With all of the other fantastic abilities that the crow has shown to have, some of the more simple or common abilities seem to go unnoticed or unmentioned. One example is, “Do crows have a sense of smell?”
Crows have a sense of smell. Studies have shown that crows use their power to smell to identify food and other objects and distinguish different scents. However, it’s not as developed as their vision and other senses.
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A Bird’s Sense of Smell
Though birds, also known as avian species, have visible nostrils atop their beaks or bills, surprisingly, their ability to smell is set up similarly to that of mammals. However, birds don’t use their olfaction systems like mammals, or other animals do.
For the most part, they don’t need to. Their nasal passages are not as well developed as mammals. They only use their power to detect scents for mate selection, forage for food, or sniff out an acceptable (and unoccupied) nesting area.
Crow’s Sense of Smell vs. Other Birds
The olfactory systems of crows are more complex than most other species of birds. Because of that, it is assumed that the smell sensation is greater for crows vs. their counterpart- the raven. They may use it to a greater extent than birds with a lesser olfactory system.
You can’t ask a crow exactly how they use their ability to smell differently than other birds, but researchers can observe and make conclusions through behavior.
For example, crows(as well as vultures) are well-known scavengers, unafraid to be spotted feasting on a carcass somewhere.
Their “acute” sense of smell will find food or detect the carcass from a greater distance than other airborne scavengers due to having a more complex system of olfactory receptors.
What Senses do Crows Have?
Crows and birds, in general, all have the same five senses that we do. The five are eyesight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. However, these senses are not all the same for every bird.
Some birds have a greater visual acuity than other birds. An eagle, for example, is said to have superior eyesight (eagle-eye is a complementary term for marksmen).
The crow has a more potent capability of smell than other birds, but aside from that, it has no outstanding advantages over other species in terms of the other senses.
Crows Incorporate Intelligence Into their Senses
There is one area that most other species of birds can’t touch a crow, and that is its intelligence.
I know intelligence is not counted as a “sense” perse, but it gives the crow an advantage in that it can better respond or adjust its behavior according to what its senses tell it.
Researchers have determined that a crow’s intelligence is head and shoulders above most other birds. According to Candice Gaukel Andrews from Natural Habitat Adventures, crows have intelligence comparable to that of a 7-year-old human child.
Imagine the advantage this is over other birds, injecting a sense of advanced know-how as a means to interpret what their senses are telling them.
Researchers and Ornithologists have even found that they know how to adapt and respond differently to different people, recognizing different faces of different people and remembering them for extended periods.
So, even though the four other senses aren’t unusual compared with other birds, how they decide to use them might give them a leg up.
A Crow’s Power to Smell Things- Further Evidence
Scientists have only recently discovered the range of limitations each bird species brings to the olfactory table.
However, crows have shown that they use it to their advantage in terms of what it decides to eat, being able to distinguish between various odors, resulting in a difference in behavior.
For example, carrion crows who were presented with food that contained added chemicals refused to eat it.
This denotes that crows can pick up on extras that might be found in food and will weigh whether it will be harmful, often deciding to err on the side of caution and abstain from eating it.
How Sense of Smell Impacts a Crow’s Survival and Behavior
Crows or corvids are omnivorous scavenger breeds, eating just about anything that catches their eye, but mainly thrive on fruits and seeds.
A crow might find a field with seeds available but might decide to eat some of the insects common to that type of field. Then, later, they decide to come back and feast on the seeds.
Because of their smell capability and wide range of animal and plant-based foods, they are more likely to find a food source where food might be hard to come by. This adds to their seemingly inexhaustible range of habitats- crows can be found all over the planet.
Also, they can likely smell predatory animals nearby and head to the skies for safety before they become something’s meal. This is especially true when crows come upon a predatory kill and attempt to scavenge, where the predator might still be in the area guarding its kill.
Because they can detect the scent of chemicals added to their food, crows might be more prone to avoid fields where pesticides have been used on crops, sparing them from becoming poisoned.
Evidence suggests that crows smell things, but to what extent is not yet fully known.
The measure by which their intelligence influences the information they gather from their senses (such as smell) is currently under study. Trying to distinguish which factor is influencing the other can be challenging.
Biologically, it is theorized that crows smell things better than other birds due to the increased complexity of their olfactory passages. However, it hasn’t become clear exactly how much better, and further research is being conducted on the subject.
We might never have the whole picture painted for us concerning how much the keen sense of smell affects the daily lives of the crow or other bird species.
But it stands to reason that this sense does have a positive impact on their survival and can help to explain why crows have such an elevated capacity to adapt to different environments so well.
Carrion crows can smell fear (stress). Carrion crows can smell fear (stress) |. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2023, from https://pages.vassar.edu/sensoryecology/carrion-crows-can-smell-fear-stress/
Wascher, Claudia & Heiss, Rebecca & Baglione, Vittorio & Canestrari, Daniela. (2014). Behavioural responses to olfactory cues in carrion crows. Behavioural Processes. 111. 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.11.009.
D;, W. C. A. H. R. S. B. V. C. (n.d.). Behavioural responses to olfactory cues in Carrion crows. Behavioural processes. Retrieved January 22, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25447513/