The vast majority of birds do not have the ability to smell food. It is more common for birds to use sight and sound when searching for food. As curious creatures, birds will explore wherever they see an opportunity for food.
What You'll Learn
Birds spend most of their life searching for food. Although they don’t have a great sense of smell, they have incredible eyesight and hearing.
This benefits birds because they can see from miles away when flying in the sky. Of course, there are birds out there that can smell, but these are very few.
Birds can see more colors than mammals because of an extra cone receptor in their eyes that allows them to see colors in the ultraviolet wavelength. This allows birds to see clearer, locate food at long distances, and find suitable mating partners.
It’s been argued that birds don’t need to smell because odors usually dissipate with the wind.
Which Birds Can Smell Food?
Hummingbirds, vultures, seabirds, kiwis, pigeons, buzzards, and parrots are some of the few bird groups with a significant sense of smell.
These birds usually can smell odors that travel through olfactory nerves, sending signals to the brain. This is through the olfactory system that humans also have.
Most bird groups have olfactory glands that are not fully developed, which is why most birds don’t have the ability to smell.
Vultures have adapted to the changing environment by having a sharp ability to smell carrion in a vicinity of around 1 mile.
Albatrosses can smell food from up to 12 miles. Kiwi birds lack strong eyesight and will use smell and touch more often to locate food on the ground.
European starlings are unique because they can smell different herbs and pick out particular ones that smell really nice to attract mates.
How Do Birds Locate Food?
A common misconception is that birds use smell to track down food, but birds are more likely to rely on sounds and their advanced eyesight.
Some methods include listening intently to other birds in the area fighting over food or flying really high to see if there are any options for food in their proximity.
Birds are also quick to remember where they’ve seen fresh water or food before and often return to see if food is there again.
Can Birds Smell Seeds?
Seeds don’t have much of a smell to begin with. Excluding the small number of birds with a keen sense of smell, birds most likely can not smell seeds.
It is usually when they see seeds that they go after them. The sounds of other birds fighting over seeds is also a strong indication for birds that there is food close by.
How Do Birds Compensate For Their Lack of Smell?
Birds have much bigger eyes than mammals. This leads to birds having stronger vision that allows them to see ultraviolet colors that are not visible to the human eye.
They can also see at night, allowing them to fly even during the deepest hours of the night, although most choose to sleep during this time.
Nocturnal birds have evolved to see even better at night, which is why they choose this time to find food, find a mate, and look after their young.
Owls have the best night vision out of the entire animal kingdom, which you could have guessed by remembering how big their eyes are.
Do Birds Even Have a Nose?
Birds have nostrils, referred to as nares, on the sides of their beaks. However, the particular location and size of nares depend on the bird species.
Their nares are like humans in that they are two circular holes that lead to the nasal cavities in their heads.
Birds usually have their nares on the top of their beak or in the middle. They serve primarily as a filter for the air they breathe.
Birds require a strong respiratory system to transfer oxygen, so they have enough strength to fly at high altitudes. Without their nares, birds would have difficulty breathing in fresh oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide.
How Do I Attract Birds to My Feeder?
Now that you know birds won’t smell their way to the feeder, how can you ensure they spot your birdfeeder?
There are many ways to influence where birds go. First, putting out various options will help you track which birds surround your neighborhood and what they like to eat.
Many birds will enjoy peanuts, mealworms, and seeds. Others may only come for a quick bath. Birds are attracted to bright colors, so maybe you can also plant a garden they’d be attracted to.
Flowers like hibiscus, daylily, and burning bush are some of the flowers birds like to hover around.
Much research is necessary to differentiate how strong a bird’s sense of smell truly is, but as of now, research is leaning towards birds lacking their sense of smell, making it insignificant.
Their nares are used solely for breathing and not smelling. In this case, bigger may be better. Birds with bigger olfactory glands can smell better, and birds with big eyes can see better.
The big takeaway is that birds can not smell as well as humans, although a few bird species have a powerful sense of smell.
Birds use sight and sound more frequently when searching for mates, finding food, and raising their hatchlings.
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I am Bryan Powell and I own BirdHour.com. I love bird watching; in fact, I have a parakeet of my own. I enjoy spending time outdoors and observing the natural world around me. This website is a means of sharing my passion for birds with others who may be interested in this activity.