Measuring Stress in Urban Songbirds

Purpose

Lincoln Park Zoo scientists are studying what aspects of cities might be harmful to urban bird health.

About

To understand the effect of urbanization on wildlife, it is important to determine the impact of human-caused stressors on urban wildlife health. Only then can ecologists and architects develop strategies to reduce these threats.

Lincoln Park Zoo scientists have identified oxidative stress—an imbalance of pro-oxidants and antioxidants that plays an important role in aging, disease, and decreased survival and reproduction—as an indicator of stress in urban species. Oxidative stress is also the reason that foods high in antioxidants are considered beneficial for human health. Many foods, like blueberries or acai berries, are advertised as healthy because they are high in antioxidants, which help your body defend against damage from oxidative stress.

Research indicates that some aspects of cities—such as pollution, artificial light, and excess noise—may increase oxidative stress in songbirds. Using two common bird species, the American robin and northern cardinal, Lincoln Park Zoo scientists are working to learn which urban stressors might contribute to oxidative stress in order to help create healthier urban wildlife communities.

The Bird Banding Laboratory Database

When Lincoln Park Zoo staff safely and humanely capture the birds to take various health measurements and collect blood samples, they also place federally issued ID bands on the birds before releasing them back into the wild. All the data gathered about each bird (i.e. species, age, sex) during the study is associated with its band ID number and goes into the Bird Banding Laboratory database for use by scientists to monitor bird populations. The data provides information to scientists on the distribution and movements of species, their relative numbers, annual production, and life span. This information increases human understanding of wild birds and aids management and conservation efforts.

How You Can Help Songbirds

Just like humans, songbirds combat oxidative stress by eating foods containing antioxidants, such as berries. You can help birds in your yard by growing native plants to help them acquire the nutrients they need to live a long and healthy life. Here are some resources to help you decide what bird-friendly plants to include in your yard:

Recommended Plantings for Migratory Songbird Habitat Management

Audubon: Plants for Birds – Native Plants Database

Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Landscaping for Wildlife

Staff

Kim Fake
Wildlife Research Coordinator
Urban Wildlife Institute
Seth Magle
Director
Urban Wildlife Institute
Maureen Murray
Wildlife Disease Ecologist
Urban Wildlife Institute