The latest edition of BirdWire, the monthly electronic newsletter published by Bird Watcher’s Digest, features longtime contributor Kevin Cook busting bird myths. Naturally, I had to click the link to see if Kevin tackled any hummingbird myths. He did, but…
The “myth” he took on is about beet sugar. Some hummingbird aficionados use only cane sugar because they claim the birds can tell the difference. I’m not convinced that this is true, so I was excited about the prospect that someone had conducted field tests to demonstrate that hummingbirds have no preference. Unfortunately, Kevin based his debunking on much flimsier evidence. He wrote:
Kitchen research in which neither cooks nor overseeing researchers knew whether they were using beet or cane sugar repeatedly showed no difference in the outcome of desserts based on the origin of the sucrose.
Taste buds, whether hummingbird or human, cannot tell beet sugar from cane sugar.
Wait… what? Humans are humans, and hummingbirds are hummingbirds. There’s even a significant difference within our own species in the density of taste buds and the sensitivity to strong flavors (look up supertasters). Unless you’re putting liquified tiramisu in your feeders, how the two sugars perform in desserts has no bearing whatsoever on how hummingbirds perceive them.
What we need (and still don’t have) to debunk this myth (if myth it is) is a double-blind study presenting the birds with solutions of the same concentration in similar feeders in randomized positions, etc.
Sounds like an excellent science fair project.