Can Hummingbirds Tell Time?
Scientists Discover That Hummers Are Brainy
(Contributing scientist: Andrew Hurley, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada)

How smart is a rufous hummingbird?
Smarter than scientists thought! In fact, when it comes to timing and memory, they can do some things scientists thought only humans could do! Learn a bit about what scientists discovered, and see if you can match a hummer's sense of timing! (Photo: J. Allison)

What Scientists Wondered


Andrew Hurly and other biologists wondered weather rufous hummers in the wild could recall when they had visited a number of artificial flowers. Would the creatures . . .

  • learn that flowers had different rates of refilling their nectar?
  • avoid wasting energy visiting flowers that they'd already drained?
  • remember how quickly each flower filled with new nectar?
  • return in time to drink it before another hummer did?
Read: How Scientists Set Up Their Study
Wild male rufous hummingbirds fed from artificial flowers. The flowers were made of cardboard discs attached to corks on wooden stakes. The center of the flowers had a syringe tip filled with a sugar solution.
Photos: Andrew Hurly (Click for larger images.)
  1. The research team set up 8 phony flowers in male rufous hummingbird territories in the Canadian Rockies.
  2. They refilled 4 flowers with nectar every 10 minutes. They refilled another 4 flowers with nectar every 20 minutes.
  3. They kept track of how often each hummingbird visited each flower.
    (Note: Researchers put colored marks below the birds' throats to track them.)

Try This! Play the Hummers!
Before learning what the scientists discovered in their experiment, play this game of concentration to see how well you can keep track of time and rewards.

After playing the memory game you can discover what the scientists learned in this experiment.