The Newly Discovered Scent Hound: Birds?!

Apparently Toucan Sam’s sniffer wasn’t as fictional as once thought.

Common thought in the past has led most to believe that birds had an underdeveloped sense of smell. Exceptions were made for the carrion eaters, but otherwise, it was thought that not much happened inside the beak of a bird, olfactory-wise.

Recent research has been changing these views. While it is unknown if birds prefer floral or fruity scents, it has been established that behavior modification occurs when birds detect the scent of a predator.¹ Using the scent of a mustelid’s [like a mink] feces, researchers noted a difference in behavior compared to control tests of quail feces scents and water.

When testing House Finches with mammal feces of both a predator and non-predator,  the finches paused before feeding and did so more often with the predator scents. They also ate faster and fed for less time when fecal scents were present.³

Not only do birds use scent to sniff out predators, but there is mounting evidence they use scents to recognize mates.  Scientists cite less brain activity in birds when faced with a potential, but scentless, mate.²

What an amazing world!



1. Amo, L., Galván, I., Tomás, G. and Sanz, J. J. (2008), Predator odour
recognition and avoidance in a songbird
. Functional Ecology, 22: 289–293.

2. Jacques Balthazart, Mélanie Taziaux, The underestimated role of olfaction in avian reproduction?, Behavioural Brain Research, Volume 200, Issue 2, 25 June 2009, Pages 248-259

3. Timothy C. Roth II, Jonathan G. Cox, Steven L. Lima, Can foraging birds assess predation risk by scent?, Animal Behaviour, Volume 76, Issue 6, December 2008, Pages 2021-2027


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