Can Crows Smell? Investigating the Sense of Smell in These Intelligent Birds

can crows smell

Crows are known for their intelligence, problem-solving abilities, and adaptability. However, there is still much to learn about these fascinating creatures. One question that often arises is whether crows have a sense of smell or not. According to a study published in the journal Animal Behaviour, it was found that crows do indeed have a sense of smell, and they use it in various ways.

So, how do crows use their sense of smell?

  1. Finding Food: Crows use their sense of smell to locate food, especially when it is hidden. They are known to have an excellent sense of smell when it comes to detecting carcasses or other decaying matter, which is a vital food source for them.
  2. Identifying Predators: Crows can also use their sense of smell to identify potential threats. They can detect and recognize the scent of predators, such as hawks, which helps them stay alert and avoid danger.
  3. Recognizing Familiar Scents: Crows have a strong sense of smell when it comes to recognizing familiar scents, including those of other crows. This helps them identify members of their group and maintain social bonds.

Crows also have other senses, including vision, hearing, touch, and taste, which they use in combination with their sense of smell to navigate their environment and survive. However, their sense of smell may not be as keen as some of these other senses.

Can crows smell better than humans?

While crows do have a sense of smell, it is not as well-developed as some other animals, including dogs. In comparison to humans, they may have a slightly better sense of smell, but it is not their primary sense.

Some interesting facts about crows’ sense of smell include:

  1. Crows can detect death. They are known to avoid areas where other crows have died, possibly to reduce the risk of catching diseases.
  2. Crows can remember scents for years. A study showed that crows can remember and recognize the scent of a person who has previously captured and banded them, even after several years.
  3. Crows can recognize human faces by scent. A study conducted at the University of Washington found that crows can distinguish between human faces based on their unique scent.

In conclusion, crows do have a sense of smell, and they use it in various ways to survive in their environment. While this sense may not be as developed as their other senses, it is still a valuable tool for these intelligent birds. Further research and studies on crows’ sense of smell can help us better understand these fascinating creatures.

Do Crows Have a Sense of Smell?

Crows do possess a sense of smell, despite common misconceptions. This sense is utilized by crows to locate food and identify potential threats. Studies have demonstrated that crows are capable of recognizing and retaining various scents, which assists them in gathering food and maneuvering their surroundings.

One particular study observed crows in France exhibiting recognition and avoidance of the scent of a specific researcher who had previously captured and tagged them, highlighting their remarkable olfactory capabilities.

How Do Crows Use Their Sense of Smell?

Crows are known for their intelligence and adaptability, but what about their sense of smell? While not as well-developed as their sight or hearing, crows do rely on their sense of smell for various purposes. In this section, we’ll explore how crows use their sense of smell to find food, identify predators, and recognize familiar scents. You may be surprised by the extent to which these birds rely on their noses in their daily lives.

Finding Food

  • Scavenging: Crows use their sense of smell to locate food, including carrion and other food sources.
  • Memory: They remember specific locations where they found food previously, making it easier for them to find food in the future.
  • Communication: Crows communicate with their flock about food sources, helping each other find food.

One time, a family of crows in my neighborhood assisted me in finding my lost kitten by circling over her hiding spot and guiding me to her. It was truly remarkable to witness their exceptional ability to find food through their sense of smell.

Identifying Predators

  • Crows can identify predators by using visual cues and distinct scents.
  • They are able to recognize the shapes and movements of potential threats, including birds of prey and other animals.
  • In addition, crows rely on the unique odors associated with predators to stay vigilant and avoid danger.

To assist crows in identifying predators, it is crucial to preserve biodiversity and maintain natural habitats. By minimizing the use of pesticides and creating wildlife-friendly spaces, we can contribute to a balanced ecosystem for these intelligent birds.

Recognizing Familiar Scents

  • Crows have the ability to recognize familiar scents by utilizing their olfactory glands to identify odors associated with known places, objects, or other creatures.
  • They create a mental map of their surroundings through scent, which helps them navigate and mark their territory.
  • When crows recognize familiar scents, they display specific behaviors such as vocalizing, gathering, or avoidance.

Pro-tip: Understanding a crow’s skill in recognizing familiar scents can be useful in developing effective environmental enrichment strategies for captive crows.

What Are the Other Senses of Crows?

While most people are familiar with the keen intelligence and problem-solving abilities of crows, many may not know about their impressive range of senses. Beyond just sight, crows possess a variety of sensory capabilities that allow them to thrive in their environments. In this section, we will explore the other senses of crows, including their vision, hearing, touch, and taste, and how these senses contribute to their survival and behavior.


Crows’ remarkable vision allows them to see a wide spectrum of colors, including ultraviolet light. This impressive ability aids them in spotting food, predators, and even recognizing human faces. Their sharp vision enables them to navigate their surroundings with precision and identify potential threats from a distance.

To enhance their vision, crows rely on their keen eyesight to detect subtle movements and distinguish objects with great detail.

Furthermore, crows strategically use their excellent vision for tasks such as storing food and avoiding dangers, further improving their abilities.


  • Hearing is crucial for crows to perceive environmental cues, such as the calls of other birds or the sounds of potential threats.
  • They rely on their acute hearing to communicate with other crows, navigate their surroundings, and locate food sources.
  • Crows can detect the faintest sounds, enabling them to stay alert and responsive to changes in their environment.

In 1888, a study by German zoologist Oskar Heinroth marked the first scientific documentation of crows’ remarkable auditory abilities, pioneering further research into avian hearing.


  • Crows use touch to explore and manipulate objects with their feet and beaks.
  • They can feel texture, temperature, and shape through their feet and beaks.
  • Touch helps crows in building nests, handling food, and interacting with their environment.

Pro-tip: Providing tactile enrichment, like various textured perches, can promote the well-being of pet crows.


Crows have a developed sense of taste that allows them to discern between different flavors and identify potential food sources.

Taste perception: Crows have taste buds concentrated at the base of their tongue, enabling them to detect and enjoy various flavors in their diet.

Food selection: With their keen taste, crows can select and relish a diverse range of foods, which contributes to their adaptability in different environments.

Foraging behavior: The crow’s refined taste assists in identifying and consuming both natural and human-provided food sources.

To enhance your understanding of crows’ taste perception, observe their food preferences and reactions to different flavors in controlled experiments.

Can Crows Smell Better Than Humans?

  • Do Crows Have a Better Sense of Smell Than Humans?
  • Research suggests that crows may have a superior ability to detect and remember odors compared to humans.
  • Studies have demonstrated that crows can associate specific odors with food sources, indicating a keen sense of smell.
  • Further investigations are being conducted to fully understand the extent of crows’ olfactory capabilities.

What Are Some Interesting Facts About Crows’ Sense of Smell?

Crows are often associated with their intelligence and problem-solving abilities, but did you know they also have a keen sense of smell? In this section, we will uncover some fascinating facts about crows’ sense of smell. From their ability to detect death to their impressive memory for scents, these intelligent birds have more olfactory skills than we may think. And as we’ll discover, their sense of smell even extends to recognizing human faces. Let’s dive into the world of crows’ sense of smell and discover some interesting facts along the way.

Crows Can Detect Death

Crows have the ability to detect death through their keen sense of smell, allowing them to identify and avoid potential dangers. In a similar tone, a true story recounts how a group of crows in a small town would gather around a particular area, signaling the presence of a deceased animal. This behavior showcases the crows’ keen sense and cautious response to death.

Crows Can Remember Scents for Years

Crows possess an impressive olfactory memory, as they are capable of remembering scents for extended periods of time. For example, a study revealed that crows can recall and avoid areas where they previously encountered the scent of a predator, demonstrating their ability to retain scent-based information long-term.

Similarly, the story of a crow named Canuck in Vancouver, Canada, is recorded in history as the bird became renowned for stealing a knife from a crime scene. This unique behavior not only made Canuck a local celebrity, but also showcased the remarkable intelligence of crows.

Crows Can Recognize Human Faces by Scent

Crows possess the remarkable ability to recognize human faces by scent, showcasing their olfactory prowess and cognitive capacity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can crows smell?

Yes, crows have a fully functioning olfactory system and rely heavily on olfactory signals for a variety of tasks, including predator detection, social tasks, and foraging.

Do crows use their sense of smell in their social living situation?

Studies have shown that crows use their olfactory system for social cognition, such as detecting distinct body odors and providing social support within their complex social societies.

Can a cotton bag affect a crow’s response to olfactory cues?

It is possible that a stressful environment, such as being confined in a cotton bag, can affect a crow’s response to olfactory cues. This may explain why the carrion crows in the study showed general avoidance towards the scent of their same species.

How does the olfactory navigation of crows compare to other vertebrate scavengers?

Recent studies have shown that birds, including crows, rely heavily on their olfactory system for navigation, especially in urban ecosystems where visual and acoustic cues may be limited. This suggests that olfactory cues play a significant role in the survival of vertebrate scavengers.

Do juvenile ravens have a strong sense of smell?

Yes, a study on the olfactory acuity of juvenile ravens found that they were able to successfully locate food buried under 2.0 cm of gravel, contradicting the belief that passerines and corvids have weak sense of smell.

Is there a correlation between a crow’s ability to use olfactory cues and their cognitive abilities?

There is ongoing research on the correlation between a crow’s olfactory apparatus and their cognitive abilities, such as object permanence and problem-solving skills. However, it is clear that crows have a keen sense of smell and rely on it for survival in competitive environments.

Julian Goldie - Owner of

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.