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(CNN)Thousands of birds die each spring and fall when they collide with Chicago's skyscrapers, which lie on a major migration path between Canada and Latin America.
But the birds don't die in vain. Since the 1970s, many of them have been collected from the street and cataloged by the city's Field Museum. This unique and detailed set of data has been a scientific windfall, revealing that North American migratory birds appear to be shrinking in response to climate change.
A new study of this data has highlighted an important nuance in this trend: Birds that have bigger brains, relative to their body size, are not shrinking as much as their smaller-brained counterparts.
The study is the first to identify a potential link between cognition and animal response to human-made climate change, according to the researchers from Washington University in St. Louis.
"As temperatures warm, body sizes are decreasing," said Justin Baldwin, a doctoral student at Washington University and author of the study that published this week in the journal Ecology Letters, in a news release. "But larger-brained species are declining less strongly than small-brained species."
Relative brain size is often considered an indicator of behavioral flexibility in birds, according to the research. The idea is controversial when it's applied to some other animals, Baldwin said, but it works for birds.
"Relative brain size correlates with increased learning ability, increased memory, longer lifespans and more stable population dynamics," Baldwin said.
"In this case, a bigger-brained species of bird might