Novelty Responses in a Bird Assemblage Inhabiting an Urban Area
Neophobia, or the hesitancy to approach a novel food item, object, or place, is an important factor influencing the foraging behavior of animals. Environmental factors (e.g. rapid anthropogenic changes, migration into new habitats) are associated with novelty in feeding ecology and may affect neophobic responses. Mechanisms that underlie the differential neophobic response may involve complex interactions with the environment: post-fledging experience in a greater diversity of habitats or in habitats that are more complex may contribute to reduced neophobia. In a previous study, it was observed that some urbanized species, in particular house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and shiny cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis) show high levels of neophobia. This study was carried out in a suburban marsh of Cortaderia selloana, a relatively simple and predictable ecosystem as compared to urban areas. For this reason, in the present study, we explored novelty responses of bird species inhabiting an urban area, representing a complex environment. The results were compared to those obtained previously in the suburban marsh. We found unexpectedly high levels of neophobia in house sparrows, but shiny cowbirds showed a somewhat neophilic response. In the presence of novel objects, house sparrows tended to enter the feeders alone, while shiny cowbirds tended to forage in groups. We found no differences in latencies to forage or in visit duration between habitat types, but the proportion of individuals that visited the feeders when novel objects were present was lower in the urban area for house sparrows and eared doves (Zenaida auriculata). The results are discussed in the context of invasion success and feeding innovation in shiny cowbirds.
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