Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 148, Supplement 2, pp 191–194 | Cite as

Avian olfaction: then and now

  • Bernice M. WenzelEmail author


Avian olfaction has been a small but persistent research topic for the last half century. For an entire symposium to be devoted to it testifies to growing understanding of its importance in avian behavior, physiology, and ecology. Without Bang’s early papers describing the anatomy of the olfactory cavity along with the development of olfactory mucosa in several avian species, or her and Cobb’s measurements of the olfactory bulb in over 100 species, avian olfaction as a serious research topic might have had little appeal. Beginning in the early 1960s, my laboratory studied the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the avian olfactory system as well as behavioral effects of olfactory stimuli. Over the years, other laboratories have taken up these topics and by now a good body of research has been produced, most on behavioral aspects of olfaction. This emphasis is an essential contribution to avian biology because the ultimate question for avian olfaction is how birds use their olfactory system.


Odor perception Odor cues Olfactory anatomy Olfactory physiology Olfactory sensitivity 


  1. Bang BG (1960) Anatomical evidence for olfactory function in some species of birds. Nature 188:547–549PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bang BG (1971) Functional anatomy of the olfactory system in 23 orders of birds. Acta Anat 58 (Suppl):1–76Google Scholar
  3. Bang BG, Cobb S (1968) The size of the olfactory bulb in 108 species of birds. Auk 85:55–61Google Scholar
  4. Bang BG,Wenzel BM (1985) Nasal cavity and olfactory system. In: King JS , McClelland J (eds) Form and function in birds, vol. 3. Academic, New York, pp 195–225Google Scholar
  5. Clark L, Shah PJ (1992) Information content of prey odor plumes: what do foraging Leach’s storm petrels know? In: Doty RL, Müller-Schwartze D (eds) Chemical signals in vertebrates VI. Plenum, pp 421–427Google Scholar
  6. Grubb TC (1973) Colony location by Leach’s Petrel. Auk 90:78–82Google Scholar
  7. Grubb TC (1974) Olfactory navigation to the nesting burrow in Leach’s petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). Anim Behav 22:192–202PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Grubb TC (1979) Olfactory guidance of Leach’s storm petrel to the breeding island. Wilson Bull 91:141–143Google Scholar
  9. Hagelin JC (2007) Odors and chemical signalling. In: Jameison BGM (ed) Reproductive behavior and phylogeny of aves, 6B. Science Publishers, Enfield, NH, pp 76–119Google Scholar
  10. Henton WW (1969) Conditioned suppression to odorous stimuli in pigeons. J Exp Anal Behav 12:175–185PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hutton RS, Wenzel BM, Baker T, Homuth M (1974) Two-way avoidance learning in pigeons after olfactory nerve section. Physiol Behav 13:57–62PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hutchison LV, Wenzel BM (1980) Olfactory guidance in foraging by procellariiforms. Condor 82:314–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hutchison LV, Wenzel BM, Stager KE , Tedford BL (1984) Further evidence for olfactory foraging by Sooty Shearwaters and Northern Fulmars. In: Nettleship DN, Sanger GA , Springer PF (eds) Marine birds: their feeding ecology and commercial fisheries relationships. Special Publication Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, pp 72–77Google Scholar
  14. Jones FW (1937) The olfactory organ of the Tubinares, part 1. Emu 36:281–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Macadar AW, Rausch LJ, Wenzel BM, Hutchison LV (1980) Electrophysiology of the olfactory pathway in the pigeon. J Comp Physiol 137:39–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Matochik JA, Reems CN, Wenzel BM (1991) A brain atlas of the Northern Fulmar (Fulmaris glacialis) in stereotaxic coordinates. Brain Behav Evol 37:215–244PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Neuhaus W (1963) On the olfactory sense of birds. In: Zotterman Y (ed) Olfaction and taste. Pergamon, Oxford, pp 111–123Google Scholar
  18. Papi F (1976) The olfactory navigation system of the homing pigeon. Verh Dtsch Zool Ges 69:184–205Google Scholar
  19. Papi F (1991) Olfactory navigation. In: Berthold P (ed) Orientation in birds. Birkhauser, Basel, pp 52–85Google Scholar
  20. Portmann A (1961) Part I. Sensory organs: skin, taste and olfaction. In: Marshall AJ (ed) Biology and comparative physiology of birds, 2. Academic, New York, pp 37–48Google Scholar
  21. Reiner A, Perkel DJ, Bruce LJ, Butler AB, Csillag A, Kuenzel W, Medina L, Paxinos G, Shimizu T, Striedter G, Wild M, Ball GF, Durand S, Gütürkün O, Lee DW, Mello CV, Powers A, White SA, Hough G, Kubikova L, Smulders TV, Wada K, Dugas-Ford J, Husband S, Yamamoto L, Yu J, Siang C, Jarvis ED (2004) Revised nomenclature for avian telencephalon and some related brainstem nuclei. J Comp Physiol 473:377–414Google Scholar
  22. Rieke GK, Wenzel BM (1978) The forebrain projections of the pigeon olfactory bulb. J Morph 158:41–56PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Roper TJ (1999) Olfaction in birds. In: Slater PJB, Rosenblatt JS, Snowden CT, Roper TJ (eds) Advances in the study of behavior, vol. 28. Academic, New York, pp 247–332Google Scholar
  24. Shibuya T, Tucker D (1967) Single unit responses of olfactory receptors in vultures. In: Hayashi T (ed) Olfaction and taste 2. Pergamon, London, pp 210–233Google Scholar
  25. Shibuya T, Tonosaki K (1972) Electrical responses of single olfactory receptor cells in some vertebrates. In: Schneider D (ed) Olfaction and taste 4. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart, pp 102–108Google Scholar
  26. Shumake SA, Smith JC, Tucker D (1969) Olfactory intensity-difference thresholds in the pigeon. J Comp Physiol Psychol 67:64–69PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Stager KE (1964) The role of olfaction in food location by the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). Los Angeles Co Mus Contrib Sci 81:1–63Google Scholar
  28. Sieck MS, Wenzel BM (1969) Electrical activity of the olfactory bulb of the pigeon. EEG Clin Neurophysiol 26:62–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Stattelman AJ, Talbot RT, Coulter DB (1975) Olfactory thresholds of pigeons (Columba livia), quail (Colinus virginianus) and chickens (Gallus gallus). Comp Biochem Physiol A 50:807–809PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Strong RM (1911) On the olfactory organ and the sense of smell in birds. J Morph 22:619–661CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tucker D (1965) Electrophysiological evidence for olfactory function in birds. Nature 207:34–36PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wenzel BM (1967) Olfactory perception in birds. In: Hayashi T (ed) Olfaction and taste 2. Pergamon, London, pp 203–217Google Scholar
  33. Wenzel BM (1968) The olfactory prowess of the kiwi. Nature 220:1133–1134PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wenzel BM, Meisami E (1987) Number, size, and density of mitral cells in the olfactory bulbs of the Northern Fulmar and Rock Dove. In: Roper SD, Atema J (eds) Olfaction and taste 9. Ann NY Acad Sci 510:700–702Google Scholar
  35. Wenzel BM, Rausch LJ (1977) Does the olfactory system modulate affective behavior in the pigeon? In: Wenzel BM, Ziegler HP (eds) Tonic functions of sensory systems. Ann NY Acad Sci 290:314–330Google Scholar
  36. Wenzel BM, Sieck MS (1972) Olfactory perception and bulbar electrical activity in several avian species. Physiol Behav 9:287–293 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wenzel BM, Albritton PF, Salzman A, Oberjat TE (1969) Behavioral changes in pigeons after olfactory nerve section or bulb ablation. In: Pfaffmann C (ed) Olfaction and taste 3. Rockefeller University Press, New York, pp 278–287Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiology, David Geffen School of MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations