Louis Lefebvre

The urban environment makes them better problem-solvers, researchers say.

Many city dwellers have witnessed instances of seeming avian genius, from crows using traffic to crack nuts to a seagull opening bags of Doritos it had stolen from a convenience store. Now there’s evidence the urban environment itself might be making birds smarter, according to a study in Behavioral Ecology.

Researchers at Montreal’s McGill University wanted to see if there were intelligence differences between rural and urban bullfinches in the Barbados. So they assigned birds from both environments tasks measuring associative learning and problem solving. Birds from cities were good at performing tricky maneuvers like pulling and opening food jars. Country birds performed notably worse at these tasks.

The researchers say the urban birds displayed “bolder” temperaments and even had hardier constitutions than their rural counterparts. Why’s that surprising? Here’s more from McGill:

But, why do city birds have the edge over their country friends? They adapted to their urban environments enabling them to exploit new resources more favorably then their rural counterparts...

“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.

“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.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo collage of 2020 presidential candidates.
    Equity

    Will Housing Swing the 2020 Election?

    Among Democratic candidates for president, the politics of America’s housing affordability crisis are getting complicated. Just wait until Trump barges in.

  2. A photo of an abandoned building in Newark, New Jersey.
    Equity

    The 10 Cities Getting a Philanthropic Boost for Economic Mobility

    An initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ballmer Group focuses on building “pipelines of opportunity.”

  3. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  4. Design

    How 'Maintainers,' Not 'Innovators,' Make the World Turn

    We need more stories about the labor that sustains society, a group of scholars say.

  5. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.
    Life

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks at Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

×