How One Bird Became a Better Migrant

[Audubon's Warbler; credit:  Pterzian/commons.wikimedia]

[Audubon’s Warbler; credit: Pterzian/commons.wikimedia]

Some of us are born with wanderlust, but what exactly spurs a bird to journey thousands of miles each year? The answer is in part genetic, and a recent study of yellow-rumped warblers in the journal Evolution reveals how changes over generations could improve a bird’s abilities to become a master, long-distance flyer.

The research, conducted by zoologists and physiologists at the University of British Columbia, began with a genetic puzzle. There are four different groups of yellow-rumped warblers, each distinct in behavior and appearance: the Goldman’s, myrtle, Audubon’s, and black-fronted. Their genes, however, tell a different story.

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Audubon’s Warbler “Borrowed” DNA to Fuel Bird Migration

Could a common songbird have "borrowed" DNA? That's what scientists are claiming. They've found that a bird may have acquired genes from fellow migrating birds in order to travel greater distances. (Photo : Flickr/Shawn McCready)

Could a common songbird have “borrowed” DNA? That’s what scientists are claiming. They’ve found that a bird may have acquired genes from fellow migrating birds in order to travel greater distances. (Photo : Flickr/Shawn McCready)

Could a common songbird have “borrowed” DNA? That’s what scientists are claiming. They’ve found that a bird may have acquired genes from fellow migrating birds in order to travel greater distances.

Most species of birds either migrate or remain resident in one region. Yet the Audubon’s warbler is a bit different in that regard. This bird actually exhibits different behaviors in different locations. For example, the northern populations breed and then migrate south for the winter while the southern populations have a tendency to stay put all year long. Continue reading