Can birds taste? You will be surprised!

You might have noticed that birds have tongues, but have you ever wondered if birds can taste their food? Let’s uncover the truth in this article.

While humans have 9,000 taste buds, depending on the species, birds may have fewer than 50 or up to roughly 500 taste buds.

In fact, birds depend less on the senses of smell and taste than humans do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a sense of taste.

Do birds have a sense of taste?

Most birds don’t have much of a very accurate sense of taste, but this may not tell much about their ability to taste. There is plenty of evidence that birds discriminate among chemicals. And they use this wide range of tastes to identify, accept, and reject the foods that are offered to them, just like we do.

The chemical discrimination part is very important because it helps birds to identify food that may be harmful or toxic, as well as to determine foods that may have a higher nutritional or caloric content.

birds eating fruit
Birds can detect when the fruit is ripe

For instance, fruit-eaters birds can detect when the fruit is ripe. Chickens will accept sucrose in water, but not saccharine. Although both have the same sweet taste, they have different chemistry.

Additionally, ducks, sandpipers, and hummingbirds also might have a somewhat decent sense of taste. Ducks can have more than 400 taste buds.

Hummingbirds can taste different concentrations of sugar and sandpipers can taste the presence of worms under a mudflat. 

Do birds have taste buds?

They do, but not as much as we do. Also, their taste buds are located in another area when compared to ours. The majority of birds have taste buds on the roof and floor of the mouth and at the base of the tongue.

The front part of their tongues is usually coarse and hard, which probably explains why there are no taste buds located there.

People have about 9,000 taste buds as compared to parrots, which have the most taste buds compared to other birds at about 300 to 400.

Among birds, Bullfinches have 46, European Starlings 200, the Japanese Quail 62, and the barnyard chicken only 24. 

What can birds taste?

If a bird were a cook, you bet it would be able to season properly (ignoring the pepper part)! They can taste salty, sweet, bitter, fats, and different sugar concentrations (hummingbirds only).

Savory and sweet

Hummingbirds can differ well in between savory and sweet water because it makes a difference in their busy flower-visiting schedule. It’s thought that they opt for the higher sugar concentrations because they end up spending less time foraging.

hummingbird tongue
Hummingbirds have tongues that wrap around their eyes.

Birds can also determine differences between salts in salty foods; meaning many shorebirds can identify chlorides by type and will reject food or water filled with salt they don’t want. Most other birds will reject salty food completely (excess salt is bad for them anyway).

Sour and bitter

According to, the information on bitter taste is mixed, but birds will avoid foods high in tannins, an important chemical component of plant defense, especially in oaks. Tannins have physiological effects, reduce the digestibility of plant material, and are sometimes toxic in high concentrations. Bitterness seems to be common in toxic plants, the noxious compound giving it that quality. It is often a signal to birds that the plant will cause illness and is to be avoided.

Sour and bitter act as warning systems for foods that have spoiled or could be poisonous. Sweet and savory tastes help birds to identify sugars and proteins essential to our diets.

Acidic foods

Birds can detect acidic foods and recognize the sour or bitter tastes that identify a high acid content. When a bird eats a bad bug, its taste buds let them know enough to spit it out. Toxic bugs may taste extremely sour or bitter, or the birds’ taste buds may pick up on harmful chemicals that aren’t present in their usual prey. 

Birds and their particular tastes

Don’t invite a penguin to a tea party! Apparently, Penguins can only taste salty and sour flavors. They lost the rest of the other three basic tastes (sweet, savory, and bitter) a long time ago.

In studies of starlings’ sense of taste, scientists have discovered that they can taste salt, sugars, citric acid, and bitter. Starlings can tell the difference between sucrose (table sugar) and other kinds of sugars – helpful since starlings lack the ability to digest sucrose.

Do parrots have a sense of taste?

Parrots can be very selective with, what to all appearances to us, looks exactly the same as the other food in their food dispensers.

macaw sticking tongue out
Pet parrots can be pick-eaters

They have more tastebuds than other birds, such as passerines, around 300 to 400.

Why can’t birds taste peppers?

Anyone who has used pepper in birdseed to discourage squirrels knows that birds will eat the seeds without hesitation. Why does that happen? Because birds don’t detect the strong scents and taste of the pepper as they are insensitive to it.

Birds have different taste receptors from humans and are biologically unable to register the effects of capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active “hot” chemical in peppers that causes adverse reactions to the taste.

Capsaicin is not a protein, but a nitrogen-containing lipid related to vanillin, the active principle in vanilla. It has a powerful irritant effect on certain mammalian pain receptors, so when capsaicin comes into contact with it, a cascade of reactions is triggered that is perceived by the brain as pain.

Indian Ringneck parrot eating a red hot chili pepper – Image source

The effect can be so overpowering that sprays containing capsaicin are used to repel grizzly bears and even elephants!

Thus, squirrels and rodents, like all mammals, have well-developed senses of smell and taste and react to the pepper as we would.

If you’re trying to deter rodents from gorging in your bird feeder, try using cayenne pepper. It is not harmful to birds at all. 


When it comes to savoring precisely different tastes, be very thankful that you’re not a bird! They can mostly taste the chemicals in the food to identify if it is safe or not to eat. 

The sensitivity to different tastes varies by species, but most birds use other senses to locate the best foods.