Monday, May 23, 2011
Parrots and Sense of Smell
I always find it interesting how knowledge changes. We are told one thing for years and then suddenly Whammo! There is undeniable evidence that what you have heard for as long as you can remember is inaccurate.
Remember when everyone used to think parrots were trying to dominate you? Thankfully that notion is for the most part eeking it’s way out of the parrot community. But here is one that I have often thought about and finally have evidence! Do parrots have a sense of smell? Certainly the physical evidence shows they don’t have a lot of receptors for scent. We are also told their taste buds are limited compared to ours. However we certainly see parrots respond eagerly to foods they appear to like. We can only assume taste must be involved in there somehow.
Scent on the other hand has still been a big question mark for me. I often ask myself if they have a poor sense of smell why do parrots emit such interesting odors? Those of you who have Amazon parrots certainly know what I mean. There is a very strong odor that seems to emanate from their respiratory system. That odor must mean something to someone. And my guess that someone is another Amazon parrot.
I have had this discussion with many veterinarians and we often come to the conclusion that perhaps they have scent receptors for that particular odor. However even with that information I have never noticed a parrot actively smelling something. I had never observed a parrot investigating something with his nares in the way a mammal might with his nose.
On a recent trip to New Zealand I finally met a parrot who clearly responds to smells. The bird in question is called a kaka. They are similar to a kea, but smaller and browner in coloration. The keeper told us this bird responded to smells. And she was right! He would press his nares against your hair or skin, inhale and then preen himself. You could actually hear him inhaling as he did it. The keeper mentioned they often offer strips of fabric with different scents on them for enrichment. She said he responds with great enthusiasm.
Here is a video clip of Robin Shewokis and me getting sniffed.
We were also told that a researcher is currently working on testing scent detection with kakapo, kea and kaka and has some interesting results. I can’t wait to read that paper when it is ready. Time to perhaps officially change one of the truths we have often held to be true about parrots. Exciting!