Why did the hedgehog NOT cross the road? Because it had adapted its behaviour in order to thrive in a threatening man-made environment

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The animals that share our cities are finding ways to prosper from urban living that would leave their country cousins baffled

City-dwelling creatures have learned to be sophisticated urbanites, according to researchers. As animals, like their human counterparts, are drawn to the bright lights and all its possibilities, so smarter city critters are emerging. While urbanisation may adversely affect some species, it is proving to be the making of others, scientists say.

From the city badgers who are heavier than their country cousins because they walk less, to hedgehogs and foxes who seem to have developed strategies for avoiding busy roads, the challenge of urban life is proving a minor obstacle. Even birds are getting in on the act, with sparrows weaving discarded cigarette butts into their nests and singing birds waiting till sundown when the din of traffic lessens.

Evidence is accumulating that city-dwelling animals frequently differ in behaviour relative to those from surrounding habitats, according to researchers at the Spanish National Research Council.

Contentiously, they suggest that successful urban creatures may be brighter and bigger-brained than their rural cousins. Experiments show increased learning propensity in city birds. Urban doves, for example, were less fearful of new things and were faster at learning than less urbanised doves.

Dr Rupert Marshall, an animal behavioural scientist at Aberystwyth University, has carried out a number of studies into birds and urban areas. He said: "This is a timely look at how man is affecting the behaviour of animals. Every month brings news of how another species is adapting to, or is affected by, man-made changes to its environment. Birds are found, for example, at higher densities in the suburbs because garden fences make ideal territory boundaries, and garden feeders mean they don't need a large territory to gather food.

"Of equal importance are the animals that appear unable to adapt. For example, while some birds sing at a higher pitch near noisy roads in rural areas, others are now found only where it's quiet."

Hedgehogs

Nocturnal ramblings hold few fears for this well-known forager. Terraced gardens have proved to be ideal feeding grounds, far from the peril of roads. They are especially attractive in the middle of the night when the threat of pet dogs is reduced and the hedgehog can concentrate on the important business of snaffling worms and beetles.

Otters

Traditionally shy and secretive creatures that favour nocturnal forays, they have been spotted feeding from urban fish ponds. The highly mobile creatures have been seen in smaller built-up environments such as town gardens, parks and churchyards across the UK, as well as in cities, including London, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.

Badgers

Badger Bill, urban cousin of countryphile Brock, has embraced city life like a teenage raver. With a fast-food diet that includes chips, curries and cat food rather than the traditional earthworm, badgers have piled on the pounds – particularly as they exercise less: their roaming areas are a fraction of those of their rural relatives.

Grey squirrels

Streetwise squirrels adapt to urban noise by using their tails to signal trouble instead of barking. They are partial to city parks for food leftovers, which now provide more than a third of their diet; they love abandoned homes, which make perfect dreys.

Bats

These frequent flyers have quickly discovered the boundless opportunities of the modern cityscape. Urban street lighting lures insect life, providing bountiful feeding areas, and roofs proffer ample choice for secure and sheltered roosting.

Great tits

Let it not be said the urban great tit is a dandy. Studies show some city-dwellers among this species are paler than their rural counterparts. The duller plumage is believed to be the result of a lack of carotenoids or natural pigments in city plants and other foodstuffs.

Blackbirds

Noisy town life has changed this bird's tune, literally. The frequency of the bird song increases with the background noise. The average maximum frequency of the inner-city bird, where background noise levels average 66 decibels, is 3165Hz, compared with 2657Hz in the surrounding rural area where noise levels average 37 decibels.

Pigeons

The ultimate urban survivors. Street lights allow for round-the-clock dining and they've adopted snacking feeding habits. One study showed they can remember the faces of people who fed them and those who chased them away. When pursuers later tried to feed them, they were shunned – even after swapping clothes with the friendly feeder.

Foxes

City-slicker foxes are in their element. They've found such rich pickings scavaging in the gardens and bins of suburban streets that they are more active during the day than their country relatives. They have also adapted other behaviours to urban life: studies show that city foxes are more likely to cross busy streets when traffic flows are lower.

House sparrows

The chirpy city sparrow is nothing if not resourceful. Many are now incorporating discarded cigarette ends into their nests to provide a warm cellulose lining for the family, as well as nicotine to ward off mites. Nests investigated by researchers had an average of eight butts. City sparrows also eat more often and have less fear of predators than their rural counterparts.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Recruitment Genius: Production Team Leader / Chargehand

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Chargehand to join ...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project