It's a commonly heard fact at many bird programs: most bird species have a lousy sense of smell. Check out great horned owls--their favorite food is skunk!
Well, according to this article in Science Daily...we may have to rethink that!
The sense of smell might indeed be as important to birds as it is to fish or even mammals. This is the main conclusion of a study by Silke Steiger (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology) and her colleagues. The sense of smell in birds was, until quite recently, thought to be poorly developed.
Recent behavioural studies have shown that some bird species use their sense of smell to navigate, forage or even to distinguish individuals. Silke Steiger and her colleagues chose a genetic approach for their study. Their research focused on the olfactory receptor (OR) genes, which are expressed in sensory neurons within the olfactory epithelium, and constitute the molecular basis of the sense of smell. The total number of OR genes in a genome may reflect how many different scents an animal can detect or distinguish. In birds such genetic studies were previously restricted to the chicken, hitherto the only bird for which the full genomic sequence is known.
The implication of this finding is that different ecological niches may have shaped the OR gene repertoire sizes in birds, as has been suggested for mammals. The high number of OR genes in the kiwi could be explained by this bird’s unusual ecological niche. Unique among birds, the nostrils of the night-active kiwi are at the tip of the bill. When kiwis probe the forest floor in search of food, they are guided by smell rather than sight. Indeed the snuffling, nocturnal kiwis are sometimes considered to be New Zealand’s equivalent of a hedgehog!
You can read the rest of the story here.