Animals are always finding ways to adapt to changes in their environment, but for most species, as humans take over their digs, it’s bad news for them. But for others, it’s no problem at all. In fact, some animals are doing better in urban and suburban environments than they ever did in fields and forests.
Coyotes, and their larger cousins, coywolves, have managed to adapt to city living in spite of traditionally being afraid of humans. These nocturnal hunters lurk in our neighbourhoods after most of us have gone to bed. They move about unnoticed by their human neighbours, eating raccoons, rats, squirrels, Canada Goose eggs, and human garbage.
And city life has been good to them. Researchers studying coyotes in Chicago found that city coyotes were larger than rural coyotes and had larger litters, both signs that the population is thriving.
Watch the full doc Meet The Coywolf.
In the 1960s, the bald eagle was on the verge of extinction due to the use of pesticides like DDT. But since DDT has been banned, their population has rebounded and they're no longer on the list of endangered species.
In fact, they’re adapting to entirely new environments like Greater Vancouver. "City" eagles need only a place to nest and a clean source of fish, and they’ve figured out how to use city infrastructure like cellphone towers, bridges and cranes along waterways.
Traditionally, eagles don’t like to get too close to their neighbours, keeping their nests about 800 metres apart. But much like humans, eagles living in cities have learned to live in closer quarters, with nests roughly 400 metres apart.
They’ve also learned to adapt their food sources. It turns out the majestic bald eagle is more than happy to fight it out with seagulls for garbage at city dumps.
Watch the full doc Eagles Next Door.
Pigeons are uniquely suited to urban life. They can recognize human faces, so they know which people have fed them before.
They have an amazing ability distribute themselves, so there are never more pigeons than food. A park with twice as much food as another park will also have twice as many pigeons. They automatically sort themselves, so each pigeon gets roughly the same amount of food.
They also have keen eyesight. A highly developed “collapsing sense” allows them to extrapolate the movement of objects, like cars and predators, and get out of the way just in time.
Watch the full doc The Secret Life of Pigeons.
Like coywolves and pigeons, raccoons aren’t just adapting to urban life. They’re thriving in it. In fact, living in cities is making raccoons smarter.
Toronto has been dubbed the Raccoon Capital of the World, and a team of researchers from York University has discovered how the city has changed raccoons. They found that urban raccoons have learned to keep their territories small, to avoid crossing major roads and getting hit by cars and that they’ve developed better problem-solving skills than their country cousins.
The researchers set up a series of hard-to-open garbage cans with cat food — a favourite raccoon treat — at the bottom and presented them to both city and country raccoons. The city raccoons could figure out how to get them open and get the cat food inside. The country raccoons had no such luck.
Our houses are absolutely chock full of insect life, but few of them have adapted to our homes as well as the booklouse. Booklice have found that the starch in book bindings make an ideal food source.
The greatest threat to indoor insects, after humans and their pets, is dehydration. Insects can dry out in our climate-controlled homes, and struggle to find enough water. But booklice have adapted to suck the moisture directly out of the air and can live off that vapour for three weeks, which would be like a human drinking water just once every six or seven years.
Watch the full doc The Great Wild Indoors.
Urban environments have been great for squirrels. There’s ample food and shelter and few natural predators. They’ve learned to live in much greater densities in cities than they do in other environments.
Squirrels may all look alike to us, but they’ve learned how to tell us apart. Like pigeons, they can tell which humans will feed them, and which humans will shoo them away.
They’ve also learned how to trick each other. Squirrels engage in tactical deception, something previously only seen in primates. If a squirrel buries a nut with another squirrel watching, it will only pretend to bury the nut, then take it somewhere else and bury it there while their rival scours the first site. Genius.
Watch the full doc here: Nuts About Squirrels.