Sight or smell: which senses do scavenging raptors use to find food?

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Raptors are usually considered to be mainly visually dependent, and the use of other sensory modalities has rarely been studied in these birds. Here, we investigated experimentally which senses (vision and/or olfaction) Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) and Southern caracaras (Caracara plancus) use to find hidden food. First, two identical stainless-steel perforated balls, one containing a putrefied piece of meat and the other an odorless control, were presented to birds in binary choice experiments. Both species interacted more with the smelling ball than with the control, suggesting that they were attracted by the odor of the hidden meat. In a second experiment, individuals were accustomed to eat in one specifically colored ball (blue or green). In the test phase, the meat was hidden in the opposite color with respect to the one each bird had become accustomed to. Vultures still interacted more with the smelly ball disregarding the color, while caracaras interacted equally with the two balls. The prevalence of olfaction in Turkey vultures may partly explain why they are the first raptors to find carcasses in tropical forests. In contrast, caracaras forage on the ground opportunistically, a strategy where both olfaction and sight may be involved. Our experiments suggest that both species are able to use olfactory cues for foraging. However, olfaction could be the predominant sense in Turkey vultures while olfaction and sight could play an equivalent role in Southern caracaras.


  • Simon Potier
  • Olivier Duriez
  • Aurélie Célérier
  • Jean Louis Liegeois
  • Francesco Bonadonna
Enheter & grupper
Externa organisationer
  • Académie de Fauconnerie du Grand Parc du Puy du Fou
  • Paul Valéry University of Montpellier

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Etologi


Sidor (från-till)49-59
TidskriftAnimal Cognition
Utgåva nummer1
Tidigt onlinedatum2018
StatusPublished - 2019 jan
Peer review utfördJa