The neglected sense: Olfactory communication in a songbird
Birds in general and songbirds in particular are primarily known for their elaborate songs and/or conspicuous plumage coloration but not for their sense of smell. Probably because of the dominance of the acoustic and visual senses and the absence of any odour-guided behaviour, it has been assumed that birds lack a sense of smell.
Birds, however, do not only use olfactory cues for foraging and orientation but also use information originating from body odours for social communication. Zebra finches, for example, have a species-specific odour profile and are able to recognize conspecifics based on olfactory cues alone. Furthermore they are able to distinguish their natal nest from a foreign nest based on olfactory cues.
Very recent experiments show that zebra finches recognize kin based using olfactory cues and that kin recognition in zebra finches is not biased by familiarity. One assumption of olfactory kin recognition is the existence of a kin label that enables individuals to assess relatedness.
This talk will give an overview about the research on olfactory communication in zebra finches in our group with emphasis on the mechanisms and functions olfactory kin recognition.