Can birds smell?

Can birds smell?
{Occasional book review - and discussion topic}

To be honest, I had not thought much about this specific topic with birds (“bird olfaction”), and
this recent book publication, The Secret Perfume of Birds: Uncovering the Science of Avian Scent by Daniele J. Whittaker (2022) was a fascinating and in-depth look into “avian chemical ecology.” I was fortunate to find a copy in my local library (Timberland Regional Library) and although you may think this is only for those interested in this topic (Ornithology focused), it is important to note this book has implications for the larger domain of biological studies - including human behavior. I mention the “local library” because I did not expect to see an academic book published by Johns Hopkins University Press on the shelves, but this book is also multi-layered with personal and professional stories that are engaging and informative. One reviewer said that it is “scientific” but also fits well in the “current popular nonfiction literature” genre.

Whittaker focused (for the most part) on Juncos with her research, but many other bird species are discussed. As it relates to iNaturalist, one bird that I have observed and help to identify is the Turkey Vulture and when reading this book, I immediately thought of the “sense of smell” as important to this species of bird (just look at those nostrils (nares)!). But Whittaker provides a deeper examination than just a few select species, and offers fascinating insights throughout the chapters. Whittaker proposes that humans have much to learn about the sense of smell in birds.

Here are some links that are associated with the book and a few book reviews - if you wish to read more.

Johns Hopkins University Press:

Popular Science:

A recent book review:


Like you, I First thought of vultures and other carrion eaters - it looks like a great book, from your links.

What comes to mind is the Jacques Couteau book, The Silent World – when we now know that not only is the ocean quite noisy, but there are whole phylogenies of fishes that could be considered hearing specialists.

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Read an online article on this subject less than a month ago. It was proven that birds like the hornbill have a sense of smell.

Shame, I’m missing the link.


I remember that when I was a child I was surprised by the strong, distinctive smell of green rosellas when they occasionally flew into our windows. None of the other birds had a noticeable smell. I guess that was what influenced my lifelong assumption that birds (rosellas at least) could smell.
Another book to add to my list of books to read when I get time.

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Yes! I was very surprised to find that many fish can and do vocalise! You can often hear a cacophony of sound on a coral reef when you stick your head underwater on a coral reef - I had always assumed that was just the result of water movement, but it’s actually the sound of fish (and a myriad of other organisms, especially pistol shrimps)! There are some great websites with recordings of vocalisations of many different fish species, it’s definitely worth a look.

What fish taxa are you talking about being hearing specialists? I’ve never heard about that. I’d imagine reef fish of some kind?

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This Wikipedia article explains it well: Weberian apparatus - Wikipedia

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