House sparrows' (Passer domesticus) behaviour in a novel environment is modulated by social context and familiarity in a sex-specific manner

Beniamino Tuliozi, Gerardo Fracasso, Herbert Hoi, Matteo Griggio

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


Background: Exploratory behaviour is one of the best-investigated behavioural traits. However, little is known about how differences in familiarity, i.e. in the knowledge and previous experience with a companion can influence the exploration of a novel environment. However, to our knowledge, such a critical feature of the social environment has never been the target of a study relating it to exploratory behaviour in birds. Here we examined if familiarity with a conspecific could affect behavioural responses of individuals confronted with a novel environment. We recorded the latency to land on the ground, latency to feed, time spent feeding and number of sectors visited of 48 female and 48 male house sparrows (Passer domesticus) in an indoor aviary in three contexts: alone (individual context), with an unfamiliar and with a familiar same-sex companion.

Results: House sparrows landed sooner on the ground when in the familiar context than when in the individual context. Birds in unfamiliar pairs followed each other less than familiar birds, but this difference diminished with time spent exploring. Moreover, males and females differed in their behavioural responses in the unfamiliar context. Females with a familiar companion landed sooner than when they were paired with an unfamiliar conspecific, whereas only the presence of a companion but not familiarity reduced males latency to land on the ground. Finally, when considering the unfamiliar context males had shorter latencies to forage and thus spent more time eating than females.

Conclusions: The presence or absence of a companion and its familiarity with the focal individual influenced differently the behavioural responses of male and female house sparrows in a novel environment. As house sparrows are strongly sociable, the influence of the social environment is likely to be of paramount importance to understand the selective pressures acting on them, particularly in recently colonized areas with ephemeral food sources. Our results shed light on the complex influence that the social environment has on the behavioural responses of a cosmopolitan bird.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Exploration
  • Familiarity
  • House sparrow
  • Invasive species
  • Novel environment
  • Passer domesticus
  • Personality
  • Sex-difference
  • Social behaviour


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