescent green, yellow, orange, and purple feathers. But its most unusual feature is its tail. While most birds have eight to twelve tail feathers, the Marvellous hummingbird has only four. Two of these are long, pointed, thorn-like feathers that don’t seem to help much in flying or landing. The other two feathers are truly marvellous. They are six inches long, three times the length of the bird’s two-inch body. On the end of these two long narrow feathers are large feather fans that nearly equal the surface area of its wings.

Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) ©©

Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) ©©

Astonishingly, the Marvelous hummingbird has complete control of these feathers. At rest, the bird perches with these two feathers hanging down an inch or so from its body, and then crossing them until they are horizontal. In flight and landing they provide remarkable maneuverability. During mating, the hummingbird moves them as semaphores. Interestingly enough, evolutionists admit that they are stumped as to why these unusual feathers should have evolved.

One look at our creation clearly shows that our Creator appreciates beauty. But even the beautiful Marvelous hummingbird is but a poor and cloudy hint of the beauty of our Creator Himself.

Prayer:
Dear Father, help me treat the beauty You have created as You would have me to do. Let me be filled with thanksgiving to You for it, and let it remind me that You are the source of all that is truly beautiful. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Notes:
Crawford H. Greenewalt. The Marvelous Hummingbird Rediscovered. National Geographic, Vol. 130, No. 1. P. 98-101.”

©Creation Moments 2014


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Lee’s Addition:

This was originally done in 2010, but needs to be re-blogged again. [Which I did in 2014, It’s now 2019, time for it again.] Also, the YouTube above was added. It is astonishing to watch the little bird in action. Thanks to one of our readers who found the video to add to their site. See The Vine Vigil.

The Marvellous Hummingbird is now the Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis). It is in the Hummingbird Family (Trochilidae) and is part of the Apodiformes Order.

Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) ©WikiC-Gould_Troch._pl._161

Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) ©WikiC-Gould_Troch._pl._161

The Marvelous (also Marvellous) Spatuletail (hummingbird), Loddigesia mirabilis, is a medium-sized (up to 5.9 in/15 cm long) white, green and bronze hummingbird adorned with blue crest feathers, a brilliant turquoise gorget, and a black line on its white underparts. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Loddigesia.

A Peruvian endemic, this species is found in the forest edge of the Río Utcubamba region. It was first reported in 1835 by the bird collector Andrew Matthews for George Loddiges. The Marvellous Spatuletail is unique among birds, for it has just four feathers in its tail. Its most remarkable feature is the male’s two long racquet-shaped outer tail feathers that cross each other and end in large violet-blue discs or “spatules”. He can move them independently.

Information gathered from Creation Moments, Wikipedia, and YouTube.

Wordless Birds



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ANCIENT HUMMINGBIRDS WERE QUITE MODERN – Repost

Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Ray's Wildlife

Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Ray’s Wildlife

ANCIENT HUMMINGBIRDS WERE QUITE MODERN from Creation Moments

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” (Genesis 1:20)

Today, hummingbirds are found only in North, Central and South America. Of course, since Noah’s Ark landed in the mountains of Ararat, they had to cross Europe and the Atlantic or Asia to get there. However, until now, there was no evidence for this migration.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis) by Raymond Barlow

Fiery-throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis) by Raymond Barlow

Ancient Hummingbirds Were Quite Modern Scientists have now discovered two hummingbird fossils in a clay pit in southwestern Germany. These tiny fossils are remarkable in many ways. Until now, evolutionists claimed the earliest hummingbird fossils to be one million years old. The new fossils are said to be 30 to 34 million years old. While we would not agree with the evolutionary dating, we would expect the hummingbird fossils in Europe or Asia to predate those in the New World. Even more interesting is that the fossils suggest that these older birds are fully functional hummingbirds. Their wing bones are like those of modern hummingbirds, which suggest that they could hover and fly backward just like the hummingbirds we know today. Their beaks were twice as long as their skulls, suggesting that they drank nectar just like modern hummingbirds. In other words, there is no sign of any evolutionary development, another fact we would expect.

While the evidence for the history of hummingbirds is what we would expect, we do not need scientific evidence to uphold scriptural truth. We have God’s Word on it.

Prayer:
I thank You, Lord, for the beauty of Your creation, which remains beautiful, despite our sin. Amen.

Notes:
Science News, 5/8/04, p. 292, S. Perkins, “Ancient Buzzing.”
Creation Moments ©2016 (used with permission)

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