The Daily Telegraph
Migrating seabirds smell their way home
THE mystery of how seabirds find their way thousands of miles across featureless oceans has long puzzled scientists.
But the answer was under their noses all along. For the birds use their keen sense of smell to create an “odour map” of their journey – a mental patchwork picture of local scents to guide them on their way, analysis of flight patterns revealed.
Scientists now believe the phenomenon may be common among the animal kingdom, having a role in movements s uch as mass migrations and finding food.
Seabirds fly for many days and nights across barren water to their preferred feeding ground before returning to their nests.
The study examined three species of shearwaters, known for their long- distance migrations: Cory’s in the North Atlantic, Scopoli’s in the Mediterranean Sea and the Cape Verde variety in the central Atlantic Ocean.
Dr Andrew Reynolds, of Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Herts, and colleagues tagged 210 individual birds with GPS monitors. It was found that seven in 10 used olfactory cues to navigate, and almost all of them did so on long journeys.
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.