Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Don’t feed the birds – urban crows have higher cholesterol


Photo of an American Crow consuming a hamburger via study author Andrea Townsend

If you have ever been to a fast food restaurant, you may have noticed that people are not the only consumers of fast food. In fact, some species of birds are known to frequent fast food chains where they can get a quick meal of food leftover or intentionally dropped by customers.

While people may delight in tossing our feathered friends a french fry on occasion, a new study published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications explains why you should not feed birds fast food. It turns out that American Crow nestlings in urban areas actually have higher cholesterol than nestlings living in rural environments. To test whether this difference may be caused at least in part by fast food, researchers left cheeseburgers from McDonald’s near the nests of birds living in a rural area of New York. They discovered that the crows that were offered cheeseburgers had 5% higher cholesterol than those not offered the burgers.


AK Townsend, HA Staab, CM Barker. Urbanization and elevated cholesterol in American Crows. The Condor: Ornithological Applications. 121, 1-10, 2019.


Categories: Diet and Exercise, Reproduction and Development, Urbanization

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