Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 631–637 | Cite as

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

  • I. Nuri  Flores-Abreu
  • T. Andrew  Hurly
  • Susan D. Healy
Original Paper


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.


Selasphorus rufus Single-trial Spatial recognition Beacon Landmarks 



This research was supported by CONACYT (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Teconología), the University of Lethbridge and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. We thank Cam Finlay and Ida Bacon for support in the field and Rosamund Langston and three anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. Nuri  Flores-Abreu
    • 1
  • T. Andrew  Hurly
    • 3
  • Susan D. Healy
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt Andrews, FifeUK
  2. 2.School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt Andrews, FifeUK
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of LethbridgeLethbridgeCanada

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