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Nature Notebook – Bird Tastes

Birds have a diverse diet including plants, fruits, nectar, insects, animals and carrion (dead stuff). So how does a bird decide what to eat?

They use sight and hearing to locate foods they grew up eating, but they must then discern which foods to actually consume. So, they taste them.

Birds don’t have many taste buds. Most of their tongue surface is dedicated to structures that allow them to procure their food. Taste buds are located in the salivary glands, at the far back of the tongue and the throat. Until recently, scientists thought the low number of taste receptors meant birds had a poor sense of taste.

Recent research has changed that thinking.

The few taste buds that are present work magnificently, but differently for each species. Fruit- and nectar-eating birds have sweet-responsive buds. Birds that eat insects, which release poisonous defensive secretions, are sensitive to the resultant bitter tastes.