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A Better Life for Captive Birds of Prey? Try Scented Care Packages

Birds of prey are primarily visual hunters. But their olfactory senses might be more important than expected, new research shows a finding that could lead to ways of improving the welfare of birds in captivity.

In the first part of their study, researchers introduced wrapped food packages scented with peppermint oil to birds of prey. The researchers later gave the birds empty packages, some scented and some not. The birds handled the scented packages more often and more extensively, suggesting they had learned to associate the scent with food.

Olfactory enrichment, or the use of scent cues, shows promise as a way to improve the lives of birds of prey in zoos, the researchers say.

“This study demonstrates that olfactory senses may be more important to some birds of prey than previously considered,” says CUNY Graduate Center doctoral student Melissa Nelson Slater, who co-authored the study. “It empirically validates the use of scent as an enrichment tool and demonstrates the need for ongoing evaluation of existing animal enrichment practices to promote the welfare of animals in human care.”

Nelson Slater is the assistant curator of behavioral husbandry at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

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Explore This Work
Olfactory enrichment and scent cue associative learning in captive birds of prey
Zoo Biology, 2017

Work By
Melissa Nelson Slater (Ph.D. candidate, Psychology) | Profile

Colleges & Schools
The Graduate Center

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