July 29, 2010
Migrating Birds Can’t Control Themselves
During the Spring and Fall migratory seasons, sparrows become significantly less capable of resisting temptation. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Neuroscience investigated impulse control and sleep in White-crowned Sparrows during migratory and non-migratory seasons. During migratory periods, the birds slept very little and became more impulsive, but sleep loss itself was not entirely to blame for their impulsivity.
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers studied the effects of migratory status and sleep deprivation on the ability of a group of sparrows to master the urge to peck at a food-giving button. According to study director Ruth Benca, "In the wild, despite marked reductions in apparent opportunity to sleep, birds continue to successfully engage in prolonged flight, complex navigation and predator evasion during migration. In the laboratory, we've previously found that birds in the migratory state can learn to peck at a switch for food as well as birds during non-migratory periods. In contrast, in this study we demonstrate that, relative to birds in the non-migratory state, they struggle to learn when not to peck".
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