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Crested Auklets Entice Their Mates with Scent

These beautiful birds smell like tangerines
© Aaron Budgor View Large

Crested Auklets are small seabirds that nest on remote cliffs in the Northern Pacific and the Bering Sea. But it’s their smell that really sets these birds apart. They smell like tangerines! Experiments show that females go for males that emit the strongest scents.

This episode brought to us by the Bobolink Foundation.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Crested Auklets Entice Their Mates with Scent

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Crested Auklet calls]

Crested Auklets are small seabirds that nest on remote cliffs in the Northern Pacific and the Bering Sea. But it’s their smell that really sets these birds apart. They smell like tangerines!

Native peoples of the Bering Sea islands have known about this for a long time, but for some reason early European and American naturalists who carefully described the region’s wildlife in every other way never commented on the birds’ distinctive odor.

Now, that whiff of citrus on the salt air has become big news in the study of birds. That’s because the scent - which is only produced during the breeding season - is a rare example of a bird producing an odor to entice mates.

The female inspects a potential mate by pushing her beak into a male’s neck feathers,  where his special scent is concentrated.

It appears to be a crucial sniff test. Field experiments show that females go for males who emit the strongest scents.

Scientists think this scent could have other purposes too. The birds give off the odor more strongly when they’re stressed. And the smell seems to also help keep parasites away.

For a long time, scientists thought most birds didn’t rely much on their sense of smell at all. But over the last few decades, that’s changing.

[Crested Auklet calls]

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

###

Producer: John Kessler

Managing Producer: Jason Saul

Editor: Ashley Ahearn

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill

Narrator: Mary McCann

Bird sounds provided by the Xeno-canto Foundation. Recorded by Ryan P. O'Donnell.

BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2019 BirdNote   June 2019

ID#  CRAU-02-2019-07-24    CRAU-02


https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/05/birds-animals-sex-courtship-...
most current
https://www.westernfieldornithologists.org/archive/V37/37(3)%20p0139-p0148.pdf history of evidence of scent
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10336-007-0185-6

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