Olfaction may play an important role in regulating bird behavior, and has been suggested to be involved in feather-pecking. We investigated possible differences in the body odors of red junglefowl females by using an automated olfactometer which assessed the ability of trained mice to discriminate between the odors of uropygial gland secretions (the main carrier of potential individual odors in chickens) of six feather-pecked and six non-pecked birds. All mice were clearly able to discriminate between all individual red junglefowl odors, showing that each bird has an individual body odor. We analyzed whether it was more difficult to discriminate between the odors of two feather-pecked, or two non-pecked birds, than it was to discriminate between the odors of two randomly selected birds. This was not the case, suggesting that feather-pecked birds did not share a common odor signature. Analyses using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry showed that the composition of aliphatic carboxylic acids in uropygial gland secretions differed consistently between individuals. However, chemical composition did not vary according to feather-pecking status. We conclude that red junglefowl have individual body odors which appear to be largely based on differences in the relative abundance of aliphatic carboxylic acids, but there is no evidence of systematic differences between the body odors of pecked and non-pecked birds.
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