Optimal foraging in hummingbirds: Testing the marginal value theorem

Graham H. Pyke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Citations (Scopus)


To a hummingbird, clusters of flowers on inflorescences represent patches and provide an ideal situation to test prediction of optimal patch-use. The basic question is what decision rule should a hummingbird use to decide whether or not to leave an inflorescence? The hypothesis is that hummingbirds will adopt the decision rule that maximizes their net rate of energy gain while foraging. This hypothesis leads to an analogue of Charnov's marginal value theorem which determines an optimal decision rule. The optimal decision ruleis then used to predict aspects of the hummingbirds' foraging, and these predictions are compared with field data. The optimal decision rule is a function of how much information is used by the hummingbirds. Data indicate that a decision to leave an inflorescence is a function of the number of flowers visited, the number of flowers available on the inflorescence, and the amount of nectar obtained at the last flower. The optimal decision rule was calculated assuming no additional information is used.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-752
Number of pages14
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1978
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Optimal foraging in hummingbirds: Testing the marginal value theorem'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this