Hummingbirds Tell Time?
Scientists Discover That Hummers Are Brainy
* 8 paper cups
* Marker, pen, or pencil (2 colors)
* Small treats (e.g., candy or nonedible items)
* Handout: Where's
Students participate in a simple memory activity by pretending to be
hummingbirds in search of nectar. The game loosely simulates the rufous
hummingbird study described on the student page.
a light dot inside each of 4 paper cups. (Marks should not be visible
from the outside.) Those cups will represent "fast-refill"
flowers. Use another color to mark the remaining 4 cups. They will
be "slow-refill" flowers.
cups upside down on a desk in a random order.
- Pass out
copies of Where's the Nectar?
to individuals or small groups.
that after being visited by a hummingbird or other pollinator, some
flowers refill with nectar faster than others. Students will have a
chance to pretend they're hummingbirds visiting flowers in search of
a volunteer. Tell the class that the researchers gave hummers
in the wild some time to learn which flowers filled up faster than others.
Give the volunteer a few seconds to lift each "flower" and
note the color dot it has. Explain the significance of each color.
the volunteer hummingbird out of the room. Next, put a small
treat under the fast-refill cups, but nothing under the slow-refill
the hummingbird to return. Explain that it has only enough
energy to visit 4 flowers. It will waste energy if it visits empty flowers.
Give the hummer a few seconds to make its selections. Have the class
use the Where's the Nectar?
handout to record the results. (Photo:
until your hummers have made 10 visits. Use a new volunteer
each time. Give hummers a different number of flowers to visit on each
attempt. Keep track of which flowers were recently drained; don't put
a treat under them. On every few visits, put a treat under some of the
- As students
review their results, ask, What statements can you make about our
class hummingbirds? What conclusions could you draw?
what the scientists discovered about hummers. Then come
back to the journaling and discussion questions below.
and Discussion Questions
- How was
our game similar to the actual research study? How was it different?
What made the real hummingbirds' task more difficult than ours?
- Why do
you think this sense of timing is an important adaptation for survival?
you conclude from the research that rufous hummers can keep track of
dozens of different flowers? Why or why not? Could you conclude
that rubythroated hummingbirds are just as brainy as rufous ones? Why
or why not?
- Name 2
things you learned about scientists or science research from this activity.