The perfume of reproduction in birds: Chemosignaling in avian social life

Samuel P. Caro, Jacques Balthazart, Francesco Bonadonna

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Abstract This article is part of a Special Issue (“Chemosignals and Reproduction”). Chemical cues were probably the first cues ever used to communicate and are still ubiquitous among living organisms. Birds have long been considered an exception: it was believed that birds were anosmic and relied on their acute visual and acoustic capabilities. Birds are however excellent smellers and use odors in various contexts including food searching, orientation, and also breeding. Successful reproduction in most vertebrates involves the exchange of complex social signals between partners. The first evidence for a role of olfaction in reproductive contexts in birds only dates back to the seventies, when ducks were shown to require a functional sense of smell to express normal sexual behaviors. Nowadays, even if the interest for olfaction in birds has largely increased, the role that bodily odors play in reproduction still remains largely understudied. The few available studies suggest that olfaction is involved in many reproductive stages. Odors have been shown to influence the choice and synchronization of partners, the choice of nest-building material or the care for the eggs and offspring. How this chemical information is translated at the physiological level mostly remains to be described, although available evidence suggests that, as in mammals, key reproductive brain areas like the medial preoptic nucleus are activated by relevant olfactory signals. Olfaction in birds receives increasing attention and novel findings are continuously published, but many exciting discoveries are still ahead of us, and could make birds one of the animal classes with the largest panel of developed senses ever described.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-42
JournalHormones and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Olfaction
  • Pheromone
  • Avian
  • Sexual selection recognition
  • international


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