You First

Lots of small sparrows running on the ground.

Come on in, the water’s fine!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Brrrr, a freezing lake! But your buddy dives right in! Building up your courage — you too take the plunge! This is called social learning, and humans do it all the time. But what about sparrows?

Tosha Kelly and her team at Louisiana State University looked into this. The researchers placed an unfamiliar object, like a blinking light, in sparrow’s food bowls. Like your lake-diving friend, some sparrows are more daring than others. While many approached the bowl, others held back. 

The researchers paired the daring sparrows with shy ones for a week. The timid sparrows watched as their more adventurous counterparts approached the food bowl. After seeing their fearless buddies snacking away, even scaredy-birds were twice as likely to poke their beaks in.

This is one of the first studies to show social learning in sparrows. Kelly thinks it could explain why they’re able to adapt to new environments.

Turns out, even sparrows can get FOMO!

Reference: Kelly T. R., Kimball M. G., Stansberry K. R. and Lattin C. R. 2020. No, you go first: phenotype and social context affect house sparrow neophobia. Biol. Lett. 16: 2020028620200286.