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Testing cognition in the wild: foraging in rufous hummingbirds

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  • Full or part time
    Prof S Healy
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Animals’ lives are filled with decision-making: where to find food, what food to eat, which conspecifics to mate with, where to live, how to avoid predators and more but most of what we know of their learning and memory abilities, the information to which they pay attention and so on, comes from animals tested under laboratory conditions. One significant exception is the long-running experimental work on the cognitive abilities of male rufous hummingbirds holding foraging territories in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Canada. We now know that although these birds have a brain about the size of a baked bean they can learn and remember a lot: spatial locations, colours, and all kinds of time. Now the questions concern how these birds integrate across multiple kinds of information or prioritise some information over others.

This project will entail investigating these questions in the rufous hummingbird using behavioural experiments at a site in the West Castle valley, Alberta, Canada. Experience of field work is essential and at least some background in animal cognition would be helpful.

Funding Notes

Eligibility requirements: Upper second-class degree in Biology or a related area.

This PhD will provide 3.5 years funding for UK or EU students. Students from outside those areas will be considered, but should be aware of the need to obtain additional funding to cover the difference between ‘home’ and ‘overseas’ fees. Enquiries from Chinese nationals are also particularly welcomed as the University of St Andrews has additional funding opportunities for Chinese students.

References

Pritchard, D.J., Hurly, T.A., Tello-Ramos, M.C. & Healy, S.D. 2016. Why study cognition in the wild (and how to test it)? Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 105, 41-55.
Tello-Ramos, M.C., Hurly, T.A., Higgott, C. & Healy, S.D. 2015. Time-place learning in wild, free-living hummingbirds. Animal Behaviour, 104, 123-129.
Samuels, M., Hurly, T.A. & Healy, S.D. 2014. Colour cues facilitate learning flower refill schedules in wild hummingbirds. Behavioural Processes, 109, 157-163.
Healy, S.D. & Hurly, T.A. 2013. What hummingbirds can tell us about cognition in the wild. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews 8, 13-28.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 50.45

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