city bird flying

City birds are smarter than their country cousins

Birds living in urban environments are smarter than those from rural environments. An ability to exploit new resources to adapt to their environment is what gives them the edge, scientists say.

A first-ever study of the cognitive differences in birds from urbanized compared to rural areas, highlights better problem-solving abilities such as opening drawers to access food and bolder temperaments.

Loxigilla barbadensis
(Credit: Tom Houslay/Flickr)

For the study, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, scientists tested the two groups using not only associative learning tasks, but innovative problem-solving tasks. Innovativeness is considered to be useful in the “real life” of animals in the wild, more so than associative learning.

“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 first author Jean-Nicolas Audet, a PhD student in the biology department at McGill University.

“Since urban birds were better at problem-solving, we expected that there would be a trade-off and that the immunity would be lower, just because we assumed that you can’t be good at everything’ (in fact, both traits are costly). It seems that in this case, the urban birds have it all.”

The work was conducted at the McGill Bellairs facility in Barbados using bullfinches captured from various parts of the Caribbean island. 

“The island of Barbados shows a strong range of human settlement, there are some very developed areas but also mostly left untouched, thus providing an excellent environment to study the effects of urbanization,” Audet says.

Source: McGill University