Hummingbirds use smell to avoid danger

A Southern California hummingbird forages nectar from a flower. Credit: David Rankin/UCR

Hummingbirds are pretty small, but they have an outsize sense of smell that helps them forage and stay out of danger. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside experimented with over 100 hummingbirds, allowing them to choose between two feeders—one with just sugar water, the other with scents indicating the presence of insects. Honeybee scent didn’t discourage the hummingbirds, but they avoided ant scents, including formic acid, which can be painful. Researchers knew vultures have an acute sense of smell, but they’re big birds with relatively large areas in their brains dedicated to smell. That’s not true for tiny hummingbirds. “This is pretty exciting, as it is the first clear demonstration of hummingbirds using their sense of smell alone to make foraging decisions and avoid contact with potentially dangerous insects at a flower or feeder,” said Erin Wilson Rankin, associate entomology professor and a co-author of the study.

Read more from the university here.