Observations of hummingbirds feeding at flowers longer or shorter than their bills seem to contradict the view that bill lengths of hummingbirds evolved in concert with the lengths of their flowers. Recent experiments, however, indicate that a hummingbird's ability to feed at artificial flowers of different lengths depends on the widths of the flowers. We examined if the broad range of flower lengths visited by many hummingbird species can be explained by the widths of the flowers. We predicted that both short- and long-billed hummingbirds would include long, wide flower species in their diets, but that short-billed hummingbirds would not include long, narrow flower species because nectar in these species might be beyond the reach of their bills. If so, the slope of the regression for flower width versus flower length should be smaller for flower species visited by longer-billed hummingbirds relative to those visited by shorter-billed hummingbirds. Analyses of data sets for some North American and Monteverde hummingbirds and their food plants were consistent with this prediction, and bill lengths were significantly correlated with the slopes of the regressions of flower width versus length for seven hummingbird species. Comparisons of observed flower use by some Monteverde hummingbird species to flower assemblages generated at random suggest that these significant regressions were not simply a result of allometric relationships between flower lengths and widths, but in some cases reflected active choice by the birds. The two hummingbird–flower data sets also differed significantly in the scaling of corolla width relative to corolla length. In particular, the Monteverde data set contained a large number of long, narrow flower species, which we suggest is a consequence of a different floral evolutionary history and association with long-billed hummingbird species. The evolutionary effects of hummingbirds and their flowers upon one another are more complex than has generally been realized, and a consideration of corolla length jointly with other floral characters may improve our understanding of hummingbird–flower relationships.
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Vol. 34 • No. 1