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Continuous exposure to human activity has led to considerable behavioural changes in some wildlife populations. Animals are more likely to survive in a changing environment by adjusting their behaviour to repeatedly occurring but harmless stimulations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, starting in late 2019, face masks were recommended to the public to prevent the spread of pathogens. In this context, we compared the flight initiation distance (FID) of the Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus), a commonly seen bird across China, in Yibin and Dazhou, Sichuan, in response to people with or without face masks. After continuous exposure to people wearing face masks for nearly six months, sparrows evidently became adapted to people wearing face masks, and correspondingly showed shorter FIDs in response to people wearing masks. To our knowledge, this is the first study showing that birds show reduced fear responses to people wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results suggest a novel aspect of short-term adaptation of wildlife to human behaviour, and that the learning ability of sparrows allows them to adjust their behaviours to adapt to such subtle changes in the environment. © 2020 The Author(s).

Citation

Xingyi Jiang, Jianping Liu, Changjie Zhang, Wei Liang. Face masks matter: Eurasian tree sparrows show reduced fear responses to people wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Global ecology and conservation. 2020 Sep 16;24:e01277


PMID: 32953948

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