A Moment of Science

Shopping and Hummingbirds

It turns out that hummingbirds make shopping decisions as irrational as those of many humans. Learn more on this Moment of Science.

It turns out that hummingbirds make shopping decisions as irrational as those of many humans. You see, supermarkets can get about a third of shoppers to switch from one brand to a second brand by introducing a third brand designed to draw attention to the target brand. When this decoy brand shows up on the shelf, suddenly shoppers find themselves more attracted to a brand they had previously ignored.

While scientists aren’t surprised that humans shop irrationally, they are surprised to find that hummingbirds shop similarly. Hummingbirds require a lot of energy, and on top of eating quite frequently they prefer flowers containing either sweeter or larger volumes of nectar because they provide more energy. But that didn’t stop researchers from luring the birds toward less choice flowers.

Similar to the supermarket strategy, a fake flowerbed was set up in order to divert the hummingbirds’ attention from their flowerbed of choice to a previously ignored bed of flowers that would provide less energy. And it worked. The birds gave up high nectar concentrations for lower ones, all because of the introduction of more options.

This technique could actually prove beneficial in conservation efforts to protect certain species of flowers, making them more attractive to pollinators such as hummingbirds.

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