How well a budgie can smell relative to other birds is interesting to know, especially given that budgies have other highly advanced senses, such as their eyesight.
According to The Zoological Society of Japan, budgies have fewer olfactory cells than other birds.
Ducks have 5.8 million cells and gulls have 2.7 million cells, but budgies only have 130 thousand olfactory cells. So, budgies’ sense of smell is significantly less developed.
Budgies still have a functioning olfactory system and remain sensitive to certain smells that are normal to humans. So, we must be vigilant about toxic smells in a budgie’s caged living environment.
Do Budgies Have a Sense of Smell?
Budgies have an olfactory system with everything needed to perceive different scents. However, because they use their other senses much more, they have evolved without needing a strong sense of smell.
The reason budgies have a weaker sense of smell than other birds is there’s no biological need for it. Budgies are natural foragers that use their eyesight to explore their environment for food sources.
For this reason, their eyesight is extremely well developed, and they can see more colors than humans, especially bright colors. They can also use their hearing to perceive other birds’ vocalizations, which is invaluable when choosing the right mate.
However, budgies don’t need a sense of smell to detect predators from afar because they have other superior senses. Also, they don’t need strong olfactory senses to recognize other birds this way.
How Olfaction Works in Budgies
The olfactory system consists of different parts, such as the:
- Nasal cavity
- Olfactory cells
- Multi-layered olfactory bulbs
- Piriform cortex
The nasal cavity is the space inside the nose where air flows through.
Budgies have a complex network of nasal cavities throughout their skulls. This is because flying requires a lot of oxygen, and a highly efficient respiratory system assists with that objective.
Budgies have 3 different internal nasal cavities. The first 2 cavities moisten and warm up the air before entering the respiratory system, while the third cavity contains olfactory tissues.
Inside the third nasal cavity, there are olfactory cells. As the air moves through the nasal cavity, the olfactory cells trap the odor molecules in the air and send information about the molecules to the olfactory bulbs.
As stated, budgies only have 130 thousand olfactory cells, which is far less than other birds. The fewer olfactory cells an animal has, the less it can trap odor molecules, which is why budgies don’t have a strong sense of smell.
Olfactory bulbs are a neural tissue structure that receives information about odor molecules. Olfactory bulbs vary in size across different creatures, and avian experts have found that predatory birds, especially those that hunt at night, have bigger olfactory bulbs than those that don’t.
This is because birds that hunt when it’s dark benefit from having a good sense of smell instead of relying solely on their eyesight. Budgies are diurnal foragers, so their olfactory bulbs are relatively small.
Once the olfactory bulbs have received the signal from the olfactory cells, they send the information to the piriform cortex. The piriform cortex is the part of the brain responsible for perceiving odors.
Can Budgies Smell Food?
Despite not having a strong sense of smell, budgies can smell food odors if they’re close enough.
A budgie’s preference for food has little to do with how it smells. Although they consider smell if they’re close enough, they mostly decide what to eat based on the food’s color and flavor.
Colorful foods with a distinct flavor are popular with budgies because their natural forager instincts tell them that colorful fruits are healthy and nutritious.
Before a budgie can even perceive the scent of the fruit, it has already decided that it wants to eat it based on the color alone.
Although smell barely determines whether a budgie prefers a certain food, it determines whether a budgie will dislike it. Barring a lack of appetite due to illness, injury, or nutritional problems, budgies won’t eat certain foods if they think they smell odd.
It may not be the food that smells bad, but any odor in their environment that overpowers the smell of food can sour a budgie’s appetite, leading to non-consumption.
Can Budgies Smell Water?
Budgies can’t smell water unless it’s contaminated with harmful bacteria.
The budgie can smell the odor molecules produced by the contamination if it gets close enough to the water. However, because budgies have well-developed eyesight, if the water is contaminated to the point where it is visually tainted, they may instinctively avoid going near it.
Some budgies like to bathe in their water bowl or dip their food inside. As the food dissolves and the water becomes contaminated, we can detect the pungent odor coming from the stale water.
Budgies don’t mind these scents because they associate them with things they interact with daily. The smell of food and feathers coming from a water source are things that will never bother a budgie.
The problem comes when the water grows stale enough to produce harmful bacteria. Mold growth is particularly dangerous, as it emits a foul and harms a budgie’s respiratory system.
Also, budgies may stop drinking due to adding chemicals, such as chlorine. That’s why some owners give their budgies filtered or bottled water sources, especially when they refuse to drink.
How Far Can Budgies Smell?
It’s unclear how far away budgies are capable of smelling.
We know they have a sense of smell because of the components that make up their olfactory system. However, no tests have been performed to determine their scent range.
Still, given that budgies have few olfactory cells and small olfactory bulbs, experts theorize that they can’t smell from too far away. Budgies likely sniff food and water as a final means of validation.
Keep artificial smells outside of the room your budgie stays in. Even though budgies have a poor sense of smell, toxic odors harm their respiratory system or can lead to premature death.