Snowshoe hares’ camouflage, new study


This 2015 video is called Epic Hunting Chase of the Canadian Lynx and Snowshoe Hare in HD.

From The University of Montana in the USA:

How snowshoe hares evolved to stay seasonally camouflaged

June 21, 2018

Many animals have evolved fur or feather colors to blend in with the environment and hide from predators. But how do animals stay camouflaged when their environment changes with each new season? Researchers at the University of Montana recently discovered that hybridization played an important role in snowshoe hares’ ability to match their environment.

An international scientific team led by UM Associate Professor Jeffrey Good and graduate student Matthew Jones set out to discover how snowshoe hares have evolved to molt to a white coat in areas with prolonged winter snow cover while populations from mild coastal environments of the Pacific Northwest retain brown fur year-round.

“Like other seasonal traits, the autumn molt in snowshoe hares is triggered by changes in day length”m Good said. “But the color of their winter coat is determined by genetic variation that has been shaped by evolution to match the local presence or absence of snow.”

In a new article published in the journal Science, Good’s team discovered that the development of brown or white winter coats in snowshoe hares is controlled by genetic variation at a single pigmentation gene that is activated during the autumn molt.

“This result is exciting because it shows that critical adaptive shifts in seasonal camouflage can evolve through changes in the regulation of a single gene,” Jones said.

The genetic discovery came with a surprising twist.

“When we looked at the same gene in other closely related species”, Jones said, “we found that the brown version of the gene in snowshoe hares was recently acquired from interbreeding with black-tail jackrabbits, another North American species that remains brown in the winter.”

Hybridization between species has played a key role in the development of many domestic plants and animals, and recent research suggests that it is also surprisingly common in nature. In snowshoe hares, hybridization with black-tailed jackrabbits provided critical coat color variation needed to adapt to coastal areas where winter snow is ephemeral or absent. But what does this mean for snowshoe hares going forward?

“Brown winter coats are currently rare across the range of snowshoe hares”, Good said. “If snow cover continues to decrease due to climate change, brown winter coats may become more common in the future and play a critical role in the resilience of this species. These discoveries are helping us understand how organisms adapt to rapidly changing environments.”

UM Professor Scott Mills is a co-author on the paper. For this research, UM partnered with the Universidade do Porto and CIBIO-InBIO in Portugal, North Carolina State University, Arizona State University, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

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Female songbirds singing, other bird news


This video from the USA says about itself:

Do Female Songbirds Sing Too? – Bird News of March 2018

1 April 2018

I’m a day late with this video because I ran into so many problems with my recording equipment. Thankfully though, I have it all sorted out, yay!

In this bird news video, I talk about how Farmers are turning to birds for help with controlling pests, how humans are behind the majority of raptor deaths and how there are actually many species of birds where females sing too.

American red-shafted, yellow shafted flickers


This video from the USA says about itself:

Woodpecker Pecking and Calling : Northern Flicker, Red-shafted Flicker

5 March 2015

This is the western, red-shafted form of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). Taken along the Clackamas River in Oregon in March. It is probably more interested in finding a mate than in finding food.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office in the USA:

For flickers, looks can be deceiving

June 6, 2018

The North American woodpeckers known as “flickers” stand out for their distinctive wing and tail feathers of bright reds or yellows, and for their rampant interbreeding where these birds of different colors meet in the Great Plains. Despite the obvious visual differences between the Red-shafted Flicker of the west and the Yellow-shafted Flicker of the east, scientists have never before found genetic differences between them. A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances uses data from thousands of regions across the genome to distinguish these birds molecularly for the first time.

Stepfanie Aguillon and her colleagues at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology explored patterns across the genomes of these birds and find them to be incredibly similar at the molecular level. In spite of the strong similarity, they still have the ability to distinguish the western Red-shafted Flickers from the eastern Yellow-shafted Flickers for the first time through the use of new genomic methods. Genomic technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that genetic sequence differences that were undetectable in the 1980s using (then) cutting-edge methods are now readily apparent using next-generation sequencing techniques.

Flickers have intrigued ornithologists and naturalists at least as far back as Audubon, but only recently has it become possible to understand these birds genomically”, says lead author Stepfanie Aguillon. “I was unsure what we would find, given how much trouble previous researchers have had with these birds. I was surprised — and excited — by how similar we found them to be since we now had thousands of markers across the genome. I think this paper underlies a theme that has become more and more apparent over the last few years — even when two birds look very different, they may not be very different genetically.”

“The hybrid zone between the yellow- and red-shafted flickers is particularly striking, but despite very apparent morphological and ecological differences, genetic studies beginning in the late 1980s found few differences between these two ‘subspecies'”, adds flicker expert William S. Moore, a Wayne State University professor who was not involved with this research. “Hybrid zones are often described as “natural laboratories” for studies on speciation. Despite the low level of genetic divergence across the flicker hybrid zone, it is certain that selection is operating on genes involved in plumage divergence and ecological adaptation. Aguillon’s study will be a foundation stone for studies that identify the adapted genes and will bring us to a new understanding of the processes of speciation.”

American bird nests at strange places


This video from the USA says about itself:

2018 Funky Nests in Funky Places Contest

7 May 2018

Funky nests are everywhere! Find a funky nest and sent a photo, or a story, or some artwork about it to the Celebrate Urban Birds citizen-science project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by June 30. You could win a prize for the funkiest, funniest, cutest, or most inconvenient funky nest. Got to FunkyNests.org.

Blue jay migration in North America


This video from North America says about itself:

19 March 2018

The blue jay migration is a hard one to figure out. Some birds migrate and some don’t.

Female birds sing as well


This video from North America says about itself:

Singing female Northern Cardinal outside of the house

I heard her chirping from my open window while I was sleeping. Once I heard the singing I ran outside with the camera. The male is also heard close by.

Shaky camera as I just woke up…at 9am 3/28/2013

She looks more white than I ever noticed before, maybe a bad feather day?

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office in the USA:

Scientists remind their peers: Female birds sing, too

March 14, 2018

When North American ornithologists hear a bird singing, they’re likely to assume it’s a male. But in many species, the females sing too — and a new commentary in The Auk: Ornithological Advances argues that a better understanding of these unappreciated female songs could lead to advances in many aspects of bird biology.

Authors Karan Odom of Cornell University and Lauryn Benedict of the University of Northern Colorado both discovered the world of female birdsong through their own research. “I started studying California towhees 17 years ago, and I was fascinated by the duet vocalization given by females and males”, says Benedict. “That led me to start looking for female song in other North American bird species, and I was surprised to learn that it was much more common than I expected. The reports of female song are buried in odd corners of the literature, but when you put them all together, you start to see some interesting patterns.”

Though singing females were likely the norm among the ancestors of today’s songbirds, female song today is understudied and is underrepresented in collections of bird sound recordings. This, say Odom and Benedict, may be result of bias toward the world’s temperate regions — though more widespread in temperate species than many ornithologists appreciate, female song is most common among tropical birds. They argue that better documentation of which species female song is present in and more detailed descriptions of female song structure and output could improve our understanding of birds’ comparative physiology, neurobiology, behavioral ecology, evolution, and even conservation. Birds of conservation concern are often located and identified by song during surveys, and assumptions that all singing birds are male could mislead wildlife managers about the state of populations.

Odom and Benedict urge their fellow ornithologists to spread the word that female birds sing, to share resources, and to disseminate their findings. You don’t need to be a professional ornithologist in order to help expand our knowledge of female song, either — Odom has created a website where any birdwatcher can upload their observations. “If you hear a bird singing, do not assume it’s a male”, she says. “If you observe a female bird singing, document it by uploading field notes, audio, or video to the collections on our website, femalebirdsong.org. Make sure to indicate how you recognized the bird was female.”

“Odom and Benedict have written an excellent appeal to document and record more female bird song,” adds Leiden University‘s Katharina Riebel, a former collaborator of Odom’s. “They rightly point out that the extent of female bird song has been starkly underestimated, as almost by default we assume that a singing bird must be the male of the species. As a consequence, we might have missed out many aspects and the dynamics of male and female vocal signaling in songbirds — clearly, there is still lots to discover! I am confident that ornithologists in the field can make substantial contributions toward these questions by sharing their observations and recordings, as I very much hope this article will encourage them to do.”

American downy and hairy woodpeckers, why similar?


This 2014 video from North America says about itself:

How to tell a Hairy Woodpecker from a Downy

The plumage is the same, but size and a couple of other factors set them apart.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA today:

When two species look similar, it’s natural to assume they’re close relatives. But Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers—two of North America’s best known lookalikes—aren’t closely related at all. Scientists are left wondering how they came to look so similar. One researcher decided to put his ideas to the test.