Sensory receptors evolve, and changes to their response profiles can directly impact sensory perception and affect diverse behaviors, from mate choice to foraging decisions.1, 2, 3 Although receptor sensitivities can be highly contingent on changes occurring early in a lineage’s evolutionary history,4 subsequent shifts in a species’ behavior and ecology may exert selective pressure to modify and even reverse sensory receptor capabilities.5, 6, 7 Neither the extent to which sensory reversion occurs nor the mechanisms underlying such shifts is well understood. Using receptor profiling and behavioral tests, we uncover both an early gain and an unexpected subsequent loss of sugar sensing in woodpeckers, a primarily insectivorous family of landbirds.8,9 Our analyses show that, similar to hummingbirds10 and songbirds,4 the ancestors of woodpeckers repurposed their T1R1-T1R3 savory receptor to detect sugars. Importantly, whereas woodpeckers seem to have broadly retained this ability, our experiments demonstrate that wrynecks (an enigmatic ant-eating group sister to all other woodpeckers) selectively lost sugar sensing through a novel mechanism involving a single amino acid change in the T1R3 transmembrane domain. The identification of this molecular microswitch responsible for a sensory shift in taste receptors provides an example of the molecular basis of a sensory reversion in vertebrates and offers novel insights into structure-function relationships during sensory receptor evolution.