“Bird odour predicts reproductive success” (Whittaker et al. 2013) is one of a few recent studies that have looked into the role of chemical communication in avian reproduction and social behavior. (For an in depth review of the importance of avian olfaction see Caro et al. 2015.) Whittaker took a look at the chemical profiles of compounds found in secretions from the preen glands of 34 dark-eyed juncos. Analyses of these secretions suggest that preening, a behavior which was previously thought to be used only for the sake of feather maintenance, may also be a method for spreading the compounds that signal reproductive viability to potential mates.

Dark-eyed Junco Male (Oregon) © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado

The study found that females with a more female-like scent and males with a more male-like scent produced more viable offspring, supporting the thought that birds may be able to sniff out superior partners. As well as producing less offspring, males that had a more female-like odor more often became “adoptive parents” by losing paternity to the more masculine-smelling males. In this study, an individual’s odor was more strongly correlated with reproductive success than visual cues such as size and plumage.

Read more about research on avian olfaction in the articles below!



(Oregon State University students and faculty can access the full articles by following the links below and logging in with their university email.)

Whittaker, D.J., Gerlach, N.M., Soini, H.A., Novotny, M.V., Ketterson, E.D., 2013, Bird odour predicts reproductive success, Animal Behavior v. 86, p. 697- 703.

Caro, S.P., Balthazart, J., Bonadonna, F., 2015, The perfume of reproduction in birds: Chemosignaling in avian social life, Hormones and Behavior v. 68, p.25- 42.