Science

Robins can get more physically aggressive around traffic, study finds

Considered an emblem of the holiday season, they are known for their cheerful, inquisitive nature around people.

But robins aren’t immune to losing their temperature and can become aggressive if there’s noise, a new study shows.

In experiments, researchers from the UK and Turkey played traffic noise to both rural and urban robins using loudspeakers attached to trees.

They found that the sound of traffic made rural robins—but not urban robins—more “physically aggressive,” probably because the noise disturbed their birdsong.

Robins Have A Reputation For Being Tame And Even Friendly Around People, Especially When Compared To Other Birds.  However, With Other Robins They Are Very Territorial And Will Chase Other Intruding Birds From Their Perches.  Scientists Have Found That Human-Induced Noise Pollution Causes Robins Living In Rural Areas To Become More Physically Aggressive (File Photo)

Robins have a reputation for being tame and even friendly around people, especially when compared to other birds. However, with other robins they are very territorial and will chase other intruding birds from their perches. Scientists have found that human-induced noise pollution causes robins living in rural areas to become more physically aggressive (file photo)

According to the experts, robin aggression can take the form of strange physical movements, including head swinging and neck stretching.

Signs of robin aggression

– Wing flutters

– Sting in the tail

– To wave

– Extension of the neck

– ‘Ball of red feathers’

– Get closer to the intruder

The study was conducted by experts from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge and Koç University in Istanbul and published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

“Human activity has a huge effect on wildlife, including their social behavior,” the team says in their paper.

“Animals living in urban areas are often more aggressive than those living in rural areas, which may be due to urban acoustic noise making communication between individuals difficult.”

Robins have a reputation for being tame and even friendly around people, especially when compared to other birds.

However, with other robins they are very territorial and will chase other intruding birds from their perches.

In addition to modifying their songs to ward off intruders, robins show physical movements during territorial interactions, which may include getting closer to the intruder.

For their study, the team examined the behavior of male European robins (Erithacus rubecula) living in urban parks and rural forests in and around Istanbul.

They measured the aggression against another robin intruder, which wasn’t a real robib, but a 3D-printed model in the shape of an adult bird, hand-painted to look like the real thing.

The fake robin was fitted with a loudspeaker, which allowed the team to play audio, and was then attached to trees in parks and forests.

For Their Study, The Team Examined The Behavior Of Male European Robins In Urban Parks And Rural Forests In Turkey.  Pictured Is A Real Robin (Above) That Spotted The Researchers' 3D-Printed Fake Robin

For Their Study, The Team Examined The Behavior Of Male European Robins In Urban Parks And Rural Forests In Turkey.  Pictured Is A Real Robin (Above) That Spotted The Researchers' 3D-Printed Fake Robin

For their study, the team examined the behavior of male European robins in urban parks and rural forests in Turkey. Pictured is a real robin (above) that spotted the researchers’ 3D-printed fake robin

British roads endanger birds

Populations of some unusual small-bodied birds in Britain, such as meadow pipits and lapwings, suffer disproportionately near a road, a 2020 study found.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge said this could be caused by an aversion to grass verges as they prefer arable land.

Another factor may be an increased sensitivity to road noise and air pollution.

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The audio consisted of robin song recordings, while additional traffic noise was added through another separate speaker nearby.

After recording the birds’ behavior during interactions with the fake intruder, they found that urban robins typically showed more physical aggression than rural robins.

However, rural robins became more aggressive with the addition of traffic noise — possibly because they are less accustomed to traffic noise than urban birds, which already live in noisier habitats.

In addition, physical displays of territoriality may increase as traffic noise disturbs their birdsong.

“In normally quiet environments, we found that extra traffic noise leads rural robins to become more physically aggressive, for example by approaching the model bird closer,” said study co-author Dr Caglar Akcay of the ARU.

“We think this is because the noise interferes with their communication.”

During the tests on urban robins, traffic noise had no effect on their level of physical aggression, although they adapted to the noise by reducing their singing speed.

Human Activity Has A Huge Effect On Wildlife, Including Their Social Behavior.  Animals In Urban Areas Tend To Be More Aggressive Than Those In Rural Areas, Which May Be Due To Urban Acoustic Noise Making Communication Between Individuals Difficult (File Photo)

Human Activity Has A Huge Effect On Wildlife, Including Their Social Behavior.  Animals In Urban Areas Tend To Be More Aggressive Than Those In Rural Areas, Which May Be Due To Urban Acoustic Noise Making Communication Between Individuals Difficult (File Photo)

Human activity has a huge effect on wildlife, including their social behavior. Animals in urban areas tend to be more aggressive than those in rural areas, which may be due to urban acoustic noise making communication between individuals difficult (file photo)

The researchers suspect that urban robins have learned to ‘sit out’ temporary increases in noise, while rural robins have not and thus show increased physical aggression.

Overall, by comparing the responses of urban and rural robins, the study provides a valuable insight into how urban species adapt to ‘living in a noisy world’.

‘We know that human activity can have a significant impact on the long-term social behavior of wildlife,’ said Dr Akcay.

“Our results show that human-produced noise can have different effects on robins depending on the habitat in which they live.”

The team warns that physical aggression is risky for small birds such as robins and is likely to have health implications.

A 2018 study found that birds surrounded by noise develop the same symptoms as people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Save the robin! Wildlife experts say this festive season is a critical time to support the ‘national bird of the UK’

Britain’s iconic robin is particularly threatened in winter by falling winter temperatures, wildlife experts have warned.

A combination of disappearing hedgerows, dwindling food sources and severe cold spells means that robins are more dependent than ever on bird feeders in the public’s backyards.

The robin (Erithacus rubecula), that was officially declared ‘the UK’s national bird’ in 2015 and considered an emblem of the holiday season, can lose up to 10 percent of its body weight in a single winter night while trying to keep warm.

But unless he can eat well and replenish his reserves every day, a cold snap could be deadly, according to the charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

European Robin, Erithacus Rubecula, With Larvae In Its Beak Feeding Its Young In A Garden Nest Box, Painswick, Gloucestershire, Uk

European Robin, Erithacus Rubecula, With Larvae In Its Beak Feeding Its Young In A Garden Nest Box, Painswick, Gloucestershire, Uk

European robin, Erithacus rubecula, with larvae in its beak feeding its young in a garden nest box, Painswick, Gloucestershire, UK

The number of robins in our gardens has already declined by 32 per cent since 1979, the RSPB found, and without supplementary bird feeding in people’s gardens, up to half of Britain’s robins could die of cold and starvation in a winter season .

Robins like to eat insects and worms, but also feed on nuts and fruits such as berries from the hedgerows – but around 50 per cent of Britain’s hedgerows have been lost since the Second World War.

Robins prefer to forage and eat off the ground, so by placing a small feeder full of food close to a bush or perch, Brits can encourage them to make a garden their home for the season.

Over time, robins can quickly gain confidence in human presence and hand-feeding is not unknown, providing the perfect opportunity to capture festive photos for Christmas cards.

The RSPB suggests feeding robins high-calorie foods such as mixed seed, sunflower seed, nyjer seed and good quality peanuts, or even making homemade fat cakes to hang from a branch.

Kitchen scraps such as mild grated cheese, bruised fruit that isn’t moldy, leftover pastry pieces (especially those made with suet), and unsalted pieces of bacon rind cut into small pieces are also good options.

However, some foods in the kitchen at Christmas can be dangerous to birds, such as cooking fat from the roast, which can stick to feathers and prevent them from being waterproof.

Other foods to avoid include desiccated coconut, cooked porridge, milk, and moldy or salty foods.

Fresh water for drinking and bathing is also important this season, meaning bird tables will make a big difference to the survival of robins in urban and suburban areas.

Garden owners can float a small ball, such as a ping pong ball, on the surface of the water in a birdbath to keep it from freezing.

RSPB’s website also has guidelines for making a wooden nesting boxto give robins a home in winter.

Nest boxes, which will be used as overnight roosts and springtime nesting sites, should be placed at least six feet away from dense vegetation to prevent surprise attacks from cats.

These boxes are often communal, the RSPB told MailOnline, with many residents packing together for extra warmth – the record number of birds found in one box is 63 wrens.

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Jacky

The author of what'snew2day.com is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on the latest news and information.

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