Birds Can Smell?

Tisdale - Friday, January 25, 2002 - By: Shaw Ratushniak
I have been a loyal and faithful reader of your web site for some time. I have enjoyed your comments and thoughts on many different topics. Your article "No French Fries" does have some flaws I thought you may want to know about. I am guessing your topic was referring to a bird. If that was indeed the case, I have a hard time believing the bird in question could actually smell the diesel of the truck that passed by. If Mario deSantis is allowed to ramble endlessly on your web site, I feel I should be able to also. Who the hell cares about Free Market Capitalism and other such dribble....whether or not a bird has the ability to that's news....

Here are my thoughts and ideas on this most important topic. Mr. deSantis, your comments are welcome....though I doubt I would torture myself actually having to read your response.

Whether birds have a sense of smell or not has been a much debated question by ornithologists. Modern data based on experiments and anatomy of both the nasal cavities and the olfactory lobes of the brain suggest that most birds have practically no sense of smell. The exceptions are Kiwis which have poor eyesight and hunt worms using their sense of smell. Several species of tubenoses which can detect the smells of fish oils floating on the surface of the sea, allowing them to find schools of fish or anchovies because their messy feeding causes an oily scum to form on the surface of the sea. The third group of birds definitely known to use smell to locate food are the vultures - both old world and new world species have been shown to find carcasses by smell to varying degrees. Other groups of birds with well developed olfactory lobes, but for which the actual evidence of the use of smell to locate prey is lacking, include various waders, many water birds, nightjars and swifts.

Most birds have two external nostrils or 'nares' situated near the base of the top mandible of their bills. In species of tubenoses (Shearwaters, Albatrosses, Petrels, etc.) these are accompanied by large external growths, in other birds they are inconspicuous. In Kiwis the nostrils are situated near the tip of the bill not the base and in Gannets the external openings are closed - they have alternative openings on the inside of the the upper mandible of the bill.

Birds breathe through these nostrils which lead the air into a series of three internal nasal cavities. These purify the air of dust, etc., and humidity before it enters the respiratory system thus preventing damage to the delicate tissues of the lungs.

Shawn Ratushniak


Editor's note: Outstanding to get this message from Shawn, when I saw the raven and smelled the truck it never once crossed my mind that only I could appreciate the stench of the exhaust. The pictures used on this page were taken by Raven J. Brown and modified to a winter setting.

Information on Ravens:
Pennsylvania game commission web site on Crows and Ravens
Eldrbarry's Raven Tales, a web site that accesses Northwest Coastal stories of the legends of the Raven
A great links page to information on the bird family cordvids