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Blog Birding #382

There may be no wild bird species that is more readily associated with human civilization than the plucky House Sparrow, and it turns out that their evolution was driven by humans in ways we are only now beginning to understand. More at Phys.org. 

House sparrows are closely associated with humans and are found in most parts of the world. By investigating the DNA of several species of sparrows, researchers have shown that the house sparrow diverged from a sparrow in the Middle East – and started to digest starch-rich foods – when humans developed agriculture some 11,000 years ago.

There’s been a lot of research about birds moving northward in response to climate change, but Fox Sparrows, oddly, seem to be moving south. John Lloyd at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies blog has more on this counterintuitive move.

Beginning in the early 1980s, birders in southern Quebec—well south of the known range of the species—began noticing Fox Sparrows during the summer. A few years later, scientists working on a study of how efforts to control spruce-budworm outbreaks in Maine affected bird populations found a Fox Sparrow that they suspected was nesting (thanks to Jeff Cherry, the field leader for this study, you can see the eBird checklist for this record here). In 1983, a Fox Sparrow nest was finally discovered in far northwestern Maine, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border.

The two subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler interbreed where their ranges overlap in western Canada, and the selection pressures acting against those hybrids are still unclear. At Avian Hybrids, Jente Ottenburghs attempts to shed more light on it.

There might also be differences between age classes due to variation in migration strategies. If difference species follow distinct migration routes, hybrids might opt for an intermediate – and possibly sub-optimal – route. This could increase the mortality rate among hybrids. If this is the case, we would expect more early-generation hybrids before their migration.

Tis the season for drunk waxwings, the unfortunate birds who feed on fermented berries and crash into windows. Laura Erickson shares her experiences.

I did a little research about intoxication in birds at that point, though I didn’t think I’d encounter another tipsy bird in my lifetime—it seemed too bizarre and random. But not too many years later, after we’d moved to Duluth, when I was a licensed rehabber, I was brought an intoxicated Bohemian Waxwing found by the Miller Hill Mall.

At The Nemesis Bird, Tim Healy shares some thoughts on fall birding and the tools needed to discover your own exceptional birds.

Making an effort to sniff out rare birds has a number of practical benefits that, in my opinion, help to build a better birder. If you’re serious about making a special discovery, you’ve got do your homework. You have to familiarize yourself with the expected local birds, in all their variation, to be better prepared for the out of the ordinary. It helps to learn about what locations, times, and conditions in your area are conducive for avian surprises. Making effective use of technological tools, like eBird and radar, assists a savvy birder in predicting when and where prizes may appear. The allure of potential rare birds has encouraged many naturalists to get out and regularly pound the pavement at their local patches. Learning a birding hotspot inside and out, filling in the gaps in the collective knowledge base, is a worthwhile pursuit all it’s own.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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