What messages are bird bacteria sending?

To communicate with each other, birds use songs, calls and plumage. But they also use scent, thanks to oil glands above the tail — and maybe also, according to recent research, thanks to bacteria. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers found that microbes living on the scent glands of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) may influence the scent molecules. “That implies that the birds’ microbiomes may influence both the smell and the behavior it provokes in other birds,” writes the New York Times.

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Header Image: Recent research suggests that bacteria plays a role in forming the scents that dark-eyed juncos use to communicate. ©Peter Pearsall/USFWS