Photo courtesy of www.palemale.com/
We all know that Pale Male is one smart cookie.
Beyond all the hawk hunting and living skills that he's adapted to urban life he also recognizes individual humans. He knows who he can trust not to interfere with him in any way and which humans are new in his fiefdom and must be studied first before nabbing prey a foot from their feet.
Pale knows how to build a nest on a human made structure as well as no doubt, many details of human domestic life from looking through windows for decades.
While we have studied him, he has scrutinized us.
And it has also been marveled at that Pale Male has lived so long in the dangerous metropolis of New York City, to say nothing of living in Central Park where any rat you eat may have been poisoned and could be your last meal.
He has lived on while seven mates have left him a seven time widower after all.
Is there something special about Pale Male? Any watcher of any length will tell you there is but exactly what it is has been under discussion many an hour on the Hawk Bench since the beginning of his time with us.
That he was smarter than your average hawk is almost always first on the list. Luck has also been mentioned but he is also very skilled in hawk activities, appears to be remarkably healthy, and when he does loose a mate, it seems hardly five minutes before another comes to take her place. Females find him a prime catch
Just what is it about Pale Male?
Well.....a new research study suggests urban birds my actually be more clever and have stronger immune systems than their rural counterparts.
Urban birds may be smarter than their country cousins, new study suggests...A new study suggests that modern cityscapes may be turning birds into better problem solvers. The McGill University research, published recently in Behavioral Ecology, found that city birds studied were different from their rural counterparts in several ways.
"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," first author Jean-Nicolas Audet, a PhD candidate at McGill, said in a statement.
Audet and his colleagues tested 53 bullfinches from different parts of Barbados - something he was inspired to do after being terrorized by bold city birds at a restaurant.
"Barbados bullfinch are always watching and trying to steal your sandwich," Audet told CBC News.
So what's the difference between a bold city bruiser and a demure country bird? According to cognitive tests, an awful lot: The city birds really were more bold by some measures (they were quicker to eat food presented to them in a familiar dish by a human who then hid, meaning they cared less about how likely a human was to interrupt their meal), and better at solving problems - getting to food that had been placed in jars or drawers, for example.
They weren't any better or worse at learning to distinguish between different colored dishes that gave them access to food, and they were actually more cautious about obtaining food with unfamiliar objects nearby than their rural cousins were (a trait referred to as neophobia).
But surprisingly, there was one other area where they came out ahead: They had stronger immune systems. Audet and his colleagues thought it might make sense for better cognitive abilities to be associated with weaker immune systems, because the birds don't have infinite resources to fuel their brains and bodies. But it seems that city birds really can have it all.
Researchers ask: 'Will the young adults be good parents?'Taken all together, these traits seem to serve a pretty obvious purpose. When humans are around, it means that birds have more reason to learn to access food in new and challenging places. A bird in the country is pretty much always going to find seeds in the same sorts of places, but a city bird can, for example, learn to snatch sandwiches off restaurant plates. That's where the boldness comes in, too. And perhaps a fear of novel objects is just part of the same routine: A city bird encounters new and strange dangers more often than one in a rural environment, so it needs to be smart about sussing out situations before blundering in.
Fifty-three birds from one country is a pretty small sample size, so we can't assume that these findings are true for birds all over the world - or even for birds all over Barbados. But the results suggest that humankind's influence might have a profound effect on the behavior (and health) of urban birds. It's especially interesting in Barbados, where birds likely aren't isolated enough from one another to become different species, or even to change much from generation to generation.
"Barbados is a very small island, and it would be surprising if urban and rural bullfinches were geographically isolated, even if the island has a high population density and the original vegetation of the island has been destroyed and replaced by sugar cane and other anthropogenic plants for over 350 years," the authors write in the study. "Enhanced boldness, problem solving, and immunocompetence in urbanized bullfinches might all be experience-driven responses to environmental variation in food, human disturbance, and pathogens."
In other words, these changes probably aren't due to long-term natural selection: They're made on the fly.
Story written by Rachel Feltman.