Hummingbirds Understand Sequencing

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Hummingbirds Learn to Count to Find Their Favorite Flowers

By Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com

New research suggests that wild hummingbirds can keep count as they forage and use their counts to keep track of the sweetest flowers.

The new paper, published on July 8 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Bfound that male rufous hummingbirds can learn which fake flower in a sequence holds a nectar-like syrup. Only one flower in ten held syrup. But even when the researchers moved the location of the artificial flowers and the distances between them, scientists observed the birds returning to the syrup-filled flower.

“They would never lose their car in the car park,” says biologist Susan Healy of the University of St. Andrews to Cathleen O’Grady at Science magazine.

Hummingbirds join a growing club of animals that can understand sequences, which includes rats, guppies and monkeys. Last year, researchers showed that Emory University showed that dogs use a brain region for number processing that’s analogous to the region used by humans, Katherine Wu wrote for Smithsonian last December.

The new research is unique because it focuses on counting ability in the wild, rather than in a lab.

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