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Beak Evolution

October 20, 2017

More than a century of backyard bird feeding may have lengthened one bird species’ beaks.

Transcript

Great tits are common birds at backyard feeders in Europe and the United Kingdom. (Pixabay)

Great tits are common birds at backyard feeders in Europe and the United Kingdom. (Pixabay)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A bill for evolution. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Backyard bird feeding has been popular in the United Kingdom since the late Victorian era. Now, researchers report in Science magazine that the pastime could be driving the evolution of longer beaks in birds called great tits. University of Sheffield evolutionary geneticist Jon Slate says the birds’ bills have increased in length in the UK in recent years and are longer than those in the nearby Netherlands, where backyard feeders are less common.

JON SLATE (University of Sheffield):

And we also showed that those birds with genes for longer bills tended to rear more chicks successfully than the birds with shorter bills. So it looks like there’s some kind of advantage to having longer bills that’s associated with the use of bird feeders, perhaps.

HIRSHON:

The researchers are now looking into why bird feeding might lead to the evolution of longer bills. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard

A great tit in Sweden. (Pixabay)

A great tit in Sweden. (Pixabay)