For a while now (and for no particular reason) I have been using colour neutral feeders in my garden. When I recently bought a peanut feeder I was interested to find out if its green colouring would have any effect on the birds that visit. I started to wonder – are birds attracted to certain colours?
Yes, most garden birds are attracted to specific colours – but not because they like a particular colour, rather because of what the colour represents. For example, the ripest fruit or the flowers red flowers where the best insect food lives. Some birds will be attracted to bright yellow, such as sunflowers because they prefer the seeds.
So, what is a bird’s favourite colour? Can we use this to our advantage in our gardens? This is what I have found out…
Are Birds Attracted To Certain Colours?
In short, yes – birds are attracted to certain colours. Different colours appeal to birds for different reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the most common colours we find in our gardens and find out which birds prefer which colours.
Hummingbirds are attracted to yellow, pink, red and orange. Goldfinches are also attracted to the colour yellow. Siskins have also shown a preference to red in trials around the UK (see more here).
Jays are attracted to blue and if you are in the US, Bluebirds also like the colour blue.
Why Are birds Attracted To Colour?
Birds are not necessarily attracted to a colour because it is their favourite. It is more likely that birds will make associations between colour and what it represents. As with sunflowers and their seeds, certain foods are contained in plants a of a particular colour. An insect eating bird will naturally be attracted a plant where their favourite insects gather. It is not the colour they like, its the bug s they associate with the colour.
Red is a very popular colour choice of many common birds. Most wild garden birds will pay attention to red flowers and plants and the reason is quite interesting, although not proven. Apparently, bees and butterflies don’t see red. Therefore, they miss the pollen in flowers of this colour, leaving it for other creatures, such as birds; especially Hummingbirds that love to feed from flowers.
If a bird has any red plumage, they will often flash it when defending their nests. Conversely, they will also use their red colouring to attract a mate.
Another interesting thing I learned while researching this post, is that nocturnal birds may prefer the colour yellow. It is a brighter colour and probably more visible in low light or in the dark. Don’t forget that birds see colours differently to us. in fact, Pigeons can see ultraviolet light!
Natural, Neutral Colours
More natural colours, such as brown, grey and green provide good camouflage to ground feeding birds. Birds of a more nervous nature will also make use of these colours in order to feel safer and more secure. Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Thrushes are examples.
Using Colour To Attract Birds
We now know that birds prefer certain colours for a number of reasons but is it possible to use colour to attract birds to feeders? From what I have learned so far it appears that providing different colours in our gardens will attract different birds. Remember that you are unlikely to attract birds that don’t live in your area.
Let’s look at how using colour can not only attract wild birds but brighten up your garden as well. A term I have just come across in my research is ‘birdscaping’. This is when you deliberately plan your garden with birds in mind. For example, removing hazardous or toxic plants, replacing plants that provide no benefit to birds with better alternatives, plants that provide both a food source and a potential nesting site.
When thinking about making your garden more bird friendly with colour, you have two options – natural colour or artificial colour. Even the smallest splash of colour in a garden will attract birds and other wildlife.
The main thing to remember is that the colour should be visible from the air. Passing birds are less likely to see colour that is hidden within or under a tree or thick shrub.
Natural Ways of Adding Colour
Using colourful flowers, trees or shrubs will be a definite winner. The best option is to choose plants that will give good, long lasting colour and are easy to maintain. Find out which fruits or berries different plants produce, so you will know which colours will appear.
Plants change colour with the seasons and you may find certain plants are just as vibrant and attractive in the autumn and winter months. Consider a choice of plant that will produce a variety of colours throughout the year to attract birds for a longer period. A variety of colours in all shades is key.
If you have a smaller garden or a balcony garden you can use potted plants to attract the birds. Window boxes are quite common for people living in apartments; they can be filled with all kinds of colourful, easy to manage plants.
5 Artificial Ways of Adding Colour To Your Garden
Here are some easy and very effective ways of artificially adding a splash of bird friendly colour to a garden. If your garden is small, already established, or you simply prefer the minimal look, try some of these ideas as an alternative to adding more plants.
What Is The Best Colour To Paint A Birdhouse? There is no one answer to this question. Obviously, different birds like different colours. But, it is important to also consider how different colours act. For example, black and other dark colours attract and retain heat. This will turn your birdhouse into a mini oven and birds could easily overheat in the summer.
Bright colours could attract unwanted attention from predators, white and lighter shades can reflect the heat where the birdhouse is in an open area. So, you see, there are so many things to think about when painting a birdhouse. Something you might want to do is use natural and neutral tones to match a bird’s natural surroundings, helping it to blend in.
Do Birds Care What Colour Their Food Is? There is a really interesting study documented here, that addresses this question. I will summarise it but I recommend you follow the link, if you are interested in finding out more. So, do birds prefer certain colour bird seed? Yes they do. A finding from the study states that:
Great Tits, Blue Tits and Nuthatches all preferred uncoloured (natural) peanuts over those that had been dyed white.
Another finding from the study shows us that:
frugivorous birds, such as Blackbirds, Thrush, Woodpecker and Wrens prefer black or red grapes or cherries over other colours such as green and yellow, but point out that preference for colour here is confounded by preference for other factors associated with colour, such as ripeness, size and nutritional value.
It goes on to say there is – “… a preference for red, and avoidance of yellow in three species of frugivorous bird”. A frugivorous bird is one who’s diet consists mainly of fruit and berries.
Is Food Colouring Bad For Birds? There is no conclusive information that tells us that food colouring is 100% safe for birds, or us! Generally, though, conversations on birding forums goes a long way to tell us that normal food colouring has no adverse effect on wild birds. Some have concerns over certain E-numbers found in food colouring ingredients and some advise us to use vegetable based food dye.
Most of these concerns are from people who keep Budgerigars or other house birds. Using a small amount of food colouring on bird seed in the garden is just fine.