Barbados Bullfinch

A new study has found that birds living in urban environments areas are smarter than those that inhabit rural environments.

And the reason city birds have the edge over their country cousins is because they have adapted to their urban environments enabling them to exploit new resources more favourably than their rural counterparts.

A team of researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada found clear cognitive differences in birds from urbanized areas compared to rural areas. They report key differences in problem-solving abilities such as opening drawers to access food and found birds from city have a bolder temperament.

The team tested two groups of birds using not only associative learning tasks, but also innovative problem-solving tasks. Innovativeness is conserved to be more useful in the ‘real lives’ of animals in the wild than associative learning. The results were published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Jean-Nicolas Audet, a PhD student in the Department of Biology and first author of the study, said, "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,"

"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 carried out at the McGill Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados using bullfinches captured from various parts of the Caribbean island.

Barbados bullfinches are seed-eating birds and are the only species of bird that is endemic to Barbados. They are known locally as a sparrows.

"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," adds Audet.

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