[CT Birds] A perplexing Corvid question.............

Anthony Zemba Anthony.Zemba at gza.com
Tue Jan 24 13:33:26 EST 2012

I know what you are saying.  I remember reading in my vertebrate biology text way back in undergrad that birds had "a poor sense of smell" and that the underdevelopment of smelling sensory organs in the nasal area was attributed to being an adaptation of flight (no added extra weight out at the end of the head area). But what exactly does that mean: "poor sense of smell" I often wondered: "poor in comparison to what? And that doesn't mean they have NO sense of smell".  I think the old text where I read that should have probably read "poorly understood sense of smell".  I remember when I was a kid, I was eating a Boyer peanut butter cup and dropped it on the ground. Because it was soiled, I picked it up and threw it out into the woods.  When it landed in the leaf duff, it attracted the attention of a titmouse which dropped down to the woodland floor and picked up the morsel in its bill w/o hesitation and flew up to a branch and ate in typical titmouse fashion.  I thought to myself, how does it know that it is edible? Later that winter when we ran out of bird seed during the middle of a big winter storm I told my father that the birds needed food and he said, "too bad, I'm not going out in this weather". I was concerned that the birds would go hungry and I asked my dad if we could feed them peanut butter cups (he was a candy salesman and had cases of samples stored in the basement). He thought I was crazy and said the birds won't eat that!, but when I opened a pack, crumbled them up and put them on the deck railing, the chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and bluejays wasted no time in proving me right!
So since that day, I always wondered how they know, and why do Blue Jays here in New England relish peanuts so much, a plant that grows in the south? How do they know? The answer must be in their sense of smell.  Heck, vultures must smell the odor of decay rising up on the hot thermals that they are riding and use that sense of smell to home in on the dead carcass obscured from aerial view by dense vegetation right? Just because they lack the apparent biomass of nasal structures doesn't mean there isn't another mechanism....maybe this mechanism has since long been described in the literature and I am just dating myself here...........Dr. Askins? Dr. Elphick? Dr. Morrison? et al...a little help for Paul and Me please.....?

Anthony Zemba CHMM
Certified Ecologist / Soil Scientist
GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc.

655 Winding Brook Drive
Suite 402
Glastonbury, CT 06033

1350 Main Street
Springfield, MA 01103

860-966-5888 (cell)
413-732-1249 (fax)
anthony.zemba at gza.com

-----Original Message-----
From: ctbirds-bounces at lists.ctbirding.org [mailto:ctbirds-bounces at lists.ctbirding.org] On Behalf Of Carrier Graphics
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 1:14 PM
To: ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org
Subject: [CT Birds] A perplexing Corvid question.............

Just an added topic to the recent thread about Corvids on this site. I have an interesting question that has plagued me for many years.

For over 35 years, I have been feeding my local Crows, Ravens and a Red-shouldered Hawk - plus my own Chickens from my compost pile in the back yard. It is used daily by them all. This compost pile is added to daily from all my yard organic waste plus daily table scraps of which they all relish. Through the years, i have observed all four species there and observe what they choose to eat from it. The question is - How do they tell edible food from all that is there, and especially the foods not found normally in their natural world ???

How do they know that a piece of macaroni is eatable, or a glob of butter, or cheese or cracker or bread or - I could go on..........

I use to think they knew from billing it, and feeling if it was soft, it was edible. But I can't buy that - rubber is soft, and they have never eaten a rubber band. Spaghetti, a favorite, does look like a worm and is soft, but other human table scraps are not - so how do they know? The Fox, Bear, Coyote, Raccoon and Skunk (I call him Charlie) can smell organics, but not birds. So how do they separate human food from eatable to in-eatables? A mystery that has haunted me for years. Even my Chickens will not tell me their secret to this.........frustrating!

Paul Carrier - Harwinton
This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA) for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.
For subscription information visit http://lists.ctbirding.org/mailman/listinfo/ctbirds_lists.ctbirding.org
This electronic message is intended to be viewed only by the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may
contain privileged and/or confidential information intended for the exclusive use of the addressee(s). If you are
not the intended recipient, please be aware that any disclosure, printing, copying, distribution or use of this
information is prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender immediately and
destroy this message and its attachments from your system.
For information about GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. and its services, please visit our website at www.gza.com<http://www.gza.com/>.

More information about the CTBirds mailing list