Hummingbirds see near ultraviolet light

Science  15 Feb 1980:
Vol. 207, Issue 4432, pp. 786-788
DOI: 10.1126/science.7352290


Three species of hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri, Lampornis clemenciae, and Eugenes fulgens) were trained to make visual discriminations between lights of different spectral content. On the basis of initial choices of feeders following a period of conditioning, birds of all three species were able to distinguish near ultraviolet (370 nanometers, 20-nanometer half bandwidth) from darkness (unilluminated viewing screen) or from the small amount of far red light that leaked through the ultraviolet-transmitting glass filter. A human observer was unable to make either discrimination. The birds were also able to distinguish white lights lacking wavelengths shorter than 400 nanometers from the full spectrum of the quartz-halogen bulbs. One can infer that the cone oil droplets, which have been lost from the retinas of most mammals, provide a potentially more flexible system for restricting the short wavelength end of the visible spectrum than does the filtering action of lens and macula that serves this function in the human eye.