Precious Plumage

From left, the feathers of an opal-crowned manakin, a snow-capped manakin and the golden-crowned manakin. Credit University of Toronto Scarborough via NYTimes

Out of the roughly 250 bird families in the world, manakins (Pipridae family) are probably my favorite, because they’re like birds of paradise (Paradisaeidae family), except you don’t have to take a helicopter to remote areas of Papua New Guinea to see them. Almost all manakins are colorful––or at least the males are; females normally being a drab green––and they often have interesting behavior as well. I saw my first manakins in Ecuador, where two flashy species had some fun sounds to go along with their calls, but most of my exposure to the family has been in Costa Rica, where I did my best to record a Long-tailed Manakin lek.

This week, the science section of the New York Times featured a story by Steph Yin about the hybridization that is hypothesized to have resulted in the colors of the Golden-crowned Manakin, one of the many South American species I have yet to experience in person. In an interesting combination of pigments and structural color, the combined genes of two other species, the Opal-crowned Manakin and the Snow-capped Manakin, are thought to have resulted in the golden color we see today, after almost 200,000 years of evolution.

The Strange Origin of a Manakin’s Golden Crown

Read the entire article by following the link above.

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