Hummingbirds’ True Colors

An article in the Wall Street Journal said hummingbirds can see colors humans cannot. The Journal had a picture with colors in a spectrum. On the right end was red. That’s why Republicans, on the political right, are associated with the color red. On the left end of the color spectrum are blue, indigo, and violet. That’s why Democrats, on the political left, are associated with blue. (I just made that part up, but do you have a better explanation?)

Beyond violet is ultraviolet light which we cannot see.

The Journal explained parts of the human eye called cones. “In addition to the red, blue and green color cones humans have, hummingbirds have a fourth cone that allows them to detect ultraviolet light and non-spectral colors.” It also allows them to have viable third party candidates in hummingbird government.

Wait. Does this mean beyond violet there are colors I cannot see? But the hummingbird CAN see them?

I went to the source and interviewed a hummingbird. There are few birds that can talk. Most of the talking birds work in animation. Foghorn Leghorn is the most notable. But I found a hummingbird hovering over a discarded edition of the Journal in my recycle bin.

Me: What are these other colors that I cannot see, hummingbird?

Hummingbird: For example, there’s red-green and blue-yellow.

Me: If I mix red and green, I get brown.

Hummingbird: That’s not what I’m talking about. I can’t describe the other colors to you. Think of it this way. Can you describe the taste of watermelon to someone who has never tasted it? You could tell them it’s sweet. But if they said, “Like a banana? Or an orange?” You’d have to say, no. Likewise, I cannot describe red-green or blue-yellow to you.

Me: You see these colors, and I cannot. Do you think this makes you smarter than I am?

Hummingbird: Yes.

Me: There was a day when a hummingbird was trapped in my garage near the ceiling. He couldn’t get out even though the door was open. He wasn’t so smart.

Hummingbird: He may have been drunk. On ultraviolet colors.

Me: Do you know anything about impossible color, hummingbird?

Hummingbird: Yes. Also known as forbidden, non-physical, or unrealizable colors.

Me: Did you just google that?

Hummingbird: Yes.

Me: Hypothetically, if I were on LSD, could I see unrealizable colors?

Hummingbird: I suspect so. Birds don’t do LSD because birds are smarter than humans. Hummingbirds, in particular. Among birds, our brains are the biggest relative to body size. And we are the only birds who beat our wings 80 times a second. But you, human, can’t fly at all, come to think of it.

Me: But I can write essays about democracy or instructions on how to repair a lawnmower. You can’t do that.

Hummingbird: Wendy, you know nothing about lawn mower repair. And you have a two-party dominated political system that requires the spending of an enormous amount of time and money leading up to Election Day. Wouldn’t a parliamentary system be more efficient?

Me: How do you know about human government?

Hummingbird: I read the newspaper you put in the recycle bin. By the way, your hummingbird feeder needs filling.

Me: I don’t have a hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird: So glad you noticed. You might want to remedy that and give me some sugar water as payment for the time I spent educating you about colors you cannot see because you’re inferior to me.

Me: I don’t feed arrogant animals.

Hummingbird: You have a cat. Do you feed your cat?

Me: Oh. You’re right. Never mind.  

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