Researchers have previously assumed that common diving petrels (Pelecanoides urinatrix) have a limited sense of smell since they have relatively small olfactory bulbs. A recent study, however, showed that adult diving petrels prefer the scent of their own burrow compared to burrows of other diving petrels, implying that personal scents contribute to the burrow’s odour signature. Because diving petrels appear to be adapted to use olfaction in social contexts, they could be a useful model for investigating how chemically mediated social recognition develops in birds. A first step is to determine whether diving petrel chicks can detect familiar and unfamiliar odours. We compared behavioural responses of chicks to three natural stimuli in a wind tunnel: soil collected from their burrow or colony, and a blank control. During portions of the experiment, chicks turned the least and walked the shortest distances in response to odours from the nest, which is consistent with their sedentary behaviour within the burrow. By contrast, behaviours linked to olfactory search increased when chicks were exposed to blank controls. These results suggest that common diving petrel chicks can detect natural olfactory stimuli before fledging, and lay the foundation for future studies on the role of olfaction in social contexts for this species.
Cunningham, Gregory B.; Van Buskirk, Richard W.; Hodges, Mark J.; and Nevill, Gabrielle A. (2012). "Responses of common diving petrel chicks (Pelecanoides urinatrix) to burrow and colony specific odours in a simple wind tunnel." Antarctic Science 24.4, 337-341.
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