Would you want to drink green milk, how about orange mashed potatoes? The color of foods might affect just how much you want to eat them, but what about the birds in your neighborhood, would they care what color their food is? This sounds like an experiment in the making…. you coul even try this out for a science fair project, or just to learn something new while making your locals birds happy.
You will need:
- Several bird feeders that are the same size and type
- Light colored birdseed appropriate for the birds in your neighborhood
- Several colors of food coloring
QUESTION - What color of birdseed, if any, will birds prefer the most?
RESEARCH: Ornithologists (scientists that study birds) are rather certain that most birds can see in color. One reason they think this is because birds themselves are very colorful. In many species, male birds tend to be more colorful than females. This is likely because the males use their coloring to attract a mate, while female birds tend to have less coloring to provide camouflage as they protect their eggs in the nest. Before beginning a large experiment with lots of bird seed, you may want to put out a few small handfuls of different colored birdseed (see instructions for coloring birdseed below) to see how the birds near you react to different colored seed. You may also want to refer to books and talk to an ornithologist to get their opinion about how birds see the word.
MAKE A HYPOTHESIS: Use the information that you’ve gained from your research and make a hypothesis based on your question. An example might be “Birds will eat more green birdseed than other colors.”
EXPERIMENT: This is the fun part. You should get several bird feeders that are all the same size and type. Purchase a bird seed that is very light in color for this experiment. To color the bird seed, pour it into a bowl and then add food coloring that you can purchase from the store. Mix it up well with a spoon and continue to add color until all the seed is colored. You should sample at least a few colors and have one feeder with seed that has not been colored - this is called the control and it will give you something to compare your results to. Now just hang them up outside in the same location, and wait for your feathered friends to show up. This works best in an area that birds are used to feeding from a feeder – it can take birds over a week to find new feeders.
COLLECT DATA: Observe your bird feeder whenever possible, and keep track of how much seed is in each bird feeder each day. A ruler is helpful for this. You might also want to take pictures of the feeders and keep track of which kind of birds visit each feeder. Over time, you should be able to see if one color of seed gets eaten more than others.
MAKE A CONCLUSION: Once your experiment is done, you will be able to go back to your hypothesis and see if it is correct. Remember,it’s not bad if your hypothesis was wrong. The main thing is that you’ve learned something from your experiment, and hopefully you had some fun doing it.
If you try this, let me know how it goes!
If you need inexpensive bird feeders, you can get some on-line HERE.
Many florists sell colored carnations, but I think it is more fun to make your own! And you can learn a little something about plants in the process. Best of all, you can make the flowers just about any color you want. Start off with some white carnations from your local florist. We paid about $1.oo each here in the US. (If you just want to demonstrate how plants transport water, and watch color move through leaves, you can also perform this experiment using celery.) You will also need:
Some small cups
Decide what colors you would like the flowers to be and then add that color to your glass. You will need to add enough food coloring to create a strong color in the water, just a few drops of coloring will not have much of an effect. (Our blue looked more like black after adding enough color.)
Snip the last centimeter of your carnation steam and place the stem in the colored water. Now just wait. Over the next day you will see signs of the coloring emerge in the petals, and even in the leaves. Our experiments have shown that sometimes the color emerges within a few hours, other times it takes a day or two. You can make green flowers for St Patrick’s day, red for valentines…you get the idea.
Mulitcolor? We tried splitting the stem with a razor (adults only, for that part please) and we then placed each stem into a different color of water. Sure enough the flower became multicolored (see above)…pretty cool. We wonder if it would work with three colors. If you try it, let us know.
So how does it work??
This is the science of TRANSPIRATION. It basically means that the plant draws water up through its stem. The water is then evaporated from the leaves and flowers through openings know as stomata. As the water evaporates, it creates pressure that brings more water into the plant – similar to drinking from a straw. Some trees can transpire dozens (even hundreds) of gallons of water on a hot day. How fast a plant transpires depends on temperature, humidity, and even wind. You may want to set up an experiment that tests the transpiration rate of the flowers by placing your plant-coloring set-up in different areas (sunny & dark, windy& still, dry & humid) and see which flower ends up with the most color – more color=more transpiration.
By the way, most flower shops do not color their flowers this way. There are many different breeds of flowers that are capable of producing a wide variety of flower colors. But we still think this way is more fun. If you try this out with your kids or your class, please let us know how it went.
Color mixing is not just about art, it is science too. Melissa Beckman runs a blog called “Chasing Cheerios” in which she chronicles the homeschooling of her young daughter. Science is alive and well at the Beckman home, and Melissa is not afraid to post when experiments work…and when they don’t. She recently posted a simple and visual experiment (that did work) that involved mix colors using a multi-well paint tray. A simple yet fun activity for homeschooling or easily transferred to a classroom activity, if desired, where students could work in pairs, log results, and experiment with plants.
First, O squeezed a few drops of food coloring into 3 different glasses. Then she poured water into the glasses. It was fun to watch the water change color as she poured it in, and she said “Ohhh. Beautiful!” Then I showed her how to use the dropper to transfer a little bit of water to each bowl… She then added blue water to the yellow water to make green! She was VERY impressed! (SB Note: Challenge students to mix together the colors of the rainbow in order – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple.) After she was finished experimenting with color mixing, we went outside and picked flowers to try our science experiment again. We put a white flower in each color, and we’re hoping they’ll change colors.
SB Note: If trying out Melissa’s final experiment with flowers, add enough food coloring to the water to make a very dark color. As the flower pulls up water and transpires it out through the petals and leaves, the color is transferred. It is an excellent way to show how water is carried through a plant. For a real twist, split the stem and put each half into a different colored water. Fresh white carnations will often begin coloring the petals within an hour.
Get instructions for coloring flowers using transpiration HERE.