Crimson rosellas can detect members of their own sub-species by the smell of their feathers.
Image Credit: Courtesy Deakin University
A BIRD’S SENSE of smell may be just as important as its sight in identifying family or potential mates.
Crimson rosellas (Platycercus elegans), colourful parrots that inhabit eastern and south-eastern Australia, can identify their own subspecies based on the odour of another bird’s plumage, according to a new Australian study.
The findings, published recently in the journal Animal Behaviour, represent the first known case of such ability in any bird species.
Birds are well known for using colour as a signal to tell between potential mates or to distinguish their own species, but little is known about their olfactory abilities.
“These results are important and interesting because there is a traditional notion that birds have little to no sense of smell,” says Milla Mihailova, lead author of the paper and PhD student at Deakin University, in Victoria, south east Australia.
In the study, researchers tracked the behaviour of female crimson rosellas incubating eggs on nest-boxes and found they preferentially nest on boxes that smell like an individual of the same subspecies or species.
That’s not to say that albatross dads don’t occasionally have a dalliance with ladies who aren’t their mates. That happens. But the original pair stays intact — which is surprising when you consider that albatross couples can last for decades.
The oldest known female, Noah writes, is “named Wisdom, who, as of 2013, was still raising chicks at the age of 62.”
What’s more, they don’t see each other that often. When at sea, couples don’t hang together. It’s too easy to get separated. “So even the most committed partners habitually spend months at a time alone, without knowing what their mates are up to.”
They don’t build nests every year. Often, they’ll wait for two. But when the urge is on them, somehow they both manage to return to the nesting site at roughly the same time “almost as if the date were prearranged” and they settle in.
“There are few distractions in the life of an albatross, so the birds concentrate on things that matter most — such as one another.
They often sleep with the head of one bird cozily pillowed against the breast of its mate,” Noah writes.
Whatever it is that brings them together, albatrosses turn out to be among the animal kingdom’s most successful couplers. Nobody knows what they’ve got that makes them this way.
“Different people report seeing various things deep in the inky-black eyes of an albatross,” Noah writes. “Wisdom, serenity, wilderness, peace, endurance — which are well and good, but all I see — is love.”
Albatrosses turn out to be among the animal kingdom’s most successful couplers.
Like other vultures, the king vulture is a scavenger. These large birds glide on air currents, conserving energy while searching the forests or savanna below for the corpses of dead animals.
Because of their unappetizing eating habits, they fill an ecological niche, and may help to prevent the spread of disease by disposing of rotting remains.
King vultures have a very colorful look that distinguishes them from their vulture relatives.
They are predominately white, with black tails and wing tips. They have piercing, often straw-colored eyes and multicolored (yellow, orange, and red) heads and necks.
Though brightly colored, the vulture’s head and neck are bald.
This may help the fastidious birds to stay clean, and ensure that bacteria-laden animal remains don’t fester in the bird’s plumage where they could spread disease.
Sarcoramphus papa are among the bird world’s largest scavengers and have powerful, hooked beaks that are excellently adapted for tearing open tough carcasses.
They can often access meals that other vultures cannot, and smaller birds usually give way when they arrive to feed.
These birds nest on the ground, and females lay a single egg—which both parents incubate. Both parents may also care for infants, bringing back dinner in their stomachs and regurgitating it for their young to enjoy.
King vultures are found from Mexico south to Argentina.
Some suggest that the bird’s name stems from an old Mayan legend in which this vulture was a “king” or “lord” that carried messages between humans and the Gods.