Study: City birds are smarter than relatives from the country

In addition to being more innovative, urban birds are also bolder.

Brooks Hays
An urban-dwelling bullfinch in Barbados pulls off a lid to get at a cup of food. Photo by McGill University
An urban-dwelling bullfinch in Barbados pulls off a lid to get at a cup of food. Photo by McGill University

MONTREAL, March 22 (UPI) -- As if city birds weren't already arrogant enough, now there's evidence urban-dwelling birds are more intelligent than their relatives from the country. They're sure to be crowing about this for weeks.

According to biologists, living in a city requires special intelligence. To survive, birds use their extra knowledge to take advantage of unique resources and environs.


Recently, a team of researchers from McGill University measured that extra knowledge. The scientists tested the cognitive abilities of birds from both the city and the countryside in Barbados and found urban birds demonstrated superior problem solving abilities -- opening drawers and pulling off lids to get at food.

In addition to being more innovative, city birds outperformed their rural peers on several associative learning tasks. They were also more bold in their temperament.

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"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," researcher Jean-Nicolas Audet, a PhD student in biology at McGill, explained in a news release.

"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," Audet said. "It seems that in this case, the urban birds have it all."


Audet is the first author of a new paper on the research, published this week in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

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Researchers chose the island of Barbados because urban development there is relatively recent, with much of island still unspoiled. The experiment required a stark contrast between city and countryside.

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