Sparrows are less cautious around humans with face masks

Eurasian sparrows may perceive humans with face masks as less of a threat than those without.
Credit: Imran Shah

Sparrows are a little less flighty around humans wearing face masks than those without them on. In a new study published in Global Ecology and Conservation, researchers in China conducted experiments where they approached Eurasian sparrows (Passer montanus) and recorded how close the humans could get before the birds took flight. They found that the birds let people wearing masks get closer to them than people without them on. While the researchers don’t fully understand why this happens, they speculated that it may have to do with the changing exposure the sparrows have had to humans since the COVID-19 pandemic began. During lockdown in China, the birds experienced fewer encounters with people. After the lockdown, most humans wore face masks. The birds may have learned these humans are less of a threat. “After the disease outbreak was considered to be under control in China, a large proportion of the population continued wearing masks for safety reasons,” the authors said. “Although there was only about 6 months for birds to adapt to people with face masks, the continuous exposure to people wearing face masks may have produced rapid adaptive behavioral changes.”

Read the open-access study at Global Ecology and Conservation.