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Alejandro Rico-Guevara on hummingbird intelligence in Forbes

Thursday, July 16, 2020 - 10:30 to Friday, October 16, 2020 - 10:30

Most people know hummingbirds are tiny, cute and fun to watch. What they may not realize is that they are smart, too.

A study from the University of St. Andrews found evidence suggesting hummingbirds keep track of where flowers are located using basic math.

Alejandro Rico-Guevara, an assistant professor at the University of Washington studying hummingbirds, said he wasn’t surprised by the paper’s results since previous work has shown that bumblebees, which have much smaller brains, can figure out the position of items in a series of food rewards. But he said the new study shows for the first time that vertebrate nectarivores can use the order of flowers while foraging.

Having the ability to track the order of flowers would be useful to hummingbirds when they don’t have other available information like landmarks, said Rico-Guevara. Since hummingbirds use a lot of energy hovering, it is important that they know where certain flowers are, when the nectar in the flowers will refill after a feeding and how to get there before other birds drain the flowers.

Correcting for size, birds have more neurons in their brains than primates, said Rico-Guevara. Hummingbird brains make up about 4.2% of their total body weight on average. In humans, that figure is only about 2%.

“So if someone calls me “birdbrain,” or even better “humming-birdbrain,” I'll take it as a compliment,” he said.

Read the whole story in Forbes.


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