The City Blackbird and the Country Blackbird

People have known of the differences between city folk and country folk since the time of Aesop, as evidenced by his fable 'The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.' As it turns out, Aesop would have been closer to the mark had he written about the city blackbird and the country blackbird.

A new study that compared the behaviors or “personalities” of blackbirds from a city and those from a forest found that the birds behaved differently when presented with new objects (such as plastic cups). Country birds were quicker to approach new objects; city birds not only took longer on average to approach new objects, but some refused to do so altogether.

A blackbird warily eyes a "novel object." Photo credit: MPI f. Ornithology/Catarina Miranda

Catarina Miranda, the lead author on the study and a PhD student at the International Max Planck Research School for Organismal Biology, studies how animals cope with urbanization. “What we call personality in humans actually also exists in a similar way in animals,” she says in a video about the research.

Since the birds were hand-reared from a young age, these changes may in fact be genetic, and not learned from their environments. If so, it means that blackbirds in the cities are evolving to be more cautious. This may be because in cities, “contact with novel and potentially dangerous situations is higher” than in forests, according to the study.


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