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Energy, predators and the behavior of feeding hummingbirds

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Summary

Current evidence suggests that many animals trade off energy gain against the risk of predation while feeding. In contrast, energetic considerations alone have proven successful in explaining and predicting the behaviour of feeding hummingbirds. This success may reflect the relative lack of natural predation on hummingbirds, but this study suggests that it may additionally reflect the lack of studies taking a predation perspective. In particular, when Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) are faced with an obstructed view of their surroundings, they engage in behaviour suggestive of anti-predatory vigilance. In doing so, they voluntarily reduce their rate of energy intake. These birds also forgo better feeding opportunities that occur close to the ground, where observations suggest they are wary of opportunistic predators such as roadrunners (Geococcys californianus). While energy-based concepts will remain useful in the study of hummingbird feeding behaviour, the lack of predation on these birds should not be equated with an insensitivity to the risk of predation. This realization may lead to further insights into hummingbird-plant interactions, and hummingbird biology in general.

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Lima, S.L. Energy, predators and the behavior of feeding hummingbirds. Evol Ecol 5, 220–230 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02214229

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Keywords

  • Foraging behaviour
  • hummingbirds
  • plant-pollinator interactions
  • predation risk