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Blog Birding #399

At Audubon, Hannah Waters explores the wild world of Dark-eyed Junco subspecies.

But they aren’t separate species—at least, not yet. The regional varieties of junco will still mate and interbreed randomly wherever their ranges meet, which means they are all the same species. “It’s probably speciation in action,” says Ellen Ketterson, an Indiana University biologist who has studied Dark-eyed Juncos for 45 years. “We think we have to go to the Galapagos or Hawaii to see that. But this is a backyard bird that offers that kind of challenge to our understanding.”

Mallards and American Black Ducks are remarkably similar, and hybrids of the two species are common in parts of North America. At Avian Hybrids, Jente Ottenburghs turns a fresh eye to the persistent question of whether Mallards are breeding black ducks out of existence.

This analysis revealed relatively few backcrosses. In fact, individuals that backcrossed into Black Duck or Mallard were genetically indistinguishable from “pure” individuals within one or two generations. This suggests that there is little gene flow between the species. In contrast to previous work, the Black Duck is not being assimilated by Mallards. However, this analysis is based on only 0.04% of the genome (using RADseq data), so they might have missed important genomic regions.

The aerial abilities of swifts are remarkable. A recent study, summarized at Phys.org, looks into their ability to live for months in the air.

Using micro-data loggers attached to the birds, the researchers measured movement when the wings flap. The loggers record activity every five minutes, and the bird’s location once a month. Using this method, the researchers have been able to ascertain that the birds live for months at a time in the air during the , the period of the year they spend in West Africa after the breeding season in Italy.

This year’s Champions of the Flyway is raising money for work with African vultures, whose populations have cratered in recent years. At the Leica Naturalist Blog, Adrian Jordi talks about what this conservation project means to him.

While victory would be sweet for the Swiss team, it is not their main focus. The competition is about much more: protection of Africa’s vultures, which are critically endangered. For Adrian, the species protection project is the main focus: ‘We want to help the world. That’s the most important thing. The fact that we’re able to accomplish this while doing what we love is a gift.’ All the teams participating in the race share this attitude, which means it’s more about collaboration than competition. ‘Exactly, we support and help each other. We share information with one another through a WhatsApp group – for example, when a team spots a rare bird species or finds a particularly interesting location. It is important that all the teams perform well.’

At For the Birds, Laura Erickson breaks down leucistic plumage, and what it means for birds so afflicted.

Any bird with lighter than normal plumage or unusual white areas on the body is called leucistic. This chickadee is the first one I’ve ever seen that was in what might be called dilute plumage—the definition of the word leucistic as I learned it in ornithology classes in the 1970s. I’ve seen several other leucistic chickadees over the years, but they were what I’d prefer to call partial albinos—parts of their bodies were normally colored while other parts were pure white.

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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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