Re: [canberrabirds] Pelican stories for thefuture - Ockham's Razor

To: <>
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] Pelican stories for thefuture - Ockham's Razor
From: "Stephen Ambrose" <>
Date: Sat, 2 May 2009 14:17:55 +1000
Procellariiform seabirds have enlarged olfactory bulbs and appear to use
olfaction (sense of smell) to detect fish in the ocean. It is generally
believed that non-procellariiform seabirds don't have this heightened sense
of olfaction and rely largely on vision to find prey.

Australian Pelicans are not procellariiform seabirds, but it would be
interesting to know if they have enlarged olfactory bulbs. If they do, then
perhaps they may have an ability to smell floodwaters (or fish in the
floodwaters) from afar.

Additionally, there has been quite a bit of debate in the scientific
literature over the last 15 years about whether or not birds use olfactory
navigation, along with magnetic cues, and visual cues of the landscape, and
sun and star positions, to orientate themselves during migration. The weight
of evidence suggests that olfactory navigation (the use of familiar smells
to orientate and fly in the right direction) does play a role, but only over
short distances, perhaps towards the end point of a migratory journey.  

Stephen Ambrose
Ryde, NSW

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Chris Charles
Sent: Saturday, 2 May 2009 10:54 AM
Cc: Birding Aus
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] Pelican stories for thefuture
- Ockham's Razor

I find it not so easy to rule out Option #2
We humans with our relatively desensitised/inferior audio & olfactory  
senses can still smell rain on hot bitumen. It doesnt seem too big a  
leap to think that an east coast bird could detect  the smell of  
water re-activating desiccated Lake Eyre bacteria on a westerly wind.
And a 5th option seems also to be a contender:
Some of these same pelicans will have been born at Lake Eyre anyway  
so it could be a similar cyclic 'homing' instinct as exhibited by  
many other species.
With their great soaring ability giving them a high sight vantage  
point & efficient long distance high speed touring facility, I find  
the migratory habits of Pelicans a lot easier to get my head around  
than say the travels of the Bogong Moth or a freshwater eel that  
suddenly leaves its Great Divide mountain lake & travels to New  

Chris Charles
0412 911 184

33deg 47'30"S


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