Urban Song Sparrows Are More Aggressive Than Rural Birds

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City-dwelling song sparrows and their rural counterparts aren’t exactly birds of a feather, according to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Researchers at Virginia Tech played recordings of unfamiliar sparrows to two groups of birds: one comprised of sparrows hailing from the city, and the other made up of country denizens. The city sparrows behaved much more aggressively towards the phantom birds than the rural sparrows did, parking themselves next to the speakers, or else zooming right toward them (the avian equivalent of “Hey! I’m flyin’ here!").

“It fits right in with what we see in humans these days,” says the study’s co-author Ignacio T. Moore. But unlike humans living in the concrete jungle, whose tempers flare over space constraints, job stress, or their rent, for the birds, it’s all about food. When researchers increased the amount of birdseed given to the rural birds, they too behaved relatively aggressively toward the speakers playing birdsong.

Moore and his team theorize that, with plenty of food lying around, the birds are able to focus their attention elsewhere—namely, on defending a specific territory. Of course, adding food to an area also makes it more appealing to competitors. Says Moore, “Maybe, if you have a better territory, you have to up your game to defend it.”

[h/t: The Audubon Society]