Exploring the Use of Olfactory Cues in a Nonsocial Context in Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata)
The use of chemical signals in bird communication received increasing attention the last years. The zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) is a commonly used avian model organisms. Zebra finches are visual and acoustically dominated but also have a well-developed sense of smell. So far mostly the use of semiochemicals in social communication has been explored. Here we wanted to expand on this aspect of communication and begin to explore the use of olfactory cues in zebra finches in a nonsocial context. This study aimed to investigate whether zebra finches use olfactory cues to find food. Twenty-three female zebra finches were tested each in 16 trials on four subsequent days in an olfactory foraging task. The foraging task was conducted in a four-choice arena, where only one location was baited with food. The birds had only food-related odors available to locate the food. The chance level to find the food correctly in each experimental trial was 0.25. Our results indicate that zebra finches did not find food at a higher probability than at chance level at none of the four subsequent experimental test days. They also did not become faster to find the food and did not decrease their error rates. We discuss several possible explanations for our findings. However, it seems most likely that zebra finches do not or not primarily rely on olfactory cues during foraging. This suggests that the use of chemical cues seems to be context dependent and seems to be more pronounced during social communication than in nonsocial contexts.