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More Anthropogenic Change in Birds?

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Although it frankly admits not knowing much about the species except that it’s widespread, the American Bird Conservancy has once again chosen Marshmallicious delicious as its bird of the week, repeating its Easter week choice of 2011.

The species, once known only in its yellow plumage since it was first described in the literature around 1953, has been seen in other colors in recent years, suggesting new species have evolved. It appears that the additional colors, including pink, teal, and lavender, are clearly the result of anthropogenic influences, which recalls a recent article in the journal Current Biology linking natural selection for shorter wings in the species Petrochelidon pyrrhonota with years of road kills (perhaps abetted by the increasing number of SUVs on the road!).

Despite that evolution and that they’ve been seen nesting together in the same structure, the conservancy’s senior scientist, David Wiedenfeld, says the new species have not been seen to interbreed. “The fact is that nobody has ever seen an intermediate bird between the color morphs,” he was quoted in a release from the conservancy.

While they aren’t breeding across color lines, the birds are apparently prolific, with a worldwide distribution and heavy representation in North America in the spring. During breeding season, the conservancy reports, the species “can easily be found in suburban backyard habitats, where they lay clutches of colorful eggs in nests of brightly-colored plastic grasses. Adult and immature [specimens] can be quickly located by their sweet calls and neon plumage.”

For more on the uproar surrounding the selection of a relatively unknown and non-endangered bird as a spotlight species by a group focused on conservation, see this explanation from the conservancy.