The bird that has baffled scientists: Weird warbler is THREE species in one
- Bird is the offspring of a hybrid warbler mother and a warbler father from an entirely different genus
- The strange combination resulted in a three-species hybrid bird
It is one of the weirdest birds ever found.
Scientists have shown that a bird found in Pennsylvania is the offspring of a hybrid warbler mother and a warbler father from an entirely different genus.
The strange combination resulted in a three-species hybrid bird.
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The bird found in Pennsylvania is the offspring of a hybrid warbler mother and a warbler father from an entirely different genus
This finding has just been published in the journal Biology Letters.
‘It’s extremely rare,’ said lead author and Cornell Lab of Ornithology postdoctoral associate David Toews.
‘The female is a Golden-winged/Blue-winged Warbler hybrid—also called a Brewster’s Warbler.
‘She then mated with a Chestnut-sided Warbler and successfully reproduced.’
Lowell Burket, a birdspotter in Pennsylvania, first noted the strange animal in May 2018, and eventually got in touch with researchers in the Cornell Lab’s Fuller Evolutionary Biology Lab.
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Graphic shows predicted family tree of warblers leading to the three-species hybrid. Blue-winged, Golden-winged, and Brewster’s Warblers by Liz Clayton Fuller; Chestnut-sided Warbler from del Hoyo et al. (2018) Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive; new hybrid by Jillian Ditner. Graphic courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
‘I tried to make the email sound somewhat intellectual so they wouldn’t think I was a crackpot,’ Burket recalls.
‘Having the photos and video helped. Within a week researcher David Toews came down. We found the bird again and collected a blood sample and measurements.
‘It was a very interesting and exciting morning for us.
‘A few days later I got a text message from Dave saying, ‘You were right!!!”
The key to identifying the triple-hybrid’s parents came from genetic analyses.
Hybridization is common among Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers, and this has been of particular concern for Golden-winged Warblers which have declined dramatically in some populations.
But hybridization has never been recorded between these species and Chestnut-sided Warblers.
This kind of rare hybridization event may also occur more often in the declining warbler populations of Appalachia, because there is a smaller pool of mates from which to choose.
Two views of the rare triple-hybrid warbler (Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and Chestnut-sided Warbler)
‘That this hybridization occurred within a population of Golden-winged Warblers in significant decline suggests that females may be making the best of a bad situation,’ says Toews.
‘It also tells us that wood-warblers in general have remained genetically compatible long after they evolved major differences in appearance.’
Will the bird’s mixed ancestry confuse potential mates and make him a pariah or will he be able to find a mate and successfully produce offspring? Scientists are going to keep an eye on this location to see what the future may hold for this very rare bird.
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