Aves, p�le ornithologique de Natagora

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Aves, 38/3 | 2001 | 105-126

  Olfaction in Birds : myth or reality?
Balthazart, J.

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Article summary

Most treaties of zoology claim that birds are generally microsmic and unable to detect and use olfactory information in their environment. Exceptions are conceded for species like procellariiforms or the kiwi that are said to detect their food at least in part based on olfactory signals. There are however many publications indicating that this view might not be correct. We review here anatomical, electrophysiological and behavioral data collected during the past 50 years demonstrating that birds in general possess a functional olfactory system and are able to use olfactory information in a variety of ethological contexts. A few experiments are also described that suggest a use of olfactory information in the control of social relationships in doves and ducks. The widespread idea that birds are anosmic or microsmic thus presumably originates in our anthropomorphic view of the world that leads us to think that birds do nor smell because they have a rigid beak and nostrils, they do not sniff and they do not obviously display olfactory investigations of the ano-genital region of their congeners. The physiology and ethology of avian olfaction has thus been largely ignored and this field of investigation should bring a good numbers of fairly unexpected findings in the future.

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