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The Great Tit ( Parus major ) is a small insectivorous bird whose live yellow plumage can be seen throughout Spain and much of Europe. The abundance and defined character traits exhibited by this passeriform made it an ideal subject for researchers at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, who were trying to find out if the intake of heavy metals affected the personality of the birds in any way. , as it does with human beings . Because exposure to these toxic substances produces in people from irritability and extreme fatigue to depression .
Belgian scientists observed and recorded the common coal habits that lived next to the facilities of the Umicore company, a refinery and smelting of metals with abundant emissions of lead and cadmium , among other pollutants. The experiment consisted of capturing 250 specimens from different locations-closer and farther away from the manufacturing facilities-and examining how they behaved in the laboratory. And thus they discovered that the coal workers with the greatest contact with heavy metals, as they could see by analyzing the chemical composition of their eggs and their feathers, were more inactive. Lead and cadmium had “turned off” their natural propensity to be curious , to explore the environment.
Get out of my nest!
But it was not the only personality change detected by experts at the University of Antwerp. In the second phase of the study, they marked the captured specimens and returned them to their original environment, where they once again observed their habits and reactions not only to natural stimuli, but also to others induced by scientists, such as the introduction of a bird of stuffed animals in their nests or the reproduction of engraved songs to entice them to believe that they were surrounded by a competitor. Thus they could verify that the most aggressive males in front of the decoy were just those who lived closest to the facilities of Umicore. In a similar way, the females neighboring the refinery were those that showed a more protective behavior in their nests.
In short: lead and cadmium returned to the common coal, at the same time, more decayed and irritable. And this character disorder, according to the researchers, makes them more vulnerable to their predators .
A diet of plastic
Unfortunately, metals are not the only food threat to birds. Other recent reports indicate, for example, that more than 80% of marine species have introduced plastic – bags, bottle caps, etc. – into their usual diet, and that the percentage will skyrocket to 99% by 2050. being, according to a study published in 2016, they confuse it with food due to odor: by breaking down waste into the sea, microbes generate a fragrant substance called dimethyl sulfide. And when ingesting the plastic, the birds can suffer intestinal obstruction, intoxication or malnutrition.