The effects of habituation on boldness of urban and rural song sparrows (Melospiza melodia)

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Taylor Elaine Fossett (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
Jeremy Hyman

Abstract: As urban development continues to dominate landscapes across the United States, wildlife species are changing their behavior in many ways. Urban animals are often bolder, or less fearful of new stimuli, than rural animals. While natural selection and adaptation can drive behavioral changes in urban animals, other factors, such as learning or habituation, can also lead to behavioral modifications. Habituation may play an important role, if urban individuals learn through repeated exposure that humans do not represent a threat. To determine how repeated human exposure affects song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) populations in an urban and rural habitat, I measured boldness as flight initiation distance (FID), after repeated exposure to a nonthreatening human subject. FID measures the distance between human and bird, at which the bird flies away in fear of disturbance or predation. I collected FID data on male song sparrows in an urban and rural environment over 5 consecutive days. I found that after 5 days of successive trials, FID was individually repeatable in both urban and rural populations. Urban birds had consistently lower FID than their rural counterparts. I also found that FID went down over 5 days of repeated trials in the rural populations, but not the urban. These results suggest that habituation can occur quickly in rural birds and account for the greater boldness we typically see in urban populations.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
Behavior, Boldness, FID, Rural, Song sparrow, Urbanization
Birds -- Flight
Song sparrow
Birds -- Behavior
Urban development

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