Breaking News!

hummingbirds can smell

Guess what everyone? Well, it turns out, the previously held belief that hummingbirds have no sense of smell, has now been debunked by scientists. Booo!! (LOL JK!) I know I know…

According to a recent study published in the journal of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, titled, “What Is That Smell? Hummingbirds Avoid Foraging On Resources With Defensive Insect Compounds,” Scientists at the University of California Riverside, dropped the following bombshell:

 “We demonstrate for the first time that hummingbirds use olfaction to make foraging decisions when presented with insect-derived chemical cues under field and aviary conditions.”

Jules Bernstein, the author of the online article, “Hummingbirds Can Smell Their Way Out Of Danger” that originally presented the report’s findings, breaks down this statement in basic terms: “Not only can hummingbirds smell insects, but also that scent may help them stay out of danger while looking for nectar to eat.”

But how did they come to this conclusion?

How was this study conducted? Bernstein, also breaks down this info and explains:

“For their experiments, the researchers allowed more than 100 hummingbirds to choose between two feeders, either sugar water alone, or sugar water plus one of several chemicals whose scent signaled the presence of an insect. There were no visual differences between the two feeders offered in each of the experiments.

Tests included the scent deposited on flowers by European honeybees, an attraction chemical secreted by Argentine ants, and formic acid, a defensive compound produced by some Formica ants which is known to harm birds as well as mammals. 

“If a bird has any exposed skin on their legs, formic acid can hurt, and if they get it in their eyes, it isn’t pleasant,” Rankin said. “It’s also extremely volatile.”

The hummingbirds avoided both of the ant-derived chemicals, especially the formic acid. However, they had no reaction at all to the honeybee scent, which is known to deter other bees from visiting flowers.” 

So… the hummingbirds basically avoided the feeders that smelled like the ants (ants are harmful to hummingbirds apparently) and didn’t avoid the feeders that smelled like the bees (bees are cool and not harmful to hummingbirds).

Pretty neat right?????

Why did scientists believe hummingbirds had no sense of smell in the first place?

But why did scientists believe hummingbirds had no sense of smell in the first place? Bernstein also addressed this and wrote, “Hummingbirds’ olfactory bulbs are, like the rest of their bodies, extremely small. Earlier studies were unable to demonstrate that hummingbirds showed a preference for the smell of flowers containing nectar. In addition, flowers pollinated by birds generally don’t have strong odors, unlike those pollinated by insects. For these reasons, scientists did not previously believe the birds possessed the ability to smell things.”

Whoah! This has definitely been some shocking news.

What Are Your Thoughts On This Discovery?

Send me a DM on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. @girlwhocantsmell

With Love,
The Girl Who Cant Smell

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To Read the Complete Study, Visit The Following Links:

Sources:  “What is that smell? Hummingbirds avoid foraging on resources with defensive insect compounds.” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Ashley Y. Kim1,2 · David T. Rankin2,3 · Erin E. Wilson Rankin2

 Published online: 3 September 2021

“Hummingbirds can smell their way out of danger”