PS 74-126 - Ecology is child’s play: Experiments on hummingbird color preferences and learning abilities

Friday, August 11, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Javier D. Monzón, Natural Science Division, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA and Sofia M. Monzón, Webster Elementary School, Malibu, CA

Children naturally possess some of the most important qualities in science: inquisitiveness and creativity. Also, in modern society, children are often surrounded by and proficient with digital technology. Animal ecology is perhaps one of the most attractive sciences to young children because they are exposed to animals in their daily experiences, children’s books, cartoons, and other media. We highlight the pedagogical effectiveness of using the scientific method and a motion-triggered wildlife camera to investigate two simple questions: What is the hummingbird’s favorite color? and Can the hummingbird change its favorite color? The younger author, a 6-year-old girl in 1st grade, generated the research questions and hypotheses, assisted with experimental design, conducted the experiments, and analyzed the data.


The results demonstrated that hummingbirds can see color and prefer red the most and black the least (out of 5 color choices), and that hummingbirds can combine their senses of sight and taste to learn to prefer black more than red if black is associated with a greater reward. Besides revealing details about animal behavior, the scientific method proved to be an effective pedagogical tool for experiential learning in other areas. The younger author learned the importance of maintaining detailed research notes, the systematic collection of data using scientific equipment (e.g., wildlife digital camera, electronic pipet, graduated cylinder), new mathematical techniques (subtraction), and computer skills (e.g., analysis of time-lapse video, charting in Excel). In conclusion, ecology is fun and can be practiced by young children. Ecology is poised as a field that can advance institutional goals of STEM education.