City birds tougher than their country counterparts

November 27, 2013
City birds tougher than their country counterparts
Blue tit.

Urban breeding birds appeared to cope better with the UK's cold, wet spring of 2012 than those living in woodland.

A new study, published in PLOS One, compared and breeding in a woodland area with those nesting in Cambridge.

It's part of a long-term project which, over the last ten years, has documented the poor performance of the urban birds.

But in the harsh spring of 2012, the city birds coped relatively well, outperforming their country counterparts for the first time.

The are more specialised on caterpillar prey. When the cold weather hit, caterpillars grew more slowly, leaving them with less to eat.

Dr Nancy Harrison, of Angila Ruskin University, led the study.

'If you look at the landscape, far more birds are in urban areas than in the woodland environments where they evolved,' she says.

'But urban birds have to do a great breadth of things to survive, whereas woodland birds tend to be quite specialised.'

"So when you get an extreme event, like the spring of 2012, that variety gives the urban birds a greater number of options to fall back on."

Harrison says the study may give clues as to how animal populations will respond to extreme weather in the future.

City birds tougher than their country counterparts
Two-week-old blue tit (left) and great tit (right)

"These birds are short-lived animals, they live for just a few years and they reproduce quickly, so they can afford to take a one-off hit like this," she says.

"What's interesting is that this could apply to other species, and if climate change is going to bring greater extremes, it may be that the more generalist urban animals are able to cope better."

The research was carried out in collaboration with NERC's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The next step is to build a more detailed picture of what the birds are eating in each habitat.

By measuring the balance of particular chemicals in feather clippings, the team are able to tell how far up the food chain the birds are feeding.

Preliminary results suggest that breeding in urban gardens are feeding higher up the than those in woodlands, supplementing their diets with spiders and other invertebrates. This may help to explain why they are less vulnerable to weather extremes.

Explore further: Birds sing louder amidst the noise and structures of the urban jungle

More information: Whitehouse MJ, Harrison NM, Mackenzie J, Hinsley SA, 'Preferred Habitat of Breeding Birds May Be Compromised by Climate Change: Unexpected Effects of an Exceptionally Cold, Wet Spring,' 2013, PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075536

Related Stories

City birds adapt to their new predators

November 7, 2012

Faced with the same threat, city and country birds do not react in the same way despite being from the same species. According to a new study, urban birds have changed their anti-predator behaviour in new environments.

Birds outpace climate change to avoid extinction

July 9, 2013

A new study has shed light on the potential of birds to survive in the face of climate change. In the analysis, based on more than fifty years' detailed study of a population of great tits near Oxford, UK, a team of scientists ...

Urban bushland vital to Perth's birds

November 20, 2013

In a unique study of Perth and its surrounds, researchers have found the fragmentation of natural bushland is linked to an alarming decline in the numbers of native land birds.

Recommended for you

Researchers identify calorie-burning pathway in fat cells

June 30, 2016

Investigators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in collaboration with scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified a natural molecular pathway that enables cells to burn off calories as heat rather ...

Similarities found in bee and mammal social organization

June 30, 2016

New research shows similarities in the social organisation of bees and mammals, and provides insight into the genetics of social behavior for other animals. These findings, published in PLOS Computational Biology, use sociogenomics ...

Scientists discover maleness gene in malaria mosquitoes

June 30, 2016

Scientists, led by Dr Jaroslaw Krzywinski, Head of the Vector Molecular Biology group at The Pirbright Institute have isolated a gene, which determines maleness in the species of mosquito that is responsible for transmitting ...

Honeybees threatened by virulent virus

June 30, 2016

Researchers have found that honeybees in Europe are at significantly higher risk from an emerging viral variant, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

QuixoteJ
3 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2013
Attn: Writer of this article. You may want to talk to your doctor about CRHD, or Carriage Return Hyperactivity Disorder. There is treatment available called Basic Grammar.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.