My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

What an Owl Smells Like

smelling their head
Old picture of me teaching kids some bad habits

If you regularly follow this blog . . . . then you would know that I have an obsession with smelling the heads of woodpeckers.  The woodpeckers head have a pine-musty odor to them but for some reason the smell is very pleasurable to me (ya, I am nuts – I know already)!! This evening while studying the migration of the Northern Saw-whet Owls . . . . I had a quick whiff of that odor! Bet you can’t guess what I did next??

back of head
The back of the head of the Owl that I smelled!

I was very pleased with another great evening with 7 more Northern Saw-whet Owls captured between the 8:45 and 10:30pm hour. The pine-musty owl was my first bird of the night and all other 6 birds had their typical owl odor to them (yes, I smelled them all)!! Typically these tiny owls are found during daylight hours in the thick brush or hiding somewhere in the pines (not to be seen). My assumption is this one individual had roosted in a pine tree cavity and somehow captured that odor (by getting some sap on it or having the pine surrounding it capturing that unique smell)!! Would love to hear your ideas on why you think this guy could have had the pine-musty odor to it (and all others that I have banded didn’t?)? ugg, another late night and off to bed now (I have to work in the morning)! Goodnight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

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27 responses

  1. I can only hope to be so lucky as to judge the relative scents of various birds – way to go! :)

    15 October 2007 at 1:25 am

  2. To be able to get a close-up look at owls would be great enough but to be able to sniff (and scratch if you wanted to) the backs of the heads of owls would be really something special. What a great job you have (except getting up early and staying up so late, ha.)

    15 October 2007 at 1:35 am

  3. Bird sniffing, you better be careful this might become the next craze, you will have bird sniffing parties all over the place and kids will be stealing money from their parents to buy nets just to get a sniff :) :) Just kidding Tom, I think you are right about roosting in the cavity, the sap in pine has a really strong odor and I am sure roosting in it caused the bird to have the smell.

    15 October 2007 at 4:35 am

  4. I have no theories, but smell is an important sense and you should make no apologies for using it. Pine is always a lovely scent. Like your other comments have suggested, most of us could never even imagine having the opportunity to practise bird-sniffing.

    15 October 2007 at 6:44 am

  5. Hmmm the next bird banding I’ll have to sniff the heads now. :)
    Linda is right what a great job you have.

    15 October 2007 at 7:17 am

  6. @ Adam – Thanks and you should find a banding station near where you live!
    @ Erie – I don’t scratch, lol!! Thanks but do note that this is all done during my off work hours! I am now heading off to work now or I would still be sleeping in and would have kept my nets open longer! Thanks though!
    @ Bernie – LOL, it is the only thing I can come up with causing that strong odor!
    @ Ruth – Thanks but this just isn’t pine, it’s a pine-musky smell! LOL but if you find a station near you then you could give it a try!
    @ toni – most birds don’t have the pine odor but if you have a woodpecker, it is a must!

    BTW: You all are up early!

    15 October 2007 at 7:36 am

  7. Marg

    Oh dear more bad habits being learned-LOL
    You sure had a great owl weekend!

    15 October 2007 at 8:38 am

  8. Bird head sniffing is the RAGE! If I hear of a bird head sniffing party, I’ll crash. I like the smell of musty pine.

    15 October 2007 at 9:12 am

  9. As long as your not sniffing couch cushions and bicycle seats I guess were ok. It was brave of you to admit your sniffing obsessions, I will have to tease you once in a while about this. But, really, pine? Who would have thought it. ~nita~

    15 October 2007 at 10:05 am

  10. This is so cool, Tom! I love smelling everything, well, except scat! I love this photo. I love the smell of pine sap and this birdie must have smelled sooo good!

    15 October 2007 at 10:32 am

  11. Sniffing bird heads…lol…
    I have never held a bird. If ever I do I will make sure I smell its little head. How remarkable.
    You do have a fine relationship with our feathered friends. They must trust you.
    Sherry

    15 October 2007 at 10:36 am

  12. This post put a huge smile on my face! I’ve been obsessing about certain smells and recently discovered that I can very reliably smell the presence of deer long before I see them (it’s actually not hard, especially where I live). I find my self in between embarrassment and bragging about my newly found super-powers. I would love to know what an owl smells like!

    15 October 2007 at 12:38 pm

  13. Havn’t tried that one yet!

    We have noticed that the Smell on our hands after handling differant Raptors is not the same as any other Raptor. Harriers probably have the most Musty Smell,probably of their Nesting and Roosting Habits(in the Marshes).
    There are plenty more Owls to be smelt this Fall Tom,so hope you don’t catch a Cold!!

    15 October 2007 at 1:44 pm

  14. @ Marg – you know me better than many others year! Ha ha ha!
    @ Mary – that’s a party worth setting up!
    @ Nita – Isn’t that stage one, admitting to your obsession?
    @ Pam – Scat the only thing you don’t smell?
    @ Sherry – check out a banding station near you and give it a try!
    @ marie – :) high five for using your nose! I think you have discovered you “hero” superpowers of being able to smell animals! Maybe you are smelling Owls already and you just don’t know it yet? I point out the owl and you say “aaaa that’s what I am smelling”!! LOL
    @ Garth – LOL, my cold will come from not sleeping more than wafting an owls head! Although, out of the many owls that I have banded this one individual is the only one that smelled that way!

    15 October 2007 at 4:55 pm

  15. Hi Tom,
    This post made me smile. I’m a very “smell-oriented” person also and I love the smell of pines. However, I’ve never smelled a bird and like Sherry, if I ever get a chance to hold one, I’ll be sure to take a sniff of its head.

    15 October 2007 at 7:56 pm

  16. pretty soon there will be PSAs warning of the danger of avian huffing, or bird sniffing. Then we will all be in trouble!

    15 October 2007 at 9:59 pm

  17. rebecca

    (In my best mother voice) Stop sniffing birds or you are going to end up with some kind of bird flu. :-P

    Seriously, that must be cool to get that close to them. I love owls.

    15 October 2007 at 10:16 pm

  18. Any suggestions for keeping a very determined woodpecker from pecking holes in the (outside) corner of my classroom (it’s a modular, stand-alone room)? I don’t want to hurt or scare it, but I also need my classroom to be whole, not full of holes =)

    15 October 2007 at 10:42 pm

  19. You’re a nut!

    15 October 2007 at 10:49 pm

  20. I want to smell bird heads!!!!

    15 October 2007 at 11:41 pm

  21. @ RuthieJ – Aww, thanks and glad it made you smile! hope you some day get many chances!
    @ Trixie – LOL, guess maybe I shouldn’t blog about this because CNN will trace it all back to me!
    @ Rebecca – LOL< thanks but at least I am taking many Bird Flu samples from them (and would know that’s a way of catching it from them if they did have it)!
    @ rondi – well, change the design of the building or even tear down the class room! Honestly, woodpeckers do this for many reasons and probably would be better to send you an email about this!
    @ Barb – I know! thanks ;)
    @ Chicago – you should be able to find a bander somewhere near you! I would even bet a Saw-whet Bander lives somewhere in Chicago!

    16 October 2007 at 10:07 am

  22. Way to encourage that we use ALL our senses to enjoy nature! Now we can all say “Mon@rch does it” when we get caught sniffing bird heads.

    16 October 2007 at 8:48 pm

  23. Kathy

    I had to laugh when I read this because I love to sniff my American Eskimo dog’s feet. They smell like fritos!!

    17 October 2007 at 1:04 pm

  24. @ Zen, thanks!
    @ Kathy – Fritos, that is funny for sure! Thanks for visiting the site!

    17 October 2007 at 7:39 pm

  25. Maybe he rubbed heads with a piney smelling woodpecker!-My wife always gets on me about my pine deodorant.

    17 October 2007 at 8:53 pm

  26. Hey Tom,
    I think it’s a mark of true love when a person becomes that intimate –that much a part of–a wild creature. Sniffing birds is a passion of mine. I’ve found barred owls and screech owls do smell heavenly with their forest scented feathers, but you’ll be happy to know, although my birds live inside, caged feathers don’t lose the scent of sky. They smell like sweet hay and freshly fallen leaves any time of year. If you want to remember a picture-perfect summer day in the country, smell a feather!

    18 October 2007 at 10:49 pm

  27. I smell our guinea pigs (they smell of mild tobacco). My oldest son’s hair smelled of biscuits.

    Way to go, Tom.

    David

    18 October 2007 at 11:09 pm

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