Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 471–480 | Cite as

A comparison of problem-solving success between urban and rural house sparrows

  • Sándor Papp
  • Ernő Vincze
  • Bálint Preiszner
  • András Liker
  • Veronika Bókony
Original Paper


Behavioural flexibility is an important component of adaptation because it can help animals to exploit new or diverse habitats. Due to abundance of novel objects and resources provided by humans, urban environments may select for behavioural flexibility, but empirical evidence for this hypothesis is controversial. In this study, we compared urban and rural house sparrows (Passer domesticus) in four foraging problem-solving tasks. In the most difficult task, urban birds with large body mass were faster than others. Urban and rural birds performed similarly in the three easier tasks and did not differ in their learning efficiency. Individuals successful in one task tended to be successful in other tasks, and the repeatability of performance did not differ between urban and rural birds. Individuals that attempted to access food more frequently solved the problem faster in all tasks, but urban and rural birds did not differ in the frequency of attempts. These results suggest that the effects of urbanization on problem-solving success are weak and context-dependent in house sparrows. We propose that while urban animals may be better at exploiting some aspects of novel environments than rural conspecifics, such differences may be modulated by other habitat effects such as reduced nestling development and adult body mass in urban sparrows, which might influence some long-term determinants of innovativeness such as cognitive capacity or physical skills.


Urbanization Problem solving Learning House sparrow 



We thank Gábor Seress for help with capturing birds. The Zoo of Veszprém provided facilities for bird housing. The study was financed by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA, K84132). During the study, AL was supported by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship. During the preparation of the manuscript, we were also supported by the European Union, with the co-funding of the European Social Fund (SP, BP, and EV by TÁMOP-4.2.2.A-11/1/KONV-2012-0064, and VB by TÁMOP-4.2.4.A/ 2-11/1-2012-0001 ‘National Excellence Program’).

Conflict of interest

The authors of this manuscript declare to have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

All procedures were in accordance with ASAB’s ethical guidelines and Hungarian laws, licensed by the Middle Transdanubian Inspectorate for Environmental Protection, Natural Protection and Water Management (permission number: 31559/2011).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sándor Papp
    • 1
  • Ernő Vincze
    • 1
  • Bálint Preiszner
    • 1
  • András Liker
    • 1
  • Veronika Bókony
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of LimnologyUniversity of PannoniaVeszprémHungary
  2. 2.Lendület Evolutionary Ecology Research Group, Plant Protection Institute, Centre for Agricultural Research,Hungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary

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