"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Swedish study says birds have been stealing our food for centuries

Hooded crows pick through food left by humans at a park in Örebro, Sweden.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

From The New Scientist Website:

Next time a bird is trying to steal part of your al fresco meal, don’t scare it away – you may destroy an ancient relationship.

These birds may just be doing what their ancestors have been doing for millions of years, says Paul Haemig, an animal ecologist at the Governing Board of Jönköping province in Sweden.  He visited 80 cafes and restaurants in southern Sweden, recording thousands of visits from our feathered friends.

Outdoor dining is a must for the birds, he found, as is slow service, in particular tardy plate-clearing and relaxed staff. The shape of the food is important too, with Eurasian jackdaws partial to long French fries and herring gulls diving for hot dogs.

But Haemig saw only 13 species at restaurants – of more than 500 in Sweden. Some obvious candidates – such as the blue tits that feed at garden bird tables – never appeared. What’s more, these 13 gourmands belong to only five clades. The white wagtail and the house sparrow, for example, both cafe regulars, are closely related.

Haemig thinks that foraging where humans are present is a behaviour that evolved several times. And he believes that, in the principal clade to which these birds belong, the behaviour evolved earlier than humans did – because the species in this clade separated genetically before humans emerged.

Restaurants may even have a role in conservation, Haemig says. In rural restaurants, the three predominant species he saw were declining in numbers in the countryside: house sparrows, white wagtails and Eurasian tree sparrows. This suggests that rural restaurants could become part of the plan for conserving them.

Happy Birding!

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