Optimal foraging in hummingbirds: Rule of movement between inflorescences

Graham H. Pyke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


The movements of hummingbirds between inflorescences of scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) were studied. These movements exhibited the following patterns: (1) Although the hummingbirds appeared to avoid moving to the previous inflorescence, no significant correlation was found between the directions of successive inter-inflorescence movements. (2) The frequency distribution of inter-inflorescence flight distances was found to be leptokurtic. (3) The hummingbirds were more likely to move to an inflorescence the larger and/or closer it was. (4) The hummingbirds moved to inflorescences of greatest apparent size (i.e. ratio of number of flowers available to distance from present inflorescence) more often than they moved to the largest inflorescence, the closest infloresence, or the inflorescence estimated to yield the greatest rate of energy gain. (5) The frequency distribution of moves to the inflorescence having the ith greatest apparent size is well fitted by a geometric distribution. This is consistent with the hummingbrids choosing the inflorescence of greatest apparent size (excluding the previous inflorescence) from within some scanning sector. These movement patterns are consistent with the expectations of optimal foraging theory only if the hummingbirds cannot or do not determine the directions of possible inflorescences relative to the direction of arrival at the present inflorescence and if they cannot assess independently the sizes and distances of possible inflorescences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)889-896
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1981
Externally publishedYes


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