The nose knows—smells point many an animal in the right direction. But for birds, the roles that smells may or may not play in navigation has long been up in the air.
Now, flocks of GPS-wearing seabirds add to growing evidence that birds not only follow their noses, but also remember smells like directions.
New data suggest these outfitted birds, called shearwaters, seem to know where they’re going based on their memories of smells that waft in from different directions, according to a study published June 30 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Shearwaters belong to the same family group as petrels and albatrosses. During breeding season, the animals fly hundreds of miles to find food and somehow find their way home over the open water.
Rather than blindly flying around the ocean, the birds may associate smells with specific wind patterns. For instance, if they get a whiff of blossoming plankton that’s typically carried on winds from a northern region, for example, they might know to turn south.
“They may be able to tell what their island smells like, possibly even their colony,” says Geoff Le Baron of the National Audubon Society, who wasn’t involved in the study.source : http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150630-birds-navigation-smell-animals-science/?rptregcta=reg_free_np&rptregcampaign=2015012_invitation_ro_all