On a Science Project

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The science process starts with a question. I had a question, but it didn’t involve an experiment. It’s a good question and one that could be answered by direct observation. After all, direct observation is very much part of the science process … and its data is important and reliable.

It’s interesting how some conveniently dismiss direct observation. As a matter of fact, many who dismiss evolution love to imply the lack of experimentation involved in evolution while also dismissing all the data Darwin compiled from direct observation. For those who didn’t know, Darwin’s recorded notes were very detailed.

My question: At our hummingbird feeder, what is the ratio of hummingbirds that perch while they drink/feed to those hovering while the drink/feed?

My controls were simple: We have only one feeder, it didn’t move, and we used the same food source. On the other hand, we admittedly recorded our observations randomly – that is, when looking out the window.

Findings: After observing recording 100 feedings, 75 perched and 25 hovered.

Conclusion: Hummingbirds at our feeder who perched outnumbered those who hovered by a 3:1 ratio. This ratio was established early, thus maintained through the remaining observations.

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Q&A Discussion
Is this is true at all feeders?

Absolutely not because I confidently say that if my feeder didn’t have perches, no hummingbird would perk on it when feeding – thus all would hover.

Do multiple hummingbirds feed at once?

As a general rule, the ruby-throated hummingbird is very territorial as we frequently observed birds keeping others away. Three key points: 1) we didn’t keep any data about this, and 2) this may not be true for other hummingbird species. (See this picture)  3) this behavior does not seem to be very energy-efficient.

How many different hummingbirds were involved in the study?

I didn’t gather this data because I did not identify individuals by traits or tags. Typically, the most hummingbirds saw at one time on and/or around the feeder was 3. However, my wife observed 5 once. I also observed a day of swarming – thus seeing up to 7 hummingbirds at once on and around the feeder. I would predict other nearby feeders were empty on that day.

Does gender and age influence their choice?

Unclear. As an Equal Opportunity Feeder, we did not require hummingbirds to provide birth certificates or proof of residency. Although distinguishing males and females is easy, we didn’t record data based on sex or age. I can say that I don’t recall seeing a male hover to feed. However, I observed females in both feeding positions. Plus, it is possible that only 3 different hummingbirds regularly visited our feeder, thus the youngest was the one hovering because it didn’t know better.

The Next Question
Often, the science process leads to more questions. For me it’s this: Do hummingbirds poop?

Researching What Is Known
Because they have a liquid diet, it would seem their kidneys are very active. Let alone accounting for their high metabolism. Hummingbirds lack a urinary bladder because carrying extra weight from stored urine decreases flight efficiency. Therefore, the ureter provides a passageway for the urine from each kidney to deposit directly into the lower large intestine.

Given that the solution in the feeder is sugar and water, hummingbirds (like the rest of life) also need proteins, fats, and salts – especially the proteins, whose root origins means of first importance. Because the food in our feeder won’t provide those nutrients and we didn’t add protein supplements, hummingbirds must balance their diet by eating small insects, insect eggs, and insect larva – and all those require digestion that will produce wastes to be eliminated.


When hummingbirds perform their version of defecation, they simultaneously release solid and liquid wastes – which means they poop and pee at the same time through the same opening.