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Anim Cogn. 2012 Jul;15(4):631-7. doi: 10.1007/s10071-012-0491-0. Epub 2012 Apr 21.

One-trial spatial learning: wild hummingbirds relocate a reward after a single visit.

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School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, UK.


Beaconing to rewarded locations is typically achieved by visual recognition of the actual goal. Spatial recognition, on the other hand, can occur in the absence of the goal itself, relying instead on the landmarks surrounding the goal location. Although the duration or frequency of experiences that an animal needs to learn the landmarks surrounding a goal have been extensively studied with a variety of laboratory tasks, little is known about the way in which wild vertebrates use them in their natural environment. Here, we allowed hummingbirds to feed once only from a rewarding flower (goal) before it was removed. When we presented a similar flower at a different height in another location, birds frequently returned to the location the flower had previously occupied (spatial recognition) before flying to the flower itself (beaconing). After experiencing three rewarded flowers, each in a different location, they were more likely to beacon to the current visible flower than they were to return to previously rewarded locations (without a visible flower). These data show that hummingbirds can encode a rewarded location on the basis of the surrounding landmarks after a single visit. After multiple goal location manipulations, however, the birds changed their strategy to beaconing presumably because they had learned that the flower itself reliably signalled reward.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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