, Volume 98, Issue 7, pp 615–624 | Cite as

An individual and a sex odor signature in kittiwakes? Study of the semiochemical composition of preen secretion and preen down feathers

  • Sarah Leclaire
  • Thomas Merkling
  • Christine Raynaud
  • Géraldine Giacinti
  • Jean-Marie Bessière
  • Scott A. Hatch
  • Étienne Danchin
Original Paper


The importance of olfaction in birds’ social behavior has long been denied. Avian chemical signaling has thus been relatively unexplored. The black-legged kittiwake provides a particularly appropriate model for investigating this topic. Kittiwakes preferentially mate with genetically dissimilar individuals, but the cues used to assess genetic characteristics remain unknown. As in other vertebrates, their body odors may carry individual and sexual signatures thus potentially reliably signaling individual genetic makeup. Here, we test whether body odors in preen gland secretion and preen down feathers in kittiwakes may provide a sex and an individual signature. Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, we found that male and female odors differ quantitatively, suggesting that scent may be one of the multiple cues used by birds to discriminate between sexes. We further detected an individual signature in the volatile and nonvolatile fractions of preen secretion and preen down feathers. These results suggest that kittiwake body odor may function as a signal associated with mate recognition. It further suggests that preen odor might broadcast the genetic makeup of individuals, and could be used in mate choice to assess the genetic compatibility of potential mates.


Kittiwake Odor Preen gland Uropygial secretion Individual signature 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Leclaire
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
  • Thomas Merkling
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christine Raynaud
    • 3
    • 4
  • Géraldine Giacinti
    • 3
    • 4
  • Jean-Marie Bessière
    • 5
  • Scott A. Hatch
    • 6
  • Étienne Danchin
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, ENFA; UMR5174 EDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique)ToulouseFrance
  2. 2.Université de Toulouse; UMR5174 EDBToulouseFrance
  3. 3.INRA, LCA (Laboratoire de Chimie Agro-industrielle)ToulouseFrance
  4. 4.Université de Toulouse, INPT, LCA, ENSIACETToulouseFrance
  5. 5.Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de MontpellierMontpellierFrance
  6. 6.U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science CenterAnchorageUSA
  7. 7.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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