Context-dependent variation in innovation as a function of urbanization in a songbird

Melinda Weaver, Kevin J. McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent human-induced transformations to the environment are significantly impacting wild animal populations. Whereas some animals thrive due to these changes, others are being extinguished. Many studies have attempted to identify behavioural traits (e.g. personality, diet versatility, cognition) that allow some animals to succeed in human-dominated landscapes, but few have studied multiple traits or environmental contexts concurrently, despite the fact that different environments may require different types of behavioural performance. We presented house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) captured from urban, suburban, and rural sites with two different environmental problems to solve (escaping from a confinement and finding food in multiple feeding structures) and measured the success and speed of solving the challenge as well as activity levels and stress behaviours of the birds. We found that urban birds were better at solving the escape challenge, but there was no difference in finding a hidden food source. In addition, we found that birds who solved the escape challenge were more active than those who did not solve this problem, although we observed no such behavioural difference in the food challenge. These results indicate that, because problem-solving challenges can vary across environments, certain types of innovation may be prioritized over others in urban-dwelling species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjuac029
JournalJournal of Urban Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • behaviour
  • birds
  • boldness
  • exploration
  • innovation
  • urban ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies


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