In less time than it takes to read this sentence, hummingbirds can catch a whiff of potential trouble. That’s the result of new UC Riverside research showing, contrary to popular belief, the tiny birds do have an active sense of smell.
Researchers have known for some time that vultures have a highly sensitive sense of smell, with some species being compared to “airborne bloodhounds.” This is due in part to their large olfactory bulbs — tissue in the brain that controls smell.
However, 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 odours, unlike those pollinated by insects. For these reasons, scientists did not previously believe the birds possessed the ability to smell things. MORE
Header image: Hummingbird and bee sharing flowers. Credit: David Rankin/UCR.