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New study reveals concerning behavioral changes of birds in cities: 'This poses a threat'

A decline in any wildlife population could create problems up and down the food chain.

A decline in any wildlife population could create problems up and down the food chain.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study showed that the combined effects of human-caused global heating and noise pollution significantly exacerbated behavioral changes in an urban-dwelling bird population.

What happened?

Published in Animal Behaviour, the paper noted the problems associated with anthropogenic stressors — those based on human activity — were grave enough on their own. It found that combining them "led to a greater change in behaviour, revealing that the simultaneous occurrence of two anthropogenic stressors had a more marked effect on behaviour compared to either stressor alone." 

A team led by Grace Blackburn of the University of Western Australia played background noise and plane noise under natural heat stress and non-heat stress conditions to wild Western Australian magpies, per a news release.

Blackburn said that both heat and noise affect wildlife all over the world but are "often investigated in isolation, overlooking their combined effects on species, especially in urban areas."

In the study, each stressor decreased the time the magpies spent searching for food and increased the time they watched for danger. But when heat stress and plane noise were combined, the magpies "exhibited significantly more vigilance and spent less time foraging for food compared when either stressor occurred alone," Blackburn said. 

Why is this concerning?

"This poses a threat to magpie populations, potentially leading to a decline in their physical health and affecting how well they take care of their babies and their reproductive success," Blackburn said.

Blackburn pointed out that though magpies in larger groups trade in some of their vigilance for more foraging time, that wasn't as true under the study conditions, meaning anthropogenic stressors could eliminate the benefits of group living.

Just one wonder of the natural world, the striking and smart birds are crafty thieves that track the behaviors of other birds as they scope out targets and protect their own caches. They're also known to have funerals.

A decline in any wildlife population could create problems up and down the food chain, and birds are at risk from Australia to North America. Human-induced rising temperatures and the proliferation of noise pollution are only part of the problem.

What can be done?

Scientists around the world are working hard to speed our transition from the sources of dirty energy that have caused the rapid warming of the planet, investigating technologies such as clean batteries and nuclear fusion and expanding others, including high-speed rail.

One company has even developed a way to mitigate the threat posed by wind turbines, directly helping avians.

You can help birds by keeping cats inside, treating your windows, cutting out pesticides and other chemical lawn and garden products, and providing a welcoming habitat in the form of native plants

Reducing plane travel, supporting eco-conscious and plastic-free brands, and voting for political candidates who say they will focus on green initiatives can also make a difference.

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