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These Birds Can Smell Cookouts From Miles Away & Honestly, Same

Everyone used to think birds couldn't smell. They were oh-so-wrong.

Birds can't smell. At least, that's what everyone used to think.

Conventional wisdom said that birds could use their other senses, but they couldn't pick up on the scents around them. But conventional wisdom was wrong.

Researcher Gabrielle Nevitt has uncovered the truth about ocean birds like the albatross, petrel and fulmar.

Not only can they smell, but they can do it extraordinarily well.

ocean birds can smell Giphy

Birds like the albatross can pick up on the scent of dimethyl sulfide, which is the sulfur that gets emitted into the atmosphere when krill feed on marine phytoplankton.

It's one of the odors that, combined with other scents like algae pheromones, makes up that elusive smell of the seashore that you probably detect when you get near the coast.


Nevitt noted that some of the birds can detect the smell of dimethyl sulfide from as far as 12 miles away. That skill comes in handy, because then they can follow that scent to track down krill.

Birds like the albatross are known for their wingspans, which can reach up to 12 feet.

They'll use those wings to glide over the blue waters, and then dip down to sea level to nab the krill itself for meals.

ocean birds can smell Wikimedia/JJ Harrison

Other times, they feed on the fish or even squid that are trying to munch on the krill for themselves.

Some types of albatross can even dive up to 40 feet below the water in order to catch their prey.

ocean birds can smell


It's skills just like that that help keep the albatross alive and well for decades. They've been known to have lifespans of more than 50 years, and often stay with the same partner for many of those years.

In cases like that, it seems the heart knows what the heart wants.

But the new research from Nevitt shows that for ocean birds, the nose knows a lot, too.

ocean birds can smell

Flickr/James Preston

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