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(CTV News)   Birds use the posted speed limit as a guide for avoiding cars. Deer use hypnotic tactics to try to stare your car into submission   ( ctvnews.ca) divider line
    More: Cool, western france, McGill University, Pierre Legagneux  
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7802 clicks; posted to Main » on 21 Aug 2013 at 12:49 PM (4 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2013-08-21 12:55:06 PM  
3 votes:
This assumes the average speed is the same as the posted speed limit, which in my anecdotal experience, is not the case usually.
2013-08-21 01:27:12 PM  
2 votes:
When the yellow grosbeak was introduced into New Brunswick (Canada) in hopes it would eat spruce budworm, the birds gathered on the side of the road (to eat salty grit, and possibly forage) and were killed in large numbers because they took off too late and often flew into cars rather than away. Nowadays you seldom see them by the road at all, and those that do peck by the road fly away with nearly flawless timing.

This seems to indicate a partly inherited instinct combined with experience and learning by invididual birds. Natural selection operates on both levels, of course, weeding out birds with poor hard-wiring and slow learners.

The birds never did take to the spruce budworm as hoped, but they have adapted and thus form an unintended experiment in bird brain studies.

It makes sense to me that birds would be able to adapt to traffic, especially those species that frequent the ground around cattle and other herding animals. Cows are slower than cars but they will still kill you if they step on you, so birds would benefit from hardwiring that gives them a mechanism to avoid being stepped on while they feed on the ground. This mechanism would inititially be set to some general level or else would lack a database of estimated distances and times required to escape being stepped on. Experience and learning would fill in the database, making the birds ability to stay on the ground until they had to fly more accurate. The reward is more feeding time. The punishment, natural selection, which is to say, pre-mature death, Darwin awards, if you prefer.

This mental mechanism might be related to the mechanism which prevents collisions when birds fly, or it might be ground-take-off specific. Presumably, it could be evolved from already existing mechanisms, so that birds that have never frequented herds of browsing animals or predators would (at great cost) adapt to highways if given enough time.

The yellow grosbeaks took many years to adapt. This implies both natural selection and evolution of a mechanism in a bird that was largely NOT a ground-feeder in its native forests. After all, the whole point of introduction yellow grosbeaks is that it was hoped they would eat the spruce budworms, which are largely found on trees, not the ground.

If you got enough data on the species of birds you could sort them out by ground-feeders and tree-feeders, birds that use grit to grind their food, and birds that don't, etc. Then you could test several hypotheses about how the mechanism works and how fast it can adapt, as well as what the relative role of evolution versus the role learning is.

Sounds like fun for ornithologists and possibly population geneticists or students of brain organization and so forth.
2013-08-21 01:29:15 PM  
1 vote:
Birds, in my observation, have very tiny brains, but they nonetheless can do some remarkable things with them, such as fly in flocks. Simple rules, complex emergent behaviour. Neat.
2013-08-21 01:22:41 PM  
1 vote:
I'd like to know why they seem to love flying in front of my car and pulling up out of the way at the last possible second
2013-08-21 12:56:27 PM  
1 vote:
Came to say what CruJones said.  The article says the birds observed the average speed of vehicles, it said nothing of the speed limit.

Obviously it's anecdotal, but it seems the majority of people I see on the road drive slightly above the posted speed limit.
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