Zebra Finch chicks recognise parental scent, and retain chemosensory knowledge of their genetic mother, even after egg cross-fostering
Mechanisms underlying parent-offspring recognition in birds have fascinated researchers for centuries. Yet, the possibility that chicks recognise parental odour at hatching has been completely overlooked, despite the fact that olfaction is one of the first sensory modalities to develop, and social chemosignals occur in avian taxa. Here we show that Zebra Finch chicks (Taeniopygia guttata) are capable of identifying parental odours at hatching. In our first experiment, chicks begged significantly longer in response to the odour of their genetic mother or father compared to the odour of a non-relative of the same sex and reproductive status. In a second experiment, we cross-fostered eggs and tested the response of hatchlings to the scent of genetic vs. foster parents. Chicks from cross-fostered eggs responded significantly more to the odour of their genetic mother than their foster mother, but exhibited no difference in response to genetic vs. foster fathers. This is the first evidence that embryonic altricial birds are capable of acquiring chemosensory knowledge of their parents during early development, and retain chemical familiarity with their genetic mother despite egg cross-fostering. Furthermore our data reveals that kin recognition in birds can develop without any association with a genetic parent at hatching.