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Name: Pierre-Paul B.
Status: student
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999-2001

Has there ever been research done to know if birds secrete pheromones during breeding season ? If so, where can I get more information ?

Dear Pierre-Paul:.

This is not my normal area of biology, but it is such a good question that I looked into it a little. An ornithologist colleague told me that she did not know of any literature on bird pheromones, and pointed out that birds, in general, have a poor sense of smell. (There are notable exceptions, such as vultures.)

I did finally come across a 1991 paper by Dr. P.F. Kolattukudy and others in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. (volume 266, No. 15, pp. 9795-9804, 1991). In this paper and several subsequent ones in the same journal, these researchers studied the cellular processes involved in the production of diester waxes produced by the uropygial gland of mallard ducks. They refer to a 1979 paper which reports that these compounds act as pheromones in ducks:

Jacob J, Balthazart J, and Schoffeniels E (1979) Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, volume 7, pp. 149-153.

Unfortunately, this paper is not immediately available to me, and it may be in German, given that a couple of related papers by J. Jacob are written in that language.

I did note that in a 1998 paper by Dr. Kolattukudy [THE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY Vol. 273, No. 46, Issue of November 13, pp. 30131-30138, 1998], his/her e-mail address is given. You might try inquiring by e-mail. The address, at Ohio State University, is:


Good luck in your search.

P.S. - More information on the uropygial gland is available at


Another paper that I forgot to mention is "Pheromones are involved in the control of sexual behaviour in birds" by J. Balthazart and E. Schoffeniels, which appeared in Naturwissenschaften 1979 Jan;66(1):55-6. I haven't had a chance to check, but it may be in German also.

Tom Douglas

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