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City birds are tougher than their rural relatives

Researchers have been looking at the behaviour of great tits to assess how they are adapting to life in urban areas. Scientists at the Aberystwyth University's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) believe that birds do adjust their behaviour depending on their habitat and the amount of human interference they are exposed to.

Great tits in the midlands

The study looked at great tits in Leicester and Derby together with birds in surrounding rural locations. The scientists simulated territorial intruders in each area by playing recordings of great tit song from a loudspeaker in the centre of the territory. They then monitored the resident birds' responses to the recordings. These are indicators of the birds’ levels of aggression in defending their patch against the perceived intruders.

The breeding great tit season

During the breeding season, male great tits establish territories and they defend these aggressively against intruding males of the same species. The researchers measured a number of the birds’ responses, including territorial singing and how quickly and closely the they approached the perceived intruder. They discovered that urban birds flew towards the speaker 35.34 seconds faster than rural birds and approached 1.63 metres closer. This suggests that the urban birds are much bolder and more aggressive than their rural cousins.

Birds Adapt to their environment

The researchers have pointed out that the birds’ behaviour is not an example of evolution but of adaption. Urban birds are subjected to greater perceived threats due to human activity and so have adapted to their circumstances. The birds have become significantly more defensive of their territory. This is yet another example of how human activity impacts birds. In this case, you could say that the birds are fighting back by becoming tougher.

Commuting birds

Being constantly stressed by humans, the great tits come out fighting whereas the rural birds remain more laid back. Interestingly, birds have become like commuters – they move to cities in the winter because temperatures in built-up areas are generally 5°C warmer than in the countryside. Birds have also developed their own music to deal with traffic noise in urban areas. Their songs become higher-pitched and faster than their normal song to ensure that they can make themselves heard above the vehicles on the road.

Birds are being forced to live in and to adapt to our towns and cities. They are proving that they can do that. But birds still need help, especially in winter when food sources can be scarce. You can do your bit to help the birds by featuring feeders and fresh water in your garden.


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