Washington: Birds may have a more highly developed sense of smell than researchers suspected.
For instance, penguins may be able to smell whether another penguin is a kin, a skill that helps them avoid inbreeding in densely populated colonies.
The research by the University of Chicago and the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, shows how related birds are able to recognize each other.
The study could help conservationists think up ways to help preserve endangered species, the journal Public Library of Science reports.
"Smell is likely the primary mechanism for kin recognition to avoid inbreeding within the colony," said Heather Coffin of Chicago University, who led the study.
"This is the first study to provide evidence for odour-based kin discrimination in birds," said Mateo, who is a specialist on kin recognition, according to a Chicago statement.
Experts said the work offers important insights into how birds use smell to guide behaviour. Research on other sea birds has shown that smell helps guide birds to their home territory and helps them forage for food.
Penguins are ideal subjects because they typically live in colonies made up of thousands of birds. They live in monogamous pairs.
Despite the size of the community, mates are able to find each other after travelling for days foraging for food in the ocean.