Songbirds Taste Sweet

Hummingbird feeder

Hummingbirds don’t visit feeders to quench a thirst. They have a taste for sweetness, like us, although different receptors on their tongues (T1R1 + T1R3).

Now, we learn that songbirds taste it too. Several avian ancestors emerging in Australia 30 million years ago evolved it independently (convergent evolution) and kept it as they radiated across the world. The receptor is a modification of the savory receptor (umami), not so surprising considering dinosaur ancestry. Sugar packs calories. That songbirds represent 40% of all birds today suggests the adaptation contributed to their success. That’s a sweet excuse for us to cover embarrassment at a sweet tooth.

By Roger Gosden

A British and American scientist specializing in reproduction & embryology whose career spanned from Cambridge to Cornell's Weill Medical College in NYC. He married Lucinda Veeck, the embryologist for the first successful IVF team in America. They retired to Virginia, where he became a master naturalist and writer affiliated with William & Mary.

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