Hummingbirds Can See Even More Colors Than Humans, According to Researchers


Hummingbirds are tiny marvels of nature, and they love the color red for a very good reason. Their eyes are tuned to the rosy hue because their retinas have a denser concentration of cones, which mute color shades like blue and heighten warmer shades like red and yellow.

Recent research shows that the birds’ large eyes pick up even more colors than human eyes. Hummingbirds’ retinas possess four types of cones, while humans only have three, which detect blue, green, and red light. This fourth type of cone is sensitive to ultraviolet light, which human eyes cannot see.

A new study suggests that hummingbirds see the world in a range of brilliant colors that we can only dream of, writes Virginia Morell for National Geographic. When the UV hues blend with the ones that humans can perceive, new colors appear.

Male green-crowned brilliant hummingbird, Heliodoxa jacula, close up. Bajos del Toro, Alajuela, Costa Rica.
NNehring/Getty ImagesThis visual acuity may also appear in other birds, reptiles, and fish. It likely helps them locate food, choose a mate and elude predators, according to the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other physical traits that make hummingbirds so amazing include sturdy tail feathers that act like rudders to make hairpin turns. They have long, thin bills and tongues that lick up to 13 times per second. The tongues act as pumps that contract to draw in nectar from tube-shaped flowers. Hummingbirds can also hover and fly backward, which allows them to fly easily from flower to flower.

So the next time you see a hummingbird, take a moment to imagine the spectacular colors it can see in nature. Need a laugh? Be sure to browse through these hilarious bird photos you shouldn’t miss.


  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Wild hummingbirds discriminate nonspectral colors
  • National Geographic. Hummingbirds see colors we can’t even imagine

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