House sparrows learn from each other to live in the human world

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House sparrow

Did you know that songbirds need to warm up like an opera singer before the dawn chorus and birds sing jazz for pleasure? It’s true. Researchers have now discovered that highly sociable house sparrows learn from each other and they each have their own individual personalities. These are traits which may explain why they are the world’s most widely distributed bird species.

House sparrow

House sparrow. Illustration: RSPB.

The researchers discovered that they engage in social learning. They observed how each house sparrow interacted with human objects such as cocktail umbrellas and plastic eggs when they were placed near their food bowls in their cage.

The more timid house sparrows were reluctant to eat when these objects were near their feeding bowls but the more confident ones were unfazed. The researchers placed the more confident house sparrows with those that were more timid to see whether the timid ones would gain confidence through observation of their associates. They did become more comfortable and feed from their bowls because they observed their undaunted companions.

The study’s lead author, Christine Lattin said that the research was about how species were able to deal with human intervention in respect of things like food availability and whether they could take advantage of it or not.

House sparrows are found in North America, South America, Africa and Australia. I suspect that they do not need describing here because almost everybody has seen one and can probably recognise one. However, some points to note; it is extensively persecuted as an agricultural pest and they can be used as a food item for humans and even as pets. It is about 5.5 to 7.1 inches in length. The median mass of the house sparrow in Europe for both sexes is about 30 grams (1.1 ounces). The vocalisation is a contact call by resting or flocking birds or by males to invite pairing and to proclaim nest ownership. It can adapt to a wide range of conditions and to living with humans and has a robust immune response but can be seen as a pest and a threat to native birds.

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