Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birds Can Detect Predators Using Smell

Date:
April 28, 2008
Source:
PLATAFORMA SINC
Summary:
Many animal species detect and avoid predators by smell, but this ability has been largely overlooked in the study of birds, since it was traditionally thought that they did not make use of this sense. However, it has now been discovered that birds are not only capable of discerning their enemies through chemical signals, but that they also alter their behavior depending on the perceived level of risk of predation.

The experiment was carried out with a population of blue tits that raise their young in nest boxes in Miraflores de la Sierra in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, in Madrid province. The researchers placed the scent of mustelids (ferrets) inside the nest boxes when the chicks were eight days old.

Many animal species detect and avoid predators by smell, but this ability has largely been ignored in the study of birds, since it was traditionally thought that they did not make use of this sense. However, it has now been discovered that birds are not only capable of discerning their enemies through chemical signals, but that they also alter their behaviour depending on the perceived level of risk of predation.

The use of smell to detect chemical signals can be useful for birds in various situations, such as feeding and orientation. However, they can greatly increase their chances of survival if they can tell whether or not the smell they have detected is associated with a predator. Luisa Amo de Paz, the study’s lead author, explained that: “Birds can detect the presence of a predator” thanks to their sense of smell. Working as a biologist at the Spanish National Research Council’s (CSIC) Natural History Museum while the study was carried out, Ms. Amo de Paz is currently working for the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW).

The research, published in the latest issue of Functional Ecology, provides the first ever evidence to show that birds are able to distinguish their predators using chemical signals. According to the researchers at the CSIC’s Natural History Museum, this study “opens up a new and promising area of research in understanding numerous aspects of bird behaviour, which have been ignored until now.”

The sharpness of the sense of smell among certain birds, especially those that raise their young in holes in trees, such as some of the tit species, is essential for determining whether their major predators, weasels or martens, have got into their nests or are approaching, particularly because of the limited visibility inside their nests.

Experiment with blue tits

The researchers carried out an experiment with a population of blue tits that raise their young in nest boxes in Miraflores de la Sierra in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, in Madrid province. The researchers placed the scent of mustelids (ferrets) inside the nest boxes when the chicks were eight days old, and “the parents took longer to enter the boxes to feed their chicks, and they approached the boxes more often without going inside,” Ms. Amo de Paz told SINC.

Thanks to the images captured by a video camera located several metres from the nest box, the scientists were able to work out the number of times the chicks were fed, and deduced that the birds did not feed their chicks on fewer occasions, although “they spent less time inside the nest while feeding their babies,” according to the biologist. By spending less time in the nest box, the parents lessened the risk of predator attack while still feeding their chicks.

The biologists added the scent of quail in other nest boxes in order to monitor the effect of a new smell on the blue tits’ behaviour, and water in others to monitor the effect caused by moisture. This demonstrated that when the birds detected an unknown smell, such as that of the quails, they did not wait such a long time before entering their nests, and did not reduce the amount of time spent feeding their chicks.

When the chicks were 13 days old, the scientists topped up the corresponding scent for each nest box, and measured the results again. Ms. Amo de Paz said this was to “see whether the ferret scent had had an effect on the chicks’ physical condition”, given that their parents had spent less time inside the nest. The conclusions show that the chicks’ growth was not affected during the time they were exposed to the supposed predator. The researcher thus concludes that “birds are able to detect the chemical signals of predators and use these to weigh up the risk of predator attack.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by PLATAFORMA SINC. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

PLATAFORMA SINC. "Birds Can Detect Predators Using Smell." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080427233813.htm>.
PLATAFORMA SINC. (2008, April 28). Birds Can Detect Predators Using Smell. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080427233813.htm
PLATAFORMA SINC. "Birds Can Detect Predators Using Smell." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080427233813.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — You're more likely to gain weight while watching action flicks than you are watching other types of programming, says a new study published in JAMA. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Get A Mortgage, Receive A Cat — Only In Russia

Get A Mortgage, Receive A Cat — Only In Russia

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The incentive is in keeping with a Russian superstition that it's good luck for a cat to be the first to cross the threshold of a new home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

AFP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Tourists in Palau clamour to dive with sharks thanks to a pioneering conservation initiative -- as the island nation plans to completely ban commercial fishing in its vast ocean territory. 01:15 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins