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Hummingbirds use sense of smell to avoid insects
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OUTDOORS JUST FOR KIDS

Hummingbirds use sense of smell to avoid insects

Hum a few bars

Montana is a summer home to five different species of hummingbirds: Anna’s, black-chinned, broad-tailed, calliope, ruby-throated and rufous.

Most hummingbirds visit the western half of the state. The exception is the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is known to travel to northeastern Montana.

Given how tiny they are, weighing about as much as a penny, hummingbirds are amazing. The rufous is only 3 inches long but makes one of the longest migrations of any bird species — about 3,900 miles. That’s almost 1,000 miles farther than driving across the United States from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have discovered a new hummingbird skill. Using experiments they found out the tiny birds can sniff out insects that may be harmful to their health.

To test their idea, the scientists put chemicals that some insects produce in hummingbird feeders. The scents included one from European honeybees, a chemical from Argentine ants, and formic acid, which some ants release. The acid can harm birds and mammals. They then watched to see how the birds reacted.

The hummingbirds avoided the feeders with sugar water that contained the ant-like chemicals, but drank from the plain sugar water and the one with honeybee scent. To make sure they weren’t just reacting to a new smell, they added a scent that smells like Juicy Fruit gum. That smell didn't bother the birds.

Other birds are known to use their sense of smell to find food, the most well-known of which is vultures. Montana is also a summer home to turkey vultures, which can reportedly smell dead animals up to a mile away.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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