VDGIF/Norfolk Botanical Garden Eagle Cam: Can eagles smell?

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in partnership with the Norfolk Botanical Garden and WVEC, is providing a rare glimpse into the life of two bald eagles and their offspring!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

“Can eagles smell?”

A number of people expressed concern that the mother would reject the eaglets after they were handled by humans

This harkens back to something many of us were told as children - that a mother bird would smell the fact the her young had been handled by humans and reject them.

As evidenced by the fact that both adult eagles have been back to their parental duties this is not the case. In fact most birds have little if any sense of smell. Only a few groups of birds have any notable sense of smell. Birds that have a developed olfactory sense include: turkey vultures (may help to find carrion) cave swifts (use smell to help navigate in the dark) and some seabirds such as shearwaters and fulmars, that use a sense of smell to locate the source of "fishy" odors - very helpful for finding food in the vast open ocean. Some storm petrels even use their sense of smell to locate their nest burrow.

Please rest assured that all actions taken in regards to these eagles are done with the well being of the birds as the primary consideration. Were there any doubt that the banding might lead to the abandonment of the nest it would not have been undertaken.