Can birds smell?

Where we live, there is a lot of wildlife; but this week I was puzzled by the birds. We have a variety of species that I am still in the process of trying to identify, but my question this week isn’t so much about the species type, but about whether or not birds can smell.  

I have a clear, acrylic bird feeder that attaches to a window with suction cups.  (Wild Birds of Joy Window Bird Feeder). This was recommended to me by a friend and member of my Creative Team, Jenni, and I love it!  I attached the bird feeder to my office window and enjoy watching the birds come by to get something to eat throughout the day.

A few days ago, late afternoon, I realized that I hadn’t seen any birds feeding at all that day. I could see that food was still in the feeder, but also noticed that all of the sunflower seeds were gone.  The bird seed pack I bought was a mix of seeds. Obviously the birds that discovered my feeder prefer sunflower seeds. So I tossed out the leftover seeds and added a fresh serving to the feeder which, of course, included more sunflower seeds.

I went back into my office and back to work. Within 10 minutes there were birds at the feeder again. So how did they know there were sunflower seeds there again?  That’s when I googled, “Can birds smell?” This is what I found (according to :

Most birds have little use for the sense of smell. The odors of food, prey, enemies or mates quickly disperse in the wind. Birds possess olfactory glands, but they’re not well developed in most species, including the songbirds in our backyards. The same is true for taste, which is related to smell. While humans have 9,000 taste buds, songbirds have fewer than 50.

That means the birds we feed around our homes must locate their food by sight or touch, two senses that are highly developed in birds.

Without a sense of smell, I could just envision those birds sitting around all day, peering at me from their vantage point of a branch or bush, and thinking, WHEN is she going to figure out we want more sunflower seeds and don’t like that other stuff!

Okay, I’ve got it now! Sunflower seeds it is from now now.  But on second thought, maybe if I keep the mixed-seeds available, they might draw other bird species eventually as well. Perhaps they’re just a little slow in finding this new food source.

Do you have a bird feeder? What types of birds do you attract? And if you know the name of the bird in the picture below, please let me know. It’s the only bird species that has come to my window so far.

Can Birds Smell by Snickerdoodle Designs


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Comments (24)

  1. Carolyn

    It looks to me like a tufted titmouse. We feed the birds and everything else. I think their favorite food would be black oil sunflower seed. That will attract a lot of different birds. I also like to hang a feeder for niger seed. It attracts the beautiful gold finch and other finches too.

    September 29, 2018 at 11:12 am
  2. Karla A McCormick

    I can’t see it clearly but it looks like a tufted titmouse. I’ll have to look it up to see if it is in your area. Love watching birds at the feeder. I thought they could smell well but I guess not.

    September 29, 2018 at 11:37 am
    • Karen

      You are the 2nd person to guess that species, so I’m pretty sure you’ve got it! Thank you!!

      September 29, 2018 at 11:59 am
  3. Janet

    We have some interesting birds come and go in our yard but I don’t want the “seed residue” creating “weeds” in my lawn so much as I would like, I don’t put out bird feeders that include seeds. But that being said, I do have hummingbirds…oh so many hummingbirds. I have 13 hooks around the yard for the hummingbird feeders but right outside my window is their favorite place. So I started with one out there and now have three feeders. They are up to drinking all of the nectar each day…about 12 cups! Last night I counted about 20 of them and I love them all. At the end of January I found a hummingbird nest with two little babies in my nectarine tree….They were ready to fly when I found them but I had a couple days before both left the nest. I love them all!!!

    September 29, 2018 at 12:06 pm
  4. JeannieK

    If you figure out how they know when a feeder is refilled, please update us! I’ve wondered that for a few years at least. Same for the oranges I put out for the orioles. Sometimes I forget for a day or two, but set out half an orange and a bird will be there in less than 30 mins eating. I’m thinking they chatter about where the food is – or are very good at watching where other birds seem to be migrating. But how does that first one find the stash?
    The longer you feed the birds, the more varieties will come. Especially if you vary the menu. Many birds love suet, especially in winter. Feeders are inexpensive for the blocks. Have known cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, goldfinch and sparrows to come wait their turn for the suet and sunflower seeds. If you buy the shelled sunflowers, you won’t end up with as big of a mess under the feeder. It is more expensive, but the birds end up with a lot more food. Enjoy the birds!
    PS Saw your pin of the rock art…I spent way too long checking all those out on Pinterest! lol I love stones so think I’ve found yet another project or two to spend time on. Thanks karen!

    September 29, 2018 at 12:17 pm
  5. Cindy

    i think your bird is a tufted titmouse. where do you live? i just moved away from Virginia where i had several feeders including window feeders because it brought them close so i could get a better look at them and pictures. I really miss the Virginia blue birds that loved to eat mealworms from the window feeder and would stare in the window intently to let me know the feeder was empty. they visited several times a day and i also had the joy of seeing them raise several nests of babies in special houses i mounted for them, in the three years i lived there. I so miss them now that i have moved to the Chicago area. Titmice also love mealworms. try a feed store to get them packaged as chicken feed. it is cheaper. I would also recommend just buying black sunflower seeds instead of mixes with filler seeds. less waste. wish i could send you a couple pics but not sure how to private message. Cindy

    September 29, 2018 at 1:15 pm
  6. Karla A McCormick

    I looked up its range and it is not in California so back to the drawing board.

    September 29, 2018 at 2:48 pm
  7. Beatrice

    What a cute bird. I love my window feeder, same as yours! We get cardinals, mourning doves, sparrows and chickadees. I only use safflower because we have a problem with squirrels and supposedly they don’t like safflower. Unfortunately they seem to like it regardless so I may need to take down that feeder and put up another squirrel proof feeder. I also have a finch feeder that I fill with nyjer and the finches love it. Sometimes I have five or six at that feeder. I love watching the birds.

    September 29, 2018 at 3:56 pm
  8. Karen

    I don’t have a bird feeder, but every day, after I give my dog his dog biscuit, which he eats on the mat outside our back door, under the patio (far away from the bushes and trees) – once the dog is inside again, a small bird or two always come down and peck at the mat, obviously eating up the tiny crumbs left behind. I always wondered if they could smell the biscuit too. What made them come down to the back door in the first place to find these crumbs? Even more of a question now I know they don’t have a big sense of smell. Thanks for the article on this, its interesting.

    September 29, 2018 at 6:35 pm
    • Karen

      Exactly. I want to know how the birds know too! Are they sitting in a tree somewhere watching your dog eat his biscuit, just knowing he is going to leave crumbs?

      September 30, 2018 at 5:45 am
  9. Karla A McCormick

    This has been fun! I did some “real birdwatching” in college when 3 of us would meet about 6am on weekends and head off to the trees with our binoculars to see what we could see. I got to where I could recognize their calls before seeing them. My bird list was around 250. Great hobby. I haven’t done much watching on my own since then except for the backyard feeder.

    September 30, 2018 at 7:11 am
    • Karen

      I can see how it can become an addictive hobby! Great list you had going there!

      September 30, 2018 at 7:12 am
      • Hi Karen,

        Living on a canal there is always a potential problem of drawing rats to the yard;, however we do keep a birdbath filled. Every day, within a minute or so after my husband fills the birdbath, the birds arrive, especially during the dry season. We’ve concluded that one or more species of birds assign a “watcher” whose job is to let the flock know when fresh water is available. Perhaps the same thing happens around the bird feeder.

        September 30, 2018 at 9:51 am
  10. 🙂

    September 30, 2018 at 9:52 am
    • Karen

      Ahhh.. yes, the rats would be a concern. That’s an interesting concept about the “watcher.” I wonder!

      September 30, 2018 at 9:57 am
  11. […] Why, yes, that is a distinct possibility, since I DID put up a bird feeder in September (Can Birds Smell?) […]

    April 25, 2019 at 4:50 pm
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