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City Birds Are More Intelligent Than Rural Birds

City birds are more intelligent than rural birds, says a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, focusing on bullfinches from Barbados.

A bullfinch in Barbados, the bird species involved in the study. Photo credits: Louis Lefebvre.

A bullfinch in Barbados, the bird species involved in the study. Photo credits: Louis Lefebvre.

Living in the city changes you. The same principle applies to birds. Researchers from McGill University show in a new study how city birds grow to become smarter than their counterparts living in the countryside.

Led by Jean-Nicolas Audet, the team determined to understand how shifting to habitats in the city changes the cognition, behaviour, and physiology of birds. The differences between the two groups of birds were identified through associative learning and innovative tests (the birds were tested for tasks like opening drawers to obtain food, as shown in the video below).

The results show significant differences in the way the birds would solve problems, and in their temperament (bolder): the urban birds were better at innovative problem-solving tasks than the rural ones. Furthermore, their physiology was also different: they displayed a more robust immune system than countryside birds, explains Audet.

City birds would adapt to their urban ecosystems such that they were able to make use of new resources to a greater extent than countryside birds. Given this advantage, the researchers had hypothesised that the urban birds would have to pay a price: they thought the birds would have lower immunity to compensate for their higher adaptability. However, the findings show that you can ‘have it all’.

The birds involved in the study were bullfinches from Barbados. The latter is an island that includes very urbanised areas as well as untouched regions, thereby constituting an ideal environment to observe how urbanisation affects the birds.


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