The Daily Telegraph

Migrating seabirds smell their way home

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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.

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