Atypical flowers can be as profitable as typical hummingbird flowers

Nickolas M. Waser*, Paul James Caradonna, Mary V. Price

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In western North America, hummingbirds can be observed systematically visiting flowers that lack the typical reddish color, tubular morphology, and dilute nectar of “hummingbird flowers.” Curious about this behavior, we asked whether these atypical flowers are energetically profitable for hummingbirds. Our field measurements of nectar content and hummingbird foraging speeds, taken over four decades at multiple localities, show that atypical flowers can be as profitable as typical ones and suggest that the profit can support 24-h metabolic requirements of the birds. Thus, atypical flowers may contribute to successful migration of hummingbirds, enhance their population densities, and allow them to occupy areas seemingly depauperate in suitable resources. These results illustrate what can be gained by attending to the unexpected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)644-653
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Floral phenotype
  • Foraging behavior
  • Hummingbird energy budgets
  • Hummingbird time budgets
  • Nectar quantity
  • Western north america

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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