Hummingbird Attracted to Fluorescent Lights

Image credit: This image was obtained from Flickr.com under a creative commons license. The artist is jeffreyw.

During the morning (8:30 AM DST) on a bright summer day in Chapel Hill, NC, USA my garage doors were open and four ceiling fixtures, each with four five-foot  fluorescent bulbs behind plastic diffusers, were on. After a few minutes a ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) arrived, actively pushing his beak around the upper portion of the fixtures. The hummingbird calls, usually faint and squeaky, were intense, prolonged, and seemed through my anthropomorphic filter to be alarmed, agitated or ecstatic.

This continued for an hour until the lights were turned off; the hummingbird almost immediately flew from the garage (which faces 53 degrees NE) to the back yard, where a hummingbird feeder and butterfly bushes (Purple Buddleia) reside.

[I realize this reads like an original report from an eighteenth century English clergyman (except for the part about the electric lights).]

A Google search returned a small number of reports from birders describing similar incidents, and I was interested in the mechanism.

Birds have a retinal cone visual receptor for ultraviolet (UV) light, peaking at 370 nm. Two review papers in the vision literature are of interest (Goldsmith, 1994 (no relation)); and Bennett and Cuthill, 1994). Many bird species, insects (e.g., bees),  and rare mammals (some rodents) can see in the UV spectrum.  UV Light can be phototaxic for bees. Functions for UV light for birds fit into three main categories: 1) Orientation, using  atmospherically scattered polarized UV light, suggesting a role in short and long migrations;  2) Foraging, due to portions of plants reflecting UV light; and 3) Detecting mates.  Mating with a large fluorescent light seems a heroic task for a hummingbird; perhaps this explains the squealing.

More remarkable to me was that when the light was turned off the bird returned almost immediately to its ambient environment.

The amateur backyard biologist morphed into  those with special scientific interests, e.g., groups of birders  collecting data for activities in  the Audubon Christmas bird count, and similar  citizen-scientists who are participating in scientific experiments through crowd-sourcing.

This is a call for citizen-scientists to share their  experiences with birds, especially  hummingbirds, who may be attracted to intense light sources so that we may all learn together.  Please report?

Are all bird species attracted to lights?

Type of light and intensity of light (e.g., size, watts).

I look forward to your comments.  Data will be compiled and shared in this space.

 

REFERENCES

Goldsmith, TH (1994) Ultraviolet receptors and color vision: Evolutionary implications and a dissonance of  paradigms. Vision Res 34: 1479-1487

Bennett, ATD and Cuthill, LC (1994) Ultraviolet Vision in Birds: What is its Function.  Vision Res. 34:1471-78

 

4 thoughts on “Hummingbird Attracted to Fluorescent Lights

  1. They are attracted to incandescent light as well. We just got one shooed out of our laundry room where it was flying up to the light fixture and buzzing around it. I thought it was a giant moth, but poor baby, it was a Hummer. Got it out of the house by turning off the lights in each room and turning them on closer to the porch, then turning off all the lights and turning on the porch light. It kept trying to get outside thru the kitchen window towards the porch light.
    It finally found the open door and flew off. 2 minutes later, I turned the porch light back on and watched it fly around the porch from light to light!

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  2. I have had two separate instances two days apart this week where ruby throated hummingbirds were attracted to my fluorescent lights when my garage door was open. I turned off the lights and was able to get the birds out of the garage.

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  3. My sculpture class at LCAD meets on the outer edge of campus located on the edge of a vast nature preserve. At late dusk a hummingbird flew into the classroom, seemingly attracted by the floresent lights, much like a moth. It was trapped and could not find it’s way out but flew around the lights and the skylights. When we turned on some outdoor lighting and turned off the indoor lights, he flew out the same large door he had flown in from. He was in the room for about 15 minutes. It took him maybe 30 seconds to find his way out after the lights were turned off.

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  4. We’ve had Anna’s hummingbirds nest on our front porch for probably nine out of the past ten years, always on the same place, a set of bells in a heart-shaped iron frame. They always nest at the bottom of the heart. We generally leave our front porch light (compact fluorescent) on at night to deter prowlers. (We live in the city.) This year, we’ve had two nests – the second within the past two weeks. However, last night the hummingbird sitting on the nest began buzzing around the porch light like a moth. When our daughter came home, it buzzed her repeatedly. Eventually, she made it inside through the front door – and so did the hummingbird! It then started buzzing around the compact fluorescent light in the entryway. Eventually, we opened the front door, turned out the entryway light, and it went back outside. After we closed the front door, we turned out the porch light and she eventually settled down. It’s now gone back to incubating its eggs, but we’re thinking we will keep the porch light off until the brood has fledged!

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