Can pigeons smell? | If So, what smell do pigeons hate?

Pigeons are one of the oldest domesticated birds. They were mainly used to carry messages from one place to another. Homing pigeons were trained to relay messages between 2 different places. But how do pigeons remember the way? Do they use magnetic fields? Can pigeons smell?

Earlier, it was believed that pigeons could read the earth’s magnetic field and use the slight variations in it during navigation. But research on homing pigeons debunked this myth and found out that pigeons use their sense of smell for navigation. 

Do pigeons have noses? Where is a pigeon’s nose? 

Yes, Like all birds, pigeons have noses. Pigeons have a whitish structure called a ‘cere; on top of their beaks. This structure contains and protects the nostrils.  

Pigeons have two nostrils and these are partially covered by a fleshy structure called the operculum.

Can Pigeons Smell? 

Researchers have concluded that pigeons could navigate easily over hundreds of miles due to their remarkable sense of smell. They create a map based on the odors of the neighborhood to orient themselves during their travel. 

Research has found that impairing a pigeon’s sense of smell can seriously impair its sense of direction. It can disorient them to the extent that they are not able to return home.

Pigeons create a sort of map based on the scents around them to find the way to and back from places.

Pigeons have a good sense of smell. They have a preference for some smells, while they absolutely hate certain others. If pigeons are destroying your property, you can use this fact to your advantage. You can place the objects with smells that pigeons hate in order to shoo them away. 

Can pigeons smell food?

Yes, pigeons can smell food but they don’t usually use their olfactory sense to find food. Food is instead found by using their sharp sight and memories.

What Smells do Pigeons Hate? 

Pigeons hate certain smells. Some of them are

  1. Mothballs – Mothballs top the list of smells hated by pigeons. Placing a few mothballs in your balconies, facade or terrace will make the pigeons avoid these places. The strong chemical odor of mothballs is disliked by pigeons and other birds.  
  1. Oils – A combination of essential oils such as citronella and peppermint oil irritates the pigeons and other birds.  The smell of WD-40 oil is also offensive to the birds. The smell of essential oils irritates the eyes, nostrils, and throat of birds and damages their central nervous system. 
  1. Strong Spices – Spices such as cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic, black peppers, cinnamon, onion, cumin, etc. are not preferred by these birds as it is offensive to their olfactory senses. 
  1. Vinegar – Birds, in general, do not like the sour smell of vinegar. 
  1. Perfumes – Pigeons do not like the strong smell of perfumes, hair-sprays, scented candles, air fresheners, and other aerosols.
  1. Cigarettes and Cigars – The smell of cigarettes and cigars is disliked by birds. The chemicals from cigarette smoke spoil the bird’s health and may cause cancer. 
  1. Petroleum Products – The smells emitted from petroleum products are very bad for pigeons. 
  1. Paints – Smells emitted by paints, glue, and other chemicals used in home interiors can damage the respiratory tract of pigeons and cause death. If you have pet pigeons or other birds, it is advisable to take them away while you get your home painted or redecorated. 
  1. Ammonia – The smell of Ammonia is as irritating to the birds as it is to the humans.

Related Read: Do pigeons attack other birds?

Tips to Deter Pigeons Using the Smells They Hate

If you want to get rid of pigeons from your property, you can effectively use some of the items listed above. Here are some tips to prepare homemade pigeon deterrents. 

  • Make pomanders using some of the spices such as cayenne pepper, black pepper, cumin, etc. Hang them on your terrace, balcony, or other places frequented by the birds. 
  • Make a spray by mixing chili powder, vinegar, and water. Place cotton balls in this spray and place them in different places. You can also directly spray it in places where you find the birds. 


Pigeons have an exceptionally sharp sense of smell but they don’t use this sense to find food. Instead, the strong olfactory sense is more often used to find their way around.

Researchers have found that these birds can create a sort of olfactory map in their brains by using the scents they find in each particular place.

This is probably how homing pigeons are able to find their way across such long distances without getting lost.

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