Females that look like males:
Unraveling a hummingbird mystery

Monday, December 13, 2021

Speaker: Jay Falk, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Registration required (free) at: https://tinyurl.com/cbc202112

Hummingbirds are famous for their brilliant coloration. It is no wonder that cultures throughout history have considered them to embody a magical or even godly essence, and modern taxonomists couldn't help but name them after the most beautiful gems and jewels. But when we take a closer look, we see that not all hummingbirds are so boldly showy, and that colorfulness varies between species, subspecies, sex, and even individuals. Conventional scientific wisdom dictates that we expect to see more coloration in males than females. However, in many species where it was previously thought that males are more colorful than females, recent work has found that females, in fact, vary widely from drab to entirely male-like in ornamentation. In this talk I will be discussing one such hummingbird, the white-necked jacobin (Florisuga mellivora), where I have found that 20% of adult females are indistinguishable from males, while the rest look completely different. Even more surprisingly, I found that juveniles of this species all look like adult males, the completely opposite of what is found in most birds. I will discuss my team's process for studying these hummingbirds in the Panamanian tropics, testing multiple hypotheses, and gradually unraveling the mystery of these birds. Finally, I will frame our findings from white-necked jacobins into the broader context of evolutionary theory, showing how this fascinating species can help illuminate how color evolves in birds and beyond.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Jay Jinsing Falk grew up in Austin, Texas where some of his earliest memories involve watching grackles, pigeons, and ducks with his grandparents at Zilker Park. In college, he majored in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Texas and found an interest in animal behavior while studying flour beetles and local crickets. As a doctoral student, Jay began studying hummingbirds and color evolution at Cornell University, advised by Mike Webster at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and co-advised by Dustin Rubenstein at Columbia University. He is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle where he continues to study the evolution and behavior of hummingbirds with Alejandro Rico-Guevara.

Upcoming Webinars:

  • Monday, January 10, 2022: Kevin McGowan, Annual Share Your Photos Night

  • Monday, February 14, 2022: Lilly Briggs, Finca Cántaros Environmental Association and bird conservation in Coto Brus, Costa Rica

  • Monday, March 14, 2022: Mark Deutschlander, Blackpoll banding at Braddock Bay, including Motus

  • Monday, April 11, 2022: Tim Gallagher, Peregrines of Taughannock Falls

Previous Webinar:

  • Dr. Karan Odom, Listening to Nature’s Divas: what female songsters have to tell us (November 2021)

Cayuga Bird Club meetings start at 7:30 pm on the second Monday of each month, September through June, and are open to the public. Each virtual meeting will begin with the speaker's presentation, followed by club business.

Zoom webinar tips can be found here: CBC Zoom webinar tips.pdf