Flight distance of urban birds, predation, and selection for urban life

  • Anders Pape MøllerEmail author
Original Paper


Numerous species have adapted to humans, especially invasive species associated with humans in towns and cities. Short flight distances of populations adapted to urban environments reflect changes in behavior and physiology, reflecting phenotypic plasticity or evolution. Here, I tested the hypothesis that the decrease in flight distance to a potential predator (an approaching human) reflected adaptation to urbanization, using a data set of flight distances of 44 common species of European birds in different stages of adaptation to urban environments. Urban populations had consistently shorter flight distances than rural populations of the same species. Variation in relative flight distance of urban populations was predicted by the number of generations since urbanization, as expected by a gradual process of adaptation. Furthermore, species with relatively large populations in urban environments would be an indication of local adaptation to urban environments. Relative flight distance of urban population was shorter for species with large populations in urban compared to rural habitats. Species that had adapted to urban environments as shown by short flight distances were less susceptible to predation by the European sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus than species with relatively long flight distances in urban populations. These findings provide evidence consistent with the hypothesis that recent changes in the tameness of urban birds, as reflected by their relatively short flight distances, is an adaptation to the novel urban environment.


Flight distance Invasions Life history Urbanization 



E. Flensted-Jensen kindly helped collect data on flight distance and estimate timing of urbanization. W. C. Årestrup also provided estimates of timing of urbanization in common birds.

Supplementary material

265_2008_636_MOESM1_ESM.doc (166 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 169 KB)


  1. Badyaev AV (1997) Altitudinal variation in sexual dimorphism: a new pattern and alternative hypotheses. Behav Ecol 8:675–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barker FK, Barrowclough GF, Groth JG (2001) A phylogenetic hypothesis for passerine birds: taxonomic and biogeographic implications of an analysis of nuclear DNA sequence data. Proc R Soc Lond B 269:295–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barker FK, Cibois A, Schikler P, Feinstein J, Cracraft J (2004) Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101:11040–11045PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Batten LA (1973) Population dynamics of suburban blackbirds. Bird Study 20:251–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bennett PM, Owens IPF (2002) Evolutionary ecology of birds. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. Blondel J, Catzeflis F, Perret P (1996) Molecular phylogeny and the historical biogeography of the warblers of the genus Sylvia (Aves). J Evol Biol 9:871–891CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blumstein DT (2006) Developing an evolutionary ecology of fear: how life history and natural history traits affect disturbance tolerance in birds. Anim Behav 71:389–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blumstein DT, Fernández-Juricic E (2004) The emergence of conservation behavior. Conservat Biol 18:1175–1177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (1998) Model selection and inference. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen J (1988) Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Erlbaum, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  11. Cooke AS (1980) Observations on how close certain passerine species will tolerate an approaching human in rural and suburban areas. Biol Conservat 18:85–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cramp S, Perrins CM In: The birds of the Western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp (1977–1994)Google Scholar
  13. Diamond JM (1986) Rapid evolution of urban birds. Nature 324:107–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Draper NR, Smith H (1981) Applied regression analysis, 2nd edn. John Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. Fløystrup A (1920) Fugleliv i kjøbenhavn: iagttagelser fra østre anlæg og botanisk have. Dansk Orn Foren Tidsskr 14:1–60Google Scholar
  16. Fløystrup A (1925) Fugleliv i Kjøbenhavn: Fortsatte iagttagelser fra Østre Anlæg og Botanisk Have. Dansk Orn Foren Tidsskr 19:1–18Google Scholar
  17. Felsenstein J (1985) Phylogenies and the comparative method. Am Nat 125:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fletcher QE, Boonstra R (2006) Do captive male meadow voles experience acute stress in response to weasel odour. Can J Zool 84:583–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Garland Jr T, Harvey PH, Ives AR (1992) Procedures for the analysis of comparative data using phylogenetically independent contrasts. Syst Biol 41:18–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gliwicz J, Goszczynski J, Luniak M (1994) Characteristic features of animal populations under synurbanization—the case of the Blackbird and the striped field mouse. Memorabilia Zoologica 49:237–244Google Scholar
  21. Glutz von Blotzheim UN, Bauer KM (1966–1997) In: Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas. Aula-Verlag, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  22. Gram C (1908) Fuglelivet i København og omegn for halvhundrede aar siden. Dansk Orn Foren Tidsskr 3:27–36Google Scholar
  23. Grell MB (1998) Fuglenes Danmark. Gad, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  24. Hedenström A, Alerstam T (1992) Climbing performance of migrating birds as a basis for estimating limits for fuel-carrying capacity and muscle work. J Theor Biol 164:19–38Google Scholar
  25. Helbig AJ, Seibold I (1999) Molecular phylogeny of Palearctic-African Acrocephalus and Hippolais (Aves: Sylviidae). Mol Phylogenet Evol 11:246–260PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. JMP (2000) JMP. SAS Institute Inc, CaryGoogle Scholar
  27. Jones KE, Purvis A (1997) An optimum body size for mammals? Comparative evidence from bats. Funct Ecol 11:751–756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Klausnitzer B (1989) Verstädterung von Tieren. Neue Brehm-Bücherei, Wittenberg-LutherstadtGoogle Scholar
  29. Luniak M, Mulsow R (1988) Ecological parameters in urbanisation of the European blackbird. In: Oullett H (ed) Acta XIX Congr Int Orn. University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, pp 1787–1793Google Scholar
  30. Marzluff JM, Bowman R, Donnelly RE (2001) In: Avian conservation and ecology in an urbanizing world. Kluwer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Møller AP, Birkhead TR (1994) The evolution of plumage brightness in birds is related to extra-pair paternity. Evolution 48:1089–1100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Møller AP, Nielsen JT (2006) Prey vulnerability in relation to sexual coloration of prey. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 60:227–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Møller AP, Nielsen JT (2007) Malaria and risk of predation: a comparative study of birds. Ecology 88:871–881PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Møller AP, Nielsen JT, Garamszegi LZ (2008) Risk taking by singing males. Behav Ecol 19:41–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mullarney T, Svensson L, Zetterström D, Grant PJ (2000) The complete guide to the birds of Europe. Harper Collins, LondonGoogle Scholar
  36. Navarro C, de Lope F, Marzal A, Møller AP (2004) Predation risk, host immune response and parasitism. Behav Ecol 15:629–635CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Neter J, Kutner MH, Nachtsheim CJ, Wasserman W (1996) Applied linear statistical models. Irwin, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  38. Purvis A, Rambaut A (1995) Comparative analysis by independent contrasts (CAIC). Comp Appl Biosci 11:247–251PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Read AF (1987) Comparative evidence supports the Hamilton and Zuk hypothesis on parasites and sexual selection. Nature 328:68–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Saino N, Romano M, Ferrari RP, Møller AP (2005) Stressed mothers produce low-quality offspring with poor fitness. J Exp Zool 303A:998–1006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Scheuerlein A, Van’t Hof TJ, Gwinner E (2001) Predators as stressors? Physiological and reproductive consequences of predation risk in tropical stonechats (Saxicola torquata axillaries). Proc R Soc Lond B 268:1575–1582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sheldon FH, Slikas B, Kinnarney M, Gill FB, Zhao E, Silverin B (1992) DNA–DNA hybridization evidence of phylogenetic relationships among major lineages of Parus. Auk 109:173–185Google Scholar
  43. Shochat E, Warren PS, Faeth SH, McIntyre NE (2006) From patterns to emerging processes in mechanistic urban ecology. Trends Ecol Evol 21:186–191PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sibley CG, Ahlquist JE (1990) Phylogeny and classification of birds, a study in molecular evolution. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  45. Sibley CG, Monroe Jr BL (1990) Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the World. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  46. Slikas B, Sheldon FH, Gill FB (1996) Phylogeny of titmice (Paridae): I. Estimate of relationships among subgenera based on DNA–DNA hybridization. J Avian Biol 27:70–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1995) Biometry, 3rd edn. Freeman, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  48. Stephan B (1999) Die Amsel. Neue Brehm-Bücherei, Wittenberg-LutherstadtGoogle Scholar
  49. Svensson L (1984) Identification guide to European passerines. L Svensson, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  50. Tabachnick BG, Fidell LS (1996) Using multivariate statistics. HarperCollins, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  51. Voelker G, Spellman GM (2004) Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA evidence of polyphyly in the avian superfamily Muscicapoidea. Mol Phylogenet Evol 30:386–394PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Walasz K (1990) Experimental investigation of the behavioral differences between urban and forest blackbirds. Acta Zool Cracov 33:235–271Google Scholar
  53. Wingfield JC, Ramenofsky M (1999) Hormones and the behavioral ecology of stress. In: Baum PMH (ed) Stress physiology of animals. Sheffield Academic, Sheffield, pp 1–51Google Scholar
  54. Ylönen H, Eccard JA, Jokinen I, Sundell J (2006) Is the antipredatory response in behaviour reflected in stress measured in faecal corticosteroids in a small rodent. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 60:350–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS UMR 7103Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis Cedex 05France

Personalised recommendations