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Behavioural factors underlying innovative problem-solving differences in an avian predator from two contrasting habitats


Innovative behavior is considered one of the main factors facilitating the adaptation of animals to urban life. However, the relationship between urbanization and innovativeness is equivocal, perhaps reflecting aspects of urban environments that influence differently the behavioural traits underlying the occurrence of an innovation. In this work, we analysed the variation in innovative problem-solving performance between urban and rural individuals of the Caracara Chimango (Milvago chimango), with the goal of determining which behavioural trait (or combination) most explained such variation. We found that urban raptors outperformed rural ones in their solving speed and solving level (number of solutions) with a multiaccess box. They also showed more persistence, motor flexibility and diversity, as well as higher effectiveness in their solving attempts than rural chimangos. Sex was not an important factor. Urban chimangos showed less neophobia and spent more time exploring the box than rural birds during the initial habituation period, which probably determined the amount of information about the system that each individual had at the beginning of first problem solving trial. This difference in novelty response both directly and indirectly, through its relationship with persistence, motor flexibility and proportion of effective attempts, explained variability in solving performance. All individuals showed a decrease in solving latency, and an increase in solving level with experience, indicating that learning occurred in both raptor groups. This improvement occurred in parallel with changes in the afore-mentioned traits, though the pattern of improvement differed between urban and rural chimangos. We suggest that the characteristics of urban areas modulate the novelty response of chimangos, along with other correlated non-cognitive behavioural traits, which act in combination to increase the chances that novel problems could be quickly solved, and the resulting new behaviours established in city populations of this species.

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We thank Analia Medina and Rodrigo Santiago Córdoba for their assistance during the capturing and managing of raptors. We appreciate the improvements in English usage made by Sanjay Prasher through the Association of Field Ornithologists' program of editorial assistance. This work was conducted with funds provided by the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (EXA 842/17, 15/E795).

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LMB conceived of the project, LMB, GMF and MSB caught birds, LMB and GMF performed the research and the analysis, LMB wrote the first draft of the manuscript and MSB edited it. MSB and LMB provided funding for the research project.

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Correspondence to Laura Marina Biondi.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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The capture of raptors adhered to guidelines for the use of animals in research and to the legal requirements of Argentina: Disposition N 45, Exp. N 22500–24126/13, Dirección Contralor y Uso de Recursos Naturales y pesqueros, Ministerio de Asuntos Agrarios de la Provincia de Buenos Aires. The experimental protocol design and the housing and care conditions had the approval of the National University of Mar del Plata Animal Ethics Committee (RD 179/2015), and meets the latest ASAB/ABS ethical guidelines ( All individuals were released with identifier-coloured bands at their original habitats after complete the experimental tests.

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Fig. 4 and Table 6.

Fig. 4
figure 4

General design of piece-wise structural equation models (psem) proposed to test the direct and indirect effect of several behavioural traits on problem-solving performance. The variable ‘persistence’ was represented by rate of attempts in the model including solving latency as end point, and working time in the case of solving level as model’s endogenous variable

Table 6 Description of the five clearly distinctive behavioural techniques used by the chimangos in their attempts to open the Plexiglass Box

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Biondi, L.M., Fuentes, G. & Susana, M. Behavioural factors underlying innovative problem-solving differences in an avian predator from two contrasting habitats. Anim Cogn 25, 529–543 (2022).

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  • Innovation
  • Urbanization
  • Caracaras
  • Personality
  • Learning