Wild hummingbirds rely on landmarks not geometry when learning an array of flowers

T. Andrew Hurly*, Thomas A. O. Fox, Danielle M. Zwueste, Susan D. Healy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Rats, birds or fish trained to find a reward in one corner of a small enclosure tend to learn the location of the reward using both nearby visual features and the geometric relationships of corners and walls. Because these studies are conducted under laboratory and thereby unnatural conditions, we sought to determine whether wild, free-living rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) learning a single reward location within a rectangular array of flowers would similarly employ both nearby visual landmarks and the geometric relationships of the array. Once subjects had learned the location of the reward, we used test probes in which one or two experimental landmarks were moved or removed in order to reveal how the birds remembered the reward location. The hummingbirds showed no evidence that they used the geometry of the rectangular array of flowers to remember the reward. Rather, they used our experimental landmarks, and possibly nearby, natural landmarks, to orient and navigate to the reward. We believe this to be the first test of the use of rectangular geometry by wild animals, and we recommend further studies be conducted in ecologically relevant conditions in order to help determine how and when animals form complex geometric representations of their local environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1157-1165
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number5
Early online date2 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


  • Hummingbird
  • Orientation
  • Navigation
  • Spatial memory
  • Landmark
  • Geometry
  • Rufous hummingbirds
  • Spatial reorientation
  • Selasphorus-rufus
  • Environmental geometry
  • Mountain chickadees
  • Animals use
  • Pigeons
  • Memory


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