Bird Fight

Turkey VultureLast night, while doing some poking around the internets, I discovered something previously unknown to me:

The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) of the Americas is one of the only bird species that has a sense of smell, which is utilized to find carrion –

Seemed like sort of a neat fact, but little did I know I’d just stepped into a major avian controversy.

Some follow up research brought along this bit of info from Stanford:

There has been a long controversy over the degree to which vultures use odor to help them find food. Mostly the argument has been over whether sight or smell is more important, but it has also been suggested, by those with a flair for the absurd, that vultures listen for the noise of the chewing of carrion-feeding rodents or insects or even use an as yet undiscovered sense. Nonetheless, the sight-odor argument remains unsettled. While Turkey Vultures, for example, seem to have a good sense of smell, quite likely it is not good enough to detect the stench of decomposing food from their foraging altitudes. – Stanford

So is the idea that most birds can’t smell false as well?

There’s some confusion on the topic, and some interesting research:The sense of smell seems better developed in some avian groups than others. Kiwis, the flightless birds that are the national symbol of New Zealand, appear to sniff out their earthworm prey. […]

When they return at night from foraging in the Bay of Fundy, Leach’s Storm-Petrels appear to use odor to locate their burrows on forested Kent Island, New Brunswick. They first hover above the thick spruce-fir canopy before plummeting to the forest floor in the vicinity of their burrows. Then they walk upwind to them, often colliding with obstacles on the way- Stanford

Actually, all that plunging and colliding sounds a lot like my college days.