Behaviour 2019
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Smells like home: Bird-scented nests as a mechanism for olfactory homing in a burrow nesting seabird
Sarah Jennings, Susan Ebeler. University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, United States

Homing to and from a familiar site is a common behavior in animals. Many species rely on chemical information to assist with homing, either in the form of environmental chemicals associated with a specific location or chemicals deposited by an individual or their conspecifics. While olfaction is underappreciated in birds, it may facilitate homing and nest recognition in a range of species. This is best studied in burrow nesting seabirds, which use scent to locate their breeding colony and to identify their nest. We examined the chemical information present at a colony of Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) to determine whether environmental chemicals, bird-produced chemicals, or a combination of the two facilitate homing. We characterized the chemical profiles associated with the landscape and the storm-petrel occupants using gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry. We found that the colony contains gradients of environmental odors, which may aid homeward navigation. We also show that each burrow is uniquely scented with the odor of its occupants. Moreover, we found that mated pairs and their nest possess a common odor, which may reinforce nest recognition in this species.