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Wild hummingbirds can use the geometry of a flower array

Hornsby, Mark A.W., Healy, Susan D., Hurly, T. Andrew
Behavioural processes 2017 v.139 pp. 33-37
flowers, geometry, hummingbirds, learning
Animals use cues from their environment to orient in space and to navigate their surroundings. Geometry is a cue whose informational content may originate from the metric properties of a given environment, and its use has been demonstrated in the laboratory in nearly every species of animal tested. However, it is not clear whether geometric information, used by animals typically tested in small, rectangular boxes, is directly relevant to animals in their natural environment. Here we present the first data that confirm the use of geometric cues by a free-living animal in the wild. We trained rufous hummingbirds to visit a rectangular array of four artificial flowers, one of which was rewarded. In some trials a conspicuous landmark cued the reward. Following array translocation and rotation, we presented hummingbirds with three tests. When trained and tested with the landmark, or when trained and tested without it, hummingbirds failed to show geometric learning. However, when trained with a landmark but tested without it, hummingbirds produced the classic geometric response, showing that they had learned the geometric relationships (distance and direction) of several non-reward visual elements of the environment. While it remains that the use of geometry to relocate a reward may be an experimental artefact, its use is not confined to the laboratory.