Can Birds Smell? Everything You Need To Know

Can Birds Smell

If I ask you think about the senses or features of bird species, then what would be the initial things that will come to your mind?

Probably it should be a sense of sight and hearing. But what about the smell? How do birds come to the bird feeders? Do they recognize the smell of seeds? 

Such questions are very frequent to ask when a bird lover closely notices the bird’s activity. If you notice a bird very closely, you will see the nostrils that they have. 

Yes, birds do possess nostrils called nares which allows the birds to take both air and odors. But when it comes to the fact that whether they smell or not, the answer can be different.

For centuries, it was believed that birds do not smell and they rely on their sight for a better understanding of the world.

But today, many researchers have proven that many bird species do have a sense of smell and it plays a huge role in their everyday life. 

There are many other facts related to it. And In this article, I’ve covered all the details about such facts. 

Can All Birds Smell?

The sense of smell differs as per the species and the ways birds use it can be very complex. However, there are some signs that many birds use at least some sense of smell in their day-to-day behaviors.

For instance, it has been observed that many birds didn’t enter their nets if they smell predators. 

One example of a bird can be Blue Tits who actually avoid the scents of weasels. Birds like Kiwis smell and feel their food undergrowth rather than see it.

It is so because kiwis have notoriously small and weak eyes. Even the Albatrosses can smell carrion from up to 12 miles away. 

Another example of this can be European starlings who can distinguish between different herbs using their smell.

They can choose certain pleasantly smell plants to leave by their nests and attract the females. 

Do Birds Have Noses?

Birds have nostrils called nares. But they don’t have a nose structure similar to that of mammals instead smelling through their nares can help them to transport air into their respiratory system.

The odors get transported through the nasal cavity by air and then it gets picked up by nerves that convert scents into electrical signals that are picked up by the brain. 

How Do Birds Smell?

Birds usually smell through their nares and intake the air and transport it to their breathing sacs. It is so because birds do not have lungs similar to that of mammals.

Birds can sense the odors by olfactory nerves and carry them to the brain. But the sense of smell among birds can vary hugely between different species. The main brain structure is associated with smell. 

However, it is observed that a large olfactory bulb can signal a heightened sense of smell but it is not true for all the birds.

Some bird species directly utilize their sense of smell including the Dark-eyed junco which has tiny-even microscopic olfactory bulbs.

Birds may probably use the same biological machinery to smell as other animals but the difference is still mysterious to science. 

How Do We Know That Birds Can Smell?

In the 1820s, the naturalist and ornithologist James Audubon experimented to test the sense of smell among birds.

A rotten hog carcass was dragged into the field and it was observed that the wild Turkey vultures weren’t lured by this smelly bait.

It happened because the vultures are lured only through recently deceased carrion who had died in the last 24 hours. 

After the failure of the first situation, James offered them a putrid which the vultures came by its scent.

This experiment lead to a conclusion where James mentioned that birds can’t smell. But in today’s time, numerous experiments confirmed that birds actually smell and they use their sense of smell regularly. 

Can Wild Birds Smell Bird Seeds?

Seeds usually don’t emit a strong smell and even birds don’t probably smell seeds. These birds associate the feeder or table with food and get alert to any motion that can signal a food source. 

Can Birds Smell Humans?

Many bird species leave their nests if they found that it is disturbed by humans. They can detect it by either seeing them or smelling their presence.

However, nesting birds are rarely encouraged except under some circumstances. Most birds will take little notice of harmless or accidental interference.

The birds don’t associate themselves with that smell with danger. However, the weasel birds left their telling scent behind when they rummage around in a bird’s nest.

Due to this, some bird species even leave their nest abandoned and make new ones in safer locations. This makes the birds get informed by scents. 

Can Birds Smell Food?

Mostly the birds hunt their food primarily by seeing them and their sense of smell does play an important role for some bird species.

The bird species that smell food includes parrots, vultures, albatrosses, and kiwis. Albatrosses are observed to smell floating carrions from a distance of 12 miles.

Even parrots smell fruits and berries when foraging while vultures use smell to identify how rotten a corpse is. Many birds can smell food but it is not the main way to search for food. 

Are Birds Odorless?

Birds usually keep themselves clean regularly and stay hygienic. But some birds do secrete oils and other compounds which help their feathers to stay healthy and it can have a strong odor.

Even the nests of some birds have a very strong smell. Therefore, birds are odorless but their droppings can have a weak smell. 


In this world, every species is different from the other, be it birds or animals. But there is a lack of some senses. The same stands true for the birds.

For many centuries, it was believed that birds lack the sense of smell. But in recent times, some research suggested that birds have a sense of smell and it matters for some bird species.

Therefore, we can say that some bird species do have a sense of smell. 

At last, I hope this article may have helped you in some ways. Thank You For Reading!

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