UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Do hummingbirds use contextual information when performing spatial association tasks? Thompson, James


One factor hindering the flow of information between the related disciplines of psychology and behavioural ecology is their different foci. Psychologists have searched for general principles governing animal learning and behaviour, while behavioural ecologists have concentrated more on the adaptive significance of behaviour. Focussing investigation on how animals solve particular problems of ecological significance can provide a common frame of reference for both disciplines. This thesis explores the kinds of information rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) use to solve spatial association problems. The spatial association paradigm differs from other associative tasks in that subjects must associate a lit cue in an array of several cues with a rewarding feeder in an array of several feeders that are spatially separated from the cue array. In four experiments hummingbirds learned a baseline spatial association task and then performed it in a treatment in which the spatial context of the task was altered. Each experiment precluded the use of a particular kind of information. Experiments 1 and 2 indicated that the birds were using a simple behavioural rule such as "fly to the feeder nearest the lit cue" to perform the spatial association task. This behavioural mechanism was independent of changes in the spatial context of the task, including the geometry of the arrays, on two spatial scales. Experiment 3 showed that hummingbirds could learn a spatial association task in which the correct feeder was one of two equally close to the cue and that performance on this task was independent of the associated elements occurring in a coherent geometric array of other elements. Experiment 4 showed that, contrary to the predictions of associative learning theory, hummingbirds attend to both feeders nearest the lit cue when performing a task like that in Experiment 3. Their performance on this task, however, was strongly linked to the orientation of the cue and two nearest feeders with respect to some global referent. The birds exhibited a large amount of sign-tracking in the above experiments. Analysis of when they sign-tracked in the context of their performance in the tasks suggested that they were approaching the cue as part of their strategy for accurately locating the correct feeder after they had learned the association.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.