Myth of the Bad-Nose Birds

Study of avian sense of smell recovers from Audubon's blunder

By Susan Milius, 15:53 PM April 15, 2008

Blame Audubon. Animal behaviorist Timothy Roper says that the renowned naturalist propagated die-hard misunderstandings of birds' sense of smell. In 1826, he published on the habits of the turkey vulture "with a View to Exploding the Opinion Generally Held of Its Extraordinary Power of Smelling." Observers as far back as Aristotle had claimed that various vultures sniff their way to prey. Yet Audubon argued that they couldn't smell. He described hiding smelly meat close to caged turkey vultu...

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