Oct 23, 2017

Bird feeders might be changing bird beaks

A great tit at a feeder. Photo: proxyminder / iStock

Bird beaks might be evolving to better fit bird feeders. A study of great tits in the UK, where feeders are common, found the bird's beaks have grown over the last 26 years, that British birds had longer beaks than those in the Netherlands, and that birds with genes for longer beaks were more likely to visit feeders, per Science News.

Why it matters: Scientists have known that environmental changes, like El Niño, can influence the evolution of animals. Now, it appears something as simple as bird feeders can do the same.

What they did: The scientists looked at the beaks of 2,322 great tits from the UK and the Netherlands, and also examined their genes. They tagged birds with gene variants for short and long beaks and tracked their feeding habits.

What they found: The British birds had longer beaks and were more likely to have genes associated with beak length. They also found that bird beak length had increased by about a tenth of a millimeter in 26 years, and that birds with longer beaks were more successful at raising offspring, showing selective pressure towards large beaks.

Why it happened: When the scientists looked at dietary difference between both groups of great tits, they found their diets were mostly the same. However, bird feeders are much more common in the UK than in the Netherlands. Birds with the long-beaked genes were also more likely to visit feeders than those without.

Sound smart: When Darwin visited the Galapagos, he encountered birds with such wildly different beak and skull structures, he assumed they were wildly different types of birds. When the specimens were examined, he learned that they were in fact all finches. The idea of adaptation in response to different food types in birds became central to his theory of evolution.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Countries where novel coronavirus cases are falling may be hit with a "second peak" if they relax restrictions too soon, World Health Organization emergencies chief Mike Ryan warned during a briefing Monday. "We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up," he added.

By the numbers: Brazil on Monday recorded for the first time more deaths from the novel coronavirus in a single day than the United States, Reuters notes. Brazil reported 807 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, compared to 620 in the U.S. for the same period.

Palantir CEO reflects on work with ICE

Palantir CEO Alex Karp told "Axios on HBO" that there have "absolutely" been moments he wished the company hadn't taken a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

  • "Did I suffer? ... I've had some of my favorite employees leave," Karp told "Axios on HBO."

Michigan governor won't apologize for coronavirus lockdown

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defended the strictness of her state's coronavirus lockdown in an interview with "Axios on HBO," saying it was necessary — despite the protests that have drawn national attention — because of how quickly the state's cases were rising.

The big picture: Whitmer, who has been a frequent target of President Trump, insisted that she had to act in the face of a lack of federal leadership — and that thousands more people in her state would have died without the lockdown.