Birding Today: Plains area a buffer zone for species that have become hybrids – Muskogee Daily Phoenix


Light rain this morning with thunderstorms by evening. High 69F. Winds SE at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 80%. Locally heavy rainfall possible..
Showers and thundershowers this evening, then cloudy with rain likely overnight. Low 61F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 90%.
Updated: May 24, 2022 @ 4:44 am
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The Black-backed Oriole is the Baltimore Oriole’s nearest relative, while the Bullock’s Oriole shares more DNA with the Steak-backed Oriole, both of which are Mexican birds.

The Black-backed Oriole is the Baltimore Oriole’s nearest relative, while the Bullock’s Oriole shares more DNA with the Steak-backed Oriole, both of which are Mexican birds.
The Great Plains have always been one of the most valued ecosystems in the country, as it gets the best of both worlds — the eastern and western birds, as well as its own. Sadly, the bison have seen better days, fire was suppressed to keep the denizens of the central plains balanced, though the ecology is still there between forests and not-so-wild West.
For decades, birds have been making life in the Plains less inhospitable. This area has been a buffer zone for many separate species that have since become hybrids — grosbeaks, buntings and towhees. To ornithologists, it is normal and necessary to improve the species, but it can be a species ID challenge.
The Bullock’s and Baltimore Oriole situation is much different. The Northern Oriole in the ’70s was split again in 1995, and when we look at older skins with improved genome sequencing we came up with a lot of different things that raised more questions than answers.
Even in the Sutton heyday of the ’30s, there were questions about some strange looking orioles. Some beautiful drawings resulted with clearly a mix of the characteristics of both species, along with plenty of hybrids in between.
In the mid-’50s, ornithologists took a hard look at the hybrid zone where these mixed species were located and hundreds of specimens in the Plains just below North Dakota were found to come from the Platte River region in Nebraska and Colorado. This was why the two species were lumped together as one in 1973.
For some reason, this area was reproductively isolated like we have experienced with the Black-capped Chickadee and others, though this hybrid zone was shockingly narrow. At that time the AOU reversed its decision on the Northern Oriole union in 1995.
Recent mitochondrial DNA shows the two species are not the closest oriole evolutionary relatives. The Black-backed Oriole is the Baltimore Oriole’s nearest relative, while the Bullock’s Oriole shares more DNA with the Steak-backed Oriole, both of which are Mexican birds.
When the Platte River was investigated in 2016 for its original studies from the ’50s, naturally scientists sampled recent oriole specimens. It was then learned that the hybrid zone moved west by 50 kilometers since the original study.
As Bullock’s Oriole moved west, the hybrid zone genes did the same. Baltimore orioles of the east of hybrid zone center still had their DNA intergrade data in their strands. It was learned that there are more cottonwoods in the Platte area now than the original study, which the Baltimore/Bullock Oriole would also experience.
Out of the hybrid zone, the two species began to fold back into separate species, which was due to the chromosomal inversion collapse that the two species once had. They were markedly different in the male Z chromosomes, which are the hundreds of genes that control the production of dark pigments.
It was not as simple as the six genes that separated Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers. Perhaps science will hold more in the future.
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

67, Pressman for printing company, passed Sunday, May 15, 2022 Memorial service: 11AM, Monday, May 23, 2022 @ Cornerstone Funeral Home Chapel Services provided by Cornerstone Funeral Home, Muskogee, OK

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