Science News

New Study Says ‘The Urban Birds Have It All’


In a study published in the Oxford Journal Behavioral Ecology, researchers from the Department of Biology at McGill University found that birds in urban areas were better at solving problems than birds found in rural settings. The researchers focused on the Barbados bullfinch (Loxigilla barbadensis), a bird native to the Caribbean island nation of Barbados.

The Barbados bullfinch has a wide distribution on the island and can be found in both urban and rural areas. Researchers focused on behavioral tests and immunocompetence. The behavior tests included problem solving, boldness testing and neophobia tests.

During boldness tests, a birds tolerance of human presence is observed. In neophobia tests, researchers observe a bird’s reaction to something new in its environment. The immunocompetence testing sought to measure a bird’s immunity. This was done by inducing swelling on one of the bird’s wings and measuring the thickness of the test wing before and after.

The researchers found that urban birds despite being bolder than their rural counterparts, were more neophobic and less comfortable with new items placed in their environment. While the urban birds were better problem solvers, both scored similarly in learning tests. The urban birds also had a stronger immune response during the immunocompetence tests.

The scientists had hypothesized that the urban birds would be better problem solvers than their rural counterparts, but as a trade-off would have less of an immune response. Surprisingly, the urban birds won big in both categories. You can watch a video of a Barbados bullfinch performing one of its behavioral tests here.

The urban birds have it all.

Fifty-three birds were collected, three died during the study (cause unknown) and the rest were released at the locations in which they were collected. According to CBC News Montreal, the lead scientist of the study, Jean-Nicolas Audet, came up with the idea to study urban and rural birds after observing their foraging behavior at an urban restaurant in Barbados. Barbados bullfinches forage in cities much like their American cousin, the house sparrow. Audet stated, that when it comes to intelligence and immune systems, “The urban birds have it all.”

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