Hummingbirds utilize visual cues to locate flowers, but little is known about the role olfaction plays in nectar foraging despite observations that hummingbirds avoid resources occupied by certain insects. We investigated the behavioral responses of both wild and captive hummingbirds to olfactory cues of hymenopteran floral visitors, including native wood ants (Formica francoeuri), invasive Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), and European honeybees (Apis mellifera). We demonstrate for the first time that hummingbirds use olfaction to make foraging decisions when presented with insect-derived chemical cues under field and aviary conditions. Both wild and captive hummingbirds avoided foraging on feeders with defensive chemicals of F. francoeuri and aggregation pheromones of L. humile, but showed no response to honeybee cuticular hydrocarbons. Our experiments demonstrate the importance of olfaction in shaping hummingbird foraging decisions.
Recent reviews reveal that avian olfaction is not just limited to vultures and a few taxa. We demonstrate that a very charismatic group, hummingbirds, avoid defensive and aggregatory chemical cues from insects present at nectar resources. Olfactory cues can provide critical information about the presence and potential threat of insect floral visitors. This study raises new questions about the underrated importance of olfaction in avian foraging and specifically, hummingbird foraging.