How Well Does Your Bird Smell?

According to author Frank Gill in his book, “Ornithology,” “The avian sense of smell has been traditionally underestimated. Most birds do have small smell centers (olfactory bulbs) in their brain; the bulb tends to be small, but is well developed in some birds, especially those that fly and hunt by night.

 
“Recent research found that some birds with relatively small olfactory bulbs can smell well enough to detect certain odors.”

It was originally thought the birds such as Leach’s Storm-Petrels (Kent Island, New Brunswick) have large nerve cell centers which help them rely on their sense of smell. it’s now generally thought by scientists that most birds use their sense of smell while performing their everyday chores. Certain species actually adapted the sense of smell to facilitate activities such as mating.

The two little nostrils on the top of the birds beak are called “nares” Your bird uses the nares to breath through. These nostrils help guide the air into three nasal cavities which act as an important filtration system cleaning the air before it hits their delicate lungs.

An essay in “The Birder’s Handbook” explains that “while most birds would have little use for smell. … the apparatus for detecting odors is present in the nasal passages of all birds.

We can also deduce that if birds can die from noxious fumes like burnt Teflon, the smells don’t act as a warning to the bird like if you or I were to smell burning rubber we would flee. Your birds don’t react to these noxious fumes so the olfactory glands only provide part of the story to the brain.

Not surprising, if you think about it. Birds live in trees, up high where odors get dispersed so the general consensus for parrots at least is that they can smell but it’s not a sense they rely on for daily activities. We hear customers saying that their bird knows where the food in their home is even though they can’t see it, the bird must’ve smelled it which we know is not surprising but even the strong odor of dreadfully rotting fruit would unlikely be smelled by parrots at foraging altitudes.

Speaking of bird altitudes, birds have to be one the most adaptable creatures on the face of the earth. Did you know the Ruppells Griffon Vulture (about 22 pounds with 7 foot wing spans) had their altitude recorded by airlines pilots as high as 36,000 feet? That’s almost 7 miles above the earth. They’re able to do this because they’ve developed a certain type of hemoglobin which improves how their body assimilates oxygen.

Head-on picture of a Ruppell's Griffon vulture in flight
Although their sense of smell is highly developed you can bet that their extraordinary eyesight is what keeps them from being hungry for very long. Vultures are like the janitors of wildlife. They keep dead animal carcasses from littering the landscape.

 
 
Mitch Rezman CMO
Windy City Parrot, Inc
Simply Everything for Exotic Birds – Since 1993

 

Mitch Rezman

He's handled a 1000 birds of numerous species when they visited monthly birdie brunches in the old Portage Park (Chicago, IL) facility. The one with the parrot playground. Mitch has written and published more than 1100 articles on captive bird care. He's met with the majority of  CEO's and business owners for most brands in the pet bird space and does so on a regular basis. He also constantly interacts with avian veterinarians and influencers globally.

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