Can Ducks Smell? Do They Smell Humans?

Duck sense of smell

Although it’s been said that ducks don’t have a strong sense of smell, research points to their scent sensitivity in certain situations, such as when finding a mate.  

When hunting, you need to know as much as you can about your prey. For example, it’s essential to know how developed their olfactory centers are and if they are able to detect humans in their environment. This will ensure greater hunting success.

With this in mind, here’s everything you need to know about ducks and their sense of smell. We’ll look at how powerful ducks’ olfactory systems are and if ducks can pick up on the human scent. 


The Science Behind How Ducks Smell 

Duck nose on the beak

Ducks have two nostrils located on the top of their beaks. They are able to use their sense of smell to differentiate between food and between their mates.

A duck’s nostrils are also used to help them breathe when they’re searching for food in water, so they don’t have to hold their breath during this process. 

Similar to other birds, the ducks’ sense of smell is not as developed as their sight. For example, ducks have the monocular tetrachromatic vision, so they have a 360-degree field of vision, as well as color vision that is much more powerful than humans.

However, there is also some research that points to ducks also having a sensitive sense of smell. A study found that Peking ducks’ main olfactory systems were similar to pigeons’. Their olfactory centers were also linked to their telencephalic and diencephalic limbic structures, making their sense of smell more powerful.

In another study, researchers treated duck eggs with odors such as commercial duck scent and pond water. These clutches survived and the amount of duck scent that was applied to the clutch didn’t affect its survival. On the other hand, when faeces from a different species of duck was mixed with pond water and down feathers before treating the clutch, its survival declined.

This showed that ducks can detect smells and that they can be negatively affected by them.   

How Good Is A Duck’s Sense Of Smell? 

How good is duck sense of smell

Birds’ olfactory ability is determined by the OBBR, which is the ratio of the size of the olfactory bulb (OB) to the cerebral hemisphere.

The OB-brain ratio (OBBR) of brown kiwis is 34.0, which is considered the highest developed olfactory sense. Some birds, such as ducks, have a sense of smell with an OBBR of around 25 to 30. 

There have been interesting studies conducted on ducks’ sense of smell and they provide evidence of their scent sensitivity. In one study, two groups of male ducks were exposed to two females that had been impregnated with different smells, to see how they would respond.

One group of ducks was given the artificial smell of amyl acetate (AA) and the other was given ethyl acrylate (EA). The male ducks preferred to direct their sexual interest toward the females in the AA odor group. It’s thought that the bitter smell of EA was not as appealing to the male ducks as the pleasant AA odor. 

Can Ducks Smell Humans? 

Can ducks smell humans

Although research has shown that ducks can detect smells, it’s still unclear if ducks can pick up on a human scent.

In a video, duck hunter Field Hudnall claims that ducks have a good sense of smell, based on his own experience of watching ducks eat corn.

He states that when there was a crosswind in his hunting location, the ducks would still eat through the corn rows without detecting him. The ducks in front of him would actually see him. However, when the ducks were downwind, they would not be able to see him but would pick up on his presence and move away. He thinks that they smelled him.

Although some duck hunters might theorize that ducks can smell humans, the research says otherwise. This is because birds have small, simple olfactory nerves that reduce their sense of smell. While a few types of birds have exceptional olfaction, such as starlings and turkey vultures, no bird has a sense of smell that can pick up on the human scent. 

How To Conceal Your Smell When Duck Hunting

Even though ducks don’t have a powerful sense of smell, you should still always mask your smell during a hunt. This is important regardless of what you’re hunting because you don’t want to disrupt the natural environment in any way, such as by being detected by any animals.

Since there are conflicting ideas about how sensitive ducks are to odors, it’s better to be safe than sorry and try to mask your human scent as much as possible. This is also a good habit to get into if you’re hunting other types of animals. 

Tips For Concealing Your Human Scent

There are various ways for hunters to mask their scent. Here are some to consider:

Smell like your natural environment 

Concealing Human Scent

You should rub pine needles, leaves, and dirt on your clothing and any skin that’s showing to help you hide your scent from the ducks. These items will mask your odor and make you less detectable.

The bonus of masking your skin by applying dirt to it is that you will also ensure you aren’t visible to the ducks. 

Try to remain downwind 

Check the direction of the wind when you start hunting. By staying downwind as much as possible, this will reduce the risk of your scent being picked up. 

Prevent sweat 

Since sweat has a strong odor, you need to try to reduce it as much as possible. Wear layers of clothing that will make the smell of your sweat less detectable. You can also use a soap that contains enzymes. This kills bacteria, which is what causes unpleasant sweat odors. 

Don’t use fragranced detergents 

Avoid fragranced detergents

When cleaning your hunting clothing, you should always make sure to use a scent-free detergent. This will keep you clean without alerting animals in the wild to your presence. 

Avoid smells that repel ducks

Be careful about what ingredients you use so you don’t use something that will actually repel waterfowl. 

It’s said that strong scents, such as peppermint and cayenne pepper, can deter ducks and other birds, so try to ensure that your scent is as neutral as possible. 

Avoid other human-related smells

It’s not just unnatural smells on your body that are detectable by animals and can blow your cover, but also other smells in your hunting sites, such as coffee, aftershave, gasoline, and detergent. Try to keep these away from your hunting area. 

Related Questions 

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding duc ks and their sense of smell.

What is a duck’s nose?

Duck’s nose is its beak

A duck’s nose is its bill or beak. This contains bones and hard keratin, which ensures that it remains strong and shiny.

Do ducks have a sense of taste?

Ducks have over 400 taste buds that enable them to taste their food. These taste buds are located on the roof and sides of their beaks. 

What type of bird has the most developed sense of smell? 

Turkey vultures are birds that have evolved to have a highly sensitive sense of smell. They have olfactory bulbs that are four times bigger than those that you’ll find in black vultures and these bulbs also have a larger relative brain volume compared to other bird species.


If you’ve ever wondered if ducks can detect you from your scent, you now know more about their sense of smell.

While research has shown evidence that ducks can pick up on scent or be repelled by certain smells, they (along with other types of birds) don’t seem to have a strong enough olfactory system to be able to pick up on the human scent.


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