Jan 08 2013

Why Don’t They Just Move?

Published by at 7:25 am under Bird Behavior,Weather & Sky

When bird habitat disappears some people say, "Birds can fly.  They should just move and they'll be fine."

A new study published last month in Ecology Letters shows why that idea doesn't work.

Oxford University scientists, lead by Dr. Alex Pigot, studied the ovenbird(*) (Furnariidae) family in South America.  They found that closely related species who evolved similar feeding strategies do not live in the same area.  This isn't just a local exclusion, it's regional.

Feeding strategies are often characterized by the shape of the bird's beak and Furnariidae have some amazing ones!  This bird, the black-billed scythebill, pulls insects out of bark, bamboo and bromeliads.  The large range of his close relative, the red-billed scythebill, barely overlaps.  Each species has its niche.

What happens to displaced birds when habitat is lost?   Obviously, the homeless birds find a new location but other species are already there and successfully exploiting the niche the new birds need.  Out-competed by locals, the new arrivals may not survive.

Thus the study suggests that the effects of climate change will not be a simple shifting of bird populations but new layers of competition in a changing world.

Read more about this study of beaks and ranges here in Science Daily.

(photo of a black-billed scythebill in Brazil from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)


(*) Furnariidae are not related to our ovenbird warbler though both build nests that look like little Dutch ovens.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Why Don’t They Just Move?”

  1. Rob Protzon 08 Jan 2013 at 2:47 pm

    This reminds me of the time I had to call the USFWS because somebody at the boat docks in Brackenridge was planning to cut down a dead sycamore that was home to a Yellow-shafted Flicker nest. And they even had permission from the borough!

    When I called the USFWS office – located in Massachusetts of all places! – the woman I talked to said “Well, they’ll just move to the next tree!” (Believe it or not!) To which I of course replied: “And exactly which tree would that be; how many trees suitable for flicker nests do you think we have?”

    She didn’t have much to say in response, but it worked, because they left the tree alone, and we had a successful nest. Until that is the tree fell down on its own the following winter. But as least I saved it for one nesting season.

  2. Kate St. Johnon 08 Jan 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Good question: “Exactly which tree would that be?”

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