Jul 29 2016
Twenty-five years ago peregrine falcons moved into the City of Pittsburgh. Since then lots of cool raptors have come here, too, including red-tailed hawks, Coopers hawks, turkey vultures and, most recently, bald eagles.
City living provides food and protection from predators but birds face new challenges by living near humans. Jean-Nicolas Audet of McGill University wondered if these challenges put city birds at a disadvantage compared to their country cousins so he designed some tests to answer these questions: Which group is better at problem solving? Which group is more immune to disease? And since both traits require lots of energy, is there a trade-off such that smarter birds have lower immunity?
The Caribbean island of Barbados has both city and country habitats and an endemic species that lives in both places, the Barbados bullfinch (Loxigilla barbadensis). Audet tested the bullfinches and the results were surprising.
“We found that not only were birds from urbanized areas better at innovative problem-solving tasks than bullfinches from rural environments, but that surprisingly urban birds also had a better immunity than rural birds,” says Jean-Nicolas Audet, a Ph.D student in the Department of Biology and first author of the study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology in 2016.
As earth’s human population grows and more habitat is converted to cities, more birds may have to choose the urban environment. If they can adapt, it will be a smart move. As Audet says, “Urban birds have it all.”
(photo of Dorothy in 2011 by Patricia Szczepanski. video from McGill University on YouTube)