McGill University (Montreal) doctoral candidate in biology Jean-Nicolas Audet teamed up with researchers Simon Ducatez and Louis Lefebvre to analyze over 50 Barbados bullfinches that were captured from the island. Some were captured in the wild, and classified as “country birds”, while others were captured in urban settings and classified as “city bids.” Based on Audet’s findings, the city birds weren’t just smarter, but also braver and healthier than those classified as country birds.
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Audet said he chose the Barbados bullfinch as a test subject after a group of the birds tried to steal his food while he was at a Barbados restaurant terrace.
“Barbados bullfinch are always watching and trying to steal your sandwich,” he told CBC. “I was really interested in studying how they develop this way in cities.” Audet’s study was published this week in the journal Behavioral Ecology.
Inspired by the incident with the birds, Audet and his fellow researchers spent several months at McGill’s Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados, trying to observe the bullfinches’ ability to solve problems and gauging their temperament. Based on these observations, the city birds were better when it came to critical thinking, thus making them better problem-solvers; they would, for example, find food by opening drawers.
While it would have been logical to expect the rural birds to be sturdier and healthier than their city equivalents, much like is often the case with humans, that wasn’t how things turned out when Audet’s team studied the birds. Instead of having weaker immune systems as thought, the city birds proved to be healthier, with stronger immune systems than the country birds.
Summing it all up, Audet concluded that city birds have everything to gain by living in urban parts of Barbados.
“The urban birds have it all,” he quipped.