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Curr Biol. 2006 Mar 7;16(5):512-5.

Timing in free-living rufous hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus.

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Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, Scotland, United Kingdom.


Animals organize their lives around circannual and circadian rhythms, but little is known of their use of much shorter intervals. In the laboratory, some animals can learn the specific duration (seconds or minutes) between periods of food access. It has been supposed that wild nectarivores, such as hummingbirds, might also learn short time intervals so as to avoid revisiting emptied flowers until the nectar has been replenished. We provided free-living, territorial rufous hummingbirds each with eight artificial flowers containing sucrose solution. Four flowers were refilled 10 min after the bird emptied them, and the other four were refilled 20 min after being emptied. Throughout the day, birds revisited the 10 min flowers significantly sooner than they revisited the 20 min flowers, and return visits to the flowers matched their refill schedules. Hummingbirds remembered the locations and timing of eight rewards, updating this information throughout the day. Not only is this the first time that this degree of timing ability has been shown in wild animals, but these hummingbirds also exhibit two of the fundamental aspects of episodic-like memory (where and when), the kind of memory for specific events often thought to be exclusive to humans.

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