As the world becomes increasingly urbanized with an estimated 60% of the world population living in cities by 2030, we have to ask ourselves: what effect is this having on wildlife? All animals that live near cities experience phenomena such as traffic noise and artificial light at night. Birds specifically have been known to change their behaviors and physiological traits in response to urbanization. Did you know that one group of researchers from Lund University found that urban environments shorten the telomeres (the compound structure at the end of chromosomes) of nestling great tits, a popular garden bird that lives throughout Eurasia? The telomeres has been suggested to be a predictor of longevity, so urbanization could be shortening the lifespan of great tits, and possibly other birds.
One professor has been researching the effects of urbanization on birds right here in New Haven. Quinnipiac Meadows Nature Preserve has become a site for important bird research by Quinnipiac University Biology Professor Scott Davies. In May, Professor Davies installed bird boxes around the preserve in order to observe breeding behavior. Perhaps by observing local birds in Quinnipiac Meadows, Professor Davies can shed more light on the effects of urbanization.
Urbanization presents a unique opportunity for researchers like Professor Davies because it dramatically changes the landscape in a relatively short period of time. Light pollution, traffic noise, and other sources of noise pollution affect the wildlife in urban green spaces, and like all animals, birds adapt to these variables. Davies explains that “a bird’s physiology can change how its body works and even looks. This would be like a car changing how its engine works to make it drive better when you take it on a cross-country road trip or changing its own tires during winter when roads are icy.”
When asked which birds frequent the bird boxes the most, Davies replied that tree swallows frequent it the most, which is a result of the placement of the boxes which were strategically placed in areas that tree swallows love the most which are open areas away from trees and bushes. For Professor Davies, tree swallows are the focus of his study because they are cavity nesters and like to nest in artificial breeding boxes which makes it easier to study their breeding behavior. With his research, he wishes to explore how tree swallows adjust their breeding behaviors to successfully raise young. Observing tree swallows is ideal because they live in both urban and rural environments which makes it easier to find tangible effects of urbanization.
Since it has only been a month and a half since the bird boxes have been installed, there isn’t enough data to synthesize a meaningful conclusion on the relationship between bird physiology and urbanization. We are eager to hear about the conclusions from Professor Davies’ research and are ecstatic that Professor Davies chose Quinnipiac Meadows for the location of his fascinating study.