From the Super Mario Wiki, the Mario encyclopedia
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To sniff, the player must press and hold the button to make the Yoshi start sniffing the ground for something valuable. The Yoshi can move while sniffing, but he does so more slowly than normal. When the Yoshi gets closer to something special, he starts to sniff faster; getting close to a secret causes a "!" icon to pop up above the Yoshi's head, indicating that the secret is nearby. Once the Yoshi is on the secret spot, he gets excited and begins yelping and waving his arms; the player can then ground-pound the spot to retrieve the secret.
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