Numerical ordinality in a wild nectarivore

Tas I.F. Vámos, Maria C. Tello-Ramos, T. Andrew Hurly, Susan D. Healy

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Ordinality is a numerical property that nectarivores may use to remember the specific order in which to visit a sequence of flowers, a foraging strategy also known as traplining. In this experiment, we tested whether wild, free-living rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) could use ordinality to visit a rewarded flower. Birds were presented with a series of linear arrays of 10 artificial flowers; only one flower in each array was rewarded with sucrose solution. During training, birds learned to locate the correct flower independent of absolute spatial location. The birds' accuracy was independent of the rewarded ordinal position (1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th), which suggests that they used an object-indexing mechanism of numerical processing, rather than a magnitude-based system. When distance cues between flowers were made irrelevant during test trials, birds could still locate the correct flower. The distribution of errors during both training and testing indicates that the birds may have used a so-called working up strategy to locate the correct ordinal position. These results provide the first demonstration of numerical ordinal abilities in a wild vertebrate and suggest that such abilities could be used during foraging in the wild.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20201269
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1930
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2020


  • Counting
  • Foraging
  • Hummingbird
  • Nectarivore
  • Numerical ordinality
  • Traplining


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