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Observational Learning in the White-Eared Hummingbird (Hylocharis leucotis): Experimental Evidence

Authors

  • Carlos Lara,

    1. Laboratorio de Ecología del Comportamiento, Centro Tlaxcala de Biología de la Conducta, Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala-UNAM, Carretera Tlaxcala-Puebla, Tlaxcala, México
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  • Juan M. González,

    1. Laboratorio de Ecología del Comportamiento, Centro Tlaxcala de Biología de la Conducta, Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala-UNAM, Carretera Tlaxcala-Puebla, Tlaxcala, México
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  • Robyn Hudson

    1. Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México
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Carlos Lara, Laboratorio de Ecología del Comportamiento, Centro Tlaxcala de Biología de la Conducta, Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala-UNAM, Carretera Tlaxcala-Puebla, Km 1.5 s/n Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala 90070, México. E-mail: laracar@posgradouatx.com.mx

Abstract

The adoption of new food resources can be facilitated by the ability to learn through observation of other individuals who use them. This behavior, termed observational learning, applies to any problem solving in which a naive individual who has observed an experienced individual learns a behavior faster than another who has not. Hummingbirds consume nectar from flowers of a large number of plant species, which are very diverse in morphology and color. During their local or migratory movements, they can observe the use of floral resources by conspecifics and heterospecifics which may change their foraging preferences. Although there is evidence that hummingbirds can use observational learning to exploit new floral resources, it is necessary to generate additional information by studying different hummingbird species. In this work, the learning performance of White-eared hummingbirds (Hylocharis leucotis) was studied in the presence or absence of a knowledgeable tutor. In a first experiment, naïve hummingbirds learned to feed on arrays of artificial flower of two colors: red (previously known resource) and yellow (novel resource), where only one color had nectar. Naive hummingbirds visited red flowers faster and more often than rewarded yellow flowers. Individuals with the best performance on each color were further trained to ensure that they only visited flowers of a specific color, and were then used as tutors in the next experiment, in which new naive hummingbirds, caged individually, were allowed to observe them foraging on the artificial arrays. These naïve individual were then exposed alone to the same array used by their tutor. Tutored hummingbirds learned to feed faster and more frequently from nectar-containing flowers of the array than naive individuals. Likewise, all tutored individuals only visited flowers of the color that had been previously visited by their tutors. This study provides experimental evidence that hummingbirds taken directly from the field can use observational learning as an efficient strategy to access new floral resources.

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