WELLINGTON — A study of one of New Zealand’s native birds has revealed an ability to recognize individual humans as well as different bird personality types, which could be key to conserving threatened species.
Researchers from Victoria University’s School of Biological Sciences found that the North Island robins reacted differently to humans by timing how long individual birds attacked food near a specific person.
“For seven days, the same person dressed in a white lab coat stood near the food source,” lead researcher Dr Craig Barnett said in a statement Monday.
“On the eighth day, a different person, this time wearing a blue coat, stood near the food source.”
They split the birds into fast and slow groups depending on their attack times, and found the times of the faster, bolder birds changed little with the new human, while the slower birds were more cautious and had longer attack times.
“Some birds were clearly oblivious to the differences in people, while other birds paid more attention,” said Barnett.
“Behavioral differences could play an important role in programs to shift and manage bird populations, because, for example, if we removed too many ‘bold’ individuals from a population and created a new ‘risk-averse’ population, they may not thrive due to a greater lack of caution around predators.”
Dr Kevin Burns, a New Zealand natural history professor at Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences, said in the statement that the research could assist with conservation efforts in other island groups, which were also working to protect and preserve endemic wildlife.