Young Scientist of the Year 2017

Dear CBWPS members

Ed Thurlow and I won the GSK UK Young Scientist of the Year Award 2017 at the BigBang Fair in March with a project investigating garden birds’ responses to coloured supplementary feeders. I was hoping you would like to take part in this “citizen science” project or promote it further.BBC Springwatch featured the project and encouraged schools to participate. The larger the data set that can be gained, however, the stronger the conclusions. It would be of great interest to all of those involved (birds included) to see results from a national project. We have been fortunate enough to gain coverage of the project in national and local media. As a result of our BigBang Fair win we are representing the UK to compete at EUCYS (EU Contest for Young Scientists in Tallinn) in September and hope the project will be further publicised so others can take part.If this would be of interest to you, read on to see the  relevant information: methodology and the science behind the results. The link to the survey to collect results can be found here – ( uk/r/98JW8MZ)

As a keen birder, I feel that this would be a great way to get people involved and hopefully help our garden birds!

Thank you in advance,

George Rabin and Ed Thurlow

The Experiment


Five identical seed port bird feeders made of clear plastic.Four paint colours: Red, Yellow, Dark Blue and Green, acrylic or preferably oil paint.Bird food: sunflower seed hearts, peanuts, suet pellets and meal worms are good bird foods.Bird feeder pole/tree (to hang the feeders).Scales.


1) Gather your 5 bird feeders and 4 paints. Set one of these feeders aside, as this will be your control

2) Take the other 4 bird feeders and paint each one a different colour. Avoid painting the feeding ports as this could harm the birds (most feeders can be dismantled to do this). Add a strip of tape down the side that can be removed to make a gauge to see the food level or just open the lid to see how the level is dropping.

3) When dry, fill up each bird feeder.

4) Place outside and try to space out feeders evenly and at a similar height as this will stop the birds preferring one due to its position rather than colour.

5) How much recording you do is up to you. If possible, count the number of visits to each feeder by any species for 15/20 minutes each day. Try to make a note of which species use which colour. In terms of counting the visits, the more the better! Add up all the visits to get a rank for each feeder.

6) Once one feeder reaches below 1/3 full, weigh all the feeders (to get a rank) and refill all the feeders. Calculate the overall amount of food eaten from each feeder to get an overall rank.

7) Continue the experiment for as long as you wish

8) The survey uk/r/98JW8MZ asks questions about the popularity of the feeders (ranked 1-5), which species preferred each feeder, and other details about how you did the experiment.

Science behind the results

In the initial experiment, the birds displayed a preference for the dark blue feeder. It seems likely that the preference is down to the way that birds use and perceive this colour. High energy wavelengths are often used in communication, for example. Red and yellow were least popular because they are aposematic colours (nature’s warning colours).