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The memory of an elephant

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Archilochus colubris
Credit: Jean Léveillé
(Size: 41.11 kb)

A large brain is not required to accomplish complex tasks. Hummingbirds remember the location of the flowers where they have eaten. They recall when the blooms provided nectar. Their brains combine space- and time-related information. Some hummingbirds migrate long distances. It is likely that the brain of the hummingbird developed in this way to avoid a loss of time and energy when seeking food during their migration.

A test

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Selasphorus rufus
Credit: Andrew Hurly
(Size: 36.84 kb)

Dr. Andrew Hurly of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta studied the behaviour of 3 male Rufous Hummingbirds in the Rockies. He measured the periodicity with which they gathered pollen and nectar from 8 artificial flowers. Nectar was added to half of the flowers every 10 minutes, and to the other half every 20 minutes. Observations revealed that the hummingbirds returned to feed according to the schedule of each flower. Not bad for a brain that is 7000 times smaller than ours!

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