If a city crow and a country crow were presented with almost any object they'd never seen before, both of them would be scared of it. The exception? Trash. The city crow would have learned what trash is, perhaps even that it can sometimes harbor tasty snacks. A recent study in Animal Behavior gives the details.
Researchers at Exeter University offered food to a variety of urban and rural birds, sometimes placing it near unfamiliar objects to see how they would respond. All the birds were more afraid to approach the food when an unfamiliar object was nearby than when the food was alone. However, all the birds were less afraid if the object was familiar to them. That's the first finding of this study: birds seem to remember things they've seen.
The second finding of this study: Of all the birds tested, corvids (crows, ravens, and magpies) were the most cautious—that is, unless they came from an urban environment. In other words, corvids who had lived with trash weren't too scared of it. Apparently, they had learned about it.
Why does this study matter? Because we humans are increasingly altering the earth. It is likely that the birds and animals that can adapt will stand the best chance of surviving as their environment continues to change. Study co-author Dr Alex Thornton puts it this way: “Animals’ responses to novelty can dictate whether they perish or thrive."
We here at Talkin' Birds frankly would prefer not to lose any species. So, while we truly appreciate animal learning, we sincerely hope that humans learn better means of coexisting with wildlife.