Wilson’s Storm Petrels Oceanites oceanicus Recognise the Olfactory Signature of Their Mate


Pierre Jouventin, Behavioural Ecology Group, CNRS–CEFE, 1919 route de Mende, F-34293 Montpellier, Cedex 5, France.
E-mail: pierre.jouventin@cefe.cnrs.fr


Chemical signals in birds have rarely been considered as recognition cues. Nevertheless, recent experiments showed that several petrel species are able to recognize their nest by smell, and in at least one species even their mate. But the use of smell may be different across the petrel species and olfactory nest recognition appears to be dependent on species’ breeding biology. To increase our knowledge of individual olfactory recognition in petrels and the relationships between breeding biology and use of smell, we tested Wilson’s storm petrels Oceanites oceanicus in Antarctica. In previous experiments, these birds failed to home if rendered anosmic, but the method employed to obtain anosmia (potentially stressing birds) and the fact that they breed in 24-h daylight suggest that they might use visual, rather than olfactory, cues to recognize their nest. Our birds were tested in T-maze experiments where nest odours or partner odours were presented. Wilson’s storm petrels preferred odours of their own nest and mate. Results on olfactory nest recognition confirm and complete previous results, viz. anosmic Wilson’s storm petrels do not home. Storm petrels olfactory mate recognition suggests that this ability may be widespread in burrowing petrels and implements olfactory nest recognition.