An easy method to test odour recognition in songbird hatchlings

B.A. Caspers*, J. Hagelin, S. Bock, E.T. Krause

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


We describe an easy method to test odour detection and recognition in 1-d-old zebra finch hatchlings (Taeniopygia guttata). Day-old chicks beg in a stereotypical posture, which can be induced by directing gentle puffs of air from a plastic wash bottle near the face. We used this method to experimentally test whether begging duration of chicks was indicative of nest odour recognition. We manipulated the olfactory environment of 12 nests throughout incubation and hatching with either an artificial odour (orange oil) or with a neutral control (tap water). We then presented these two stimulus odours to 25 day-old chicks and measured the duration of the first begging bout exhibited for each odour. Zebra finches hatched in a nest environment enriched with orange oil scent begged significantly longer when exposed to orange oil odour, compared to control hatchlings. Our simple testing procedure can be used to efficiently quantify odour recognition and/or preference in altricial songbirds at a very early developmental stage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)882-887
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Taeniopygia guttata
  • Avian olfaction
  • Early odour learning
  • Imprinting
  • Odour detection
  • Odour recognition
  • Songbird
  • Zebra finch


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