Study: Climate Change is Making Some Birds Uglier

Collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis)
Collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). By, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

A new study claims climate stress is making some birds lose their mating ornamentation.

Climate change ecology: Hot under the collar

A 34-year study of collared flycatchers demonstrates that males are evolving to be less ornamented in response to rising temperatures.

For male collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis; pictured), having a large white patch on your forehead signals that you are a fearsome rival, and an attractive mate. But while large patch size was thought to give males an evolutionary advantage, it seems that climate change is turning this advantage on its head. In this issue of Nature Ecology & Evolution, Evans and Gustafsson report that the collared flycatcher’s forehead patch has declined in size because large patch males have lower fitness as the climate warms.

In many animals, males have ornamental features that are used to attract mates, and to signal to rivals during territorial interactions. While these ‘sexually selected’ ornaments can increase a male’s mating success, they can also impose a variety of costs on their bearers. Ornaments such as bright colouration can increase susceptibility to predators, or they can predispose males to competing for larger territories and more mates, at the expense of providing care for their offspring. As a result, ornamental traits are hypothesized to evolve only when the benefits of being ornamented outweigh the costs.

While the authors demonstrate a strong link between climate warming and selection on male ornamentation, they were not able to determine the mechanism behind this link.

Certainly, there are good theoretical reasons why climatic changes could influence animal ornamentation across the globe. As Evans and Gustafsson show, some ornaments will decline in response to environmental change, and it is conceivable that some ornaments could disappear altogether. However, there are also reasons to predict that climate change will drive the evolution of new, or exaggerated, ornaments in some species. Just as climate change will lead to winners and losers in terms of species’ abundance and distribution, it seems it may also lead to winners and losers in the global beauty pageant.

Read more:

The abstract of the study referenced by the press release;

Climate change upends selection on ornamentation in a wild bird

Simon R. Evans & Lars Gustafsson

Secondary sexual traits have high heritabilities and are exposed to strong, environmentally sensitive selection, and so are expected to evolve rapidly in response to sustained environmental change. We examine the eco-evolutionary dynamics of ornament expression in a long-term study population of collared flycatchers, Ficedula albicollis, in which forehead patch size, which positively influences male reproductive success, declined markedly over 34 years. Annual fitness selection on forehead patch size switched from positive to negative during the study, a reversal that is accounted for by rising spring temperatures at the breeding site: highly ornamented males were selectively favoured following cold breeding seasons but selected against following warm breeding seasons. An ‘individual animal model’ describes a decline in the genetic values of breeding males during the study, which simulations showed was unlikely to result from drift alone. These results are thus consistent with adaptive evolution of a sexually selected trait in response to climate change.

Long-term population studies have provided many examples of traits undergoing substantial phenotypic change in response to climate change. While these are seemingly indicative of contemporary evolution, robust demonstrations of adaptation are conspicuously rare, particularly in light of studies showing that phenotypic change does not equate to genetic change. While direct demonstrations of shifts in allele frequencies in response to climate change have emerged, many phenotypes do not follow simple Mendelian patterns of inheritance and are instead influenced by innumerable loci, each of small effect, such that studying individual loci will provide little information about the evolutionary dynamics governing the trait. Quantitative genetics resolves this apparent impasse by providing an analytical framework that treats the summed contribution of all loci as the unit of interest, an approach that has proven highly successful in predicting the responses of domestic populations to artificial selection. In particular, the ‘individual animal model’ estimates the genetic value of each individual in the sample population, providing a robust methodology for quantifying evolutionary change in the wild. However, published demonstrations of adaptive evolution of quantitative traits in response to climate change have been conspicuously absent since the realization that earlier applications are strongly anticonservative.

Research on the evolutionary impact of climate change in vertebrates has centred on phenological traits yet selection on secondary sexual traits is highly environmentally sensitive, which, combined with their high heritabilities14, would seem to make them ideal traits for observing evolutionary responses to climate change. However, while comparative analyses support theoretical predictions that secondary sexual traits are evolutionarily labile, robust demonstrations of their contemporary evolution in the wild are scant, being limited to discrete traits18 or populations exposed to severe artificial selection. Indeed, the apparent evolutionary stasis of secondary sexual traits has been the subject of much speculation, despite the scarcity of demonstrations of contemporary evolution in the wild for quantitative traits in genera.

We studied secondary sexual trait expression in a nestbox-breeding population of male collared flycatchers, Ficedula albicollis, from 1981 to 2014. The sex-limited, white forehead patch (Fig. 1) is an established ornamental trait: males expressing a large forehead patch have a competitive advantage over rival males22,23. Forehead patch size is heritable and the possibility that evolutionary change might underlie the decline in phenotypic expression (Fig. 2a) has been raised previously. We therefore assessed selection on forehead patch size and used individual-level quantitative genetic modelling to infer the evolutionary change in ornamentation.

Read more:

I can’t help thinking the inference drawn by this study is weak. The study does not identify a mechanism by which a slight change of temperature increased stress. The study authors themselves suggested that in some cases, warming could lead to more exaggerated mating ornamentation. Even if we accept that the study authors are correct about collared flycatchers, by the study author’s own words it isn’t possible to generalise this finding into a prediction about all bird species. I suspect there are many potential issues other than a slight change in temperature, which could stress an isolated population of birds.

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January 24, 2017 5:35 pm

Summary of all climate change papers: X(t1)X(t2), therefore must be climate change.

Reply to  WR
January 24, 2017 6:57 pm

“While the authors demonstrate a strong link between climate warming and selection on male ornamentation, they were not able to determine the mechanism behind this link.”
They cover 34 years, they claim, and there has been no significant climate warming since1988, which is 29 years. It sounds as if they have a hard time understanding the connections between warming and the birds because there was no warming and there is simply no connections. I got it covered, they can go home now.
It is fun to see that they took such an extensive study and found a way to beg for more funding, the money line, global warming—more funding please. If all goes correctly, that will not happen and the gravy train is derailed. Time to find a better, maybe real job, I would say.

Leonard Lane
Reply to  higley7
January 24, 2017 9:12 pm

Who could have foreseen that fudging the databases to create false warming could lead to problems for the pretty flycatcher?
Isn’t climate seance powerful? Even when there is no global warming, it can affect tiny little birds by making leftists think it is getting warmer.
Good news is that leftists/greens will loose their scam all because of one little old election.

Reply to  higley7
January 25, 2017 12:57 am

That and has been said MANY times before, correlation is not causation. They admit to the lack of causation i.e. “…they are not able to determine the mechanism behind the link’.

Reply to  higley7
January 25, 2017 3:14 am

I agree with Eric that the study is weak. If that sounds insulting, then it isn’t intended to denigrate the effort that must have gone into this [though presumably the authors were only picking up on the fieldwork of others]. As an anorak myself, I understand the strange fun to be found in this sort of stuff.
Higley, they have tried to correlate white patch size with ‘mean spring temperatures’ at an observed breeding site so they aren’t tagging it against any particular measure of global warming. They don’t give too many details about temperature (or other conditions at the site) over the observation period, but the temperature doesn’t show a clear linear trend and therefore wider conclusions are not easily drawn. Nor, to give the authors credit, do they really attempt to.
The most interesting observation I have after a quick read of the paper is found in supplementary information, Table 2. There are very large changes in white patch size over a very short time. decreased by 30% between 1996 and 1997, and increased by 35% between 1999 and 2000. Indeed changes of almost 50% are observed over a few years. The selective pressure to cause such rapid fluctuations must be very strong indeed (another explanation would be, if sample sizes were too small). Of course, they pick out long term trends and I’m not really strong enough on stats to properly critique the correlations they find. My own feeling is that this study would be very much more interesting if (a) more information were given about the breeding habits of the bird, and the other conditions of the site, and (b) more information about the situation at the African wintering grounds, where the patch itself develops. They refer to a Hungarian study claiming to show similar reduction in patch size as support, but that study doesn’t mention breeding site temperature so that we cannot know if it supports or undermines the thesis. As white patch size is said to have declined throughout the flycatcher’s range, a much briefer parallel study surveying temperature trends at 20-30 known, but randomly selected, sites would be a source of confirmation or otherwise.
It is very well established that gaudy ornamentation in response to sexual selection does indeed carry a survival penalty, but without a coherent explanation of how this might be related to temperature at the breeding site I’m inclined to the verdict ‘not proven’. The ‘ornamentation penalty’ is often, though not exclusively, related to predation. I do note that in general, the gaudiest ornaments, especially those relating to colour, are found in the hottest climates (white and black MIGHT be an exception in view of their thermal properties). Flycatcher migration to Europe has been reducing for a very long time and some of the answers may be found in Africa or the Mediterranean. Maybe the white patch is a good target for the legendary Maltese potshotters? The stats might be found to show that, too?

Reply to  higley7
January 25, 2017 3:48 am

. Maybe the white patch is a good target for the legendary Maltese potshotters? ‘Mothcatcher’
Yes, this would explain intense selective pressure.
Presuming there actually was an increase in the temperature of the flycatcher domain, the insects would also be faster and so more agile.
The bigger the hyper reflectiveness of the bird, the better able the insects to avoid being food, as they spotted them coming to eat them earlier.
So big spotted birds missed out more than smaller spotted birds on a good feed.
So they had to work harder for fewer total insect catches, so had smaller clutch sizes and more dieaways
before hatching.
So birds with smaller white spots lived and thrived to breed for the next generation.

Reply to  higley7
January 25, 2017 6:14 am

Regardless of what’s happening to the world’s temperature, did the author’s bother to document the temperature range for the region of their study?

george e. smith
Reply to  WR
January 25, 2017 2:16 pm

What about the Marabou Stork ??
Now there is a true butt ugly excuse for a bird.
Griffon vultures are spectacularly beautiful compared to the Marabou Stork.

Reply to  george e. smith
January 26, 2017 8:53 am

Yes indeed george. e.! Witness the flock of Marabous in the grounds of the Nile Hilton, Kampala, Uganda. Known during the reign of Idi Amin as the hotel you check in but never check out….

January 24, 2017 5:36 pm

The not equal to sign somehow got lost there. X(t1) is not equal to X(t2)

Joel O’Bryan
January 24, 2017 5:36 pm

Authors: (bow to the political imperative)
Niw where’s my grant renewal to continue my research/paycheck?
note: many manuscripts now coming out of embargo were weitten back when HRC was expected to be #45. thus the genuflection to the political narrative.

R. Shearer
January 24, 2017 5:38 pm

Ashley Judd and Madonna come to mind.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  R. Shearer
January 24, 2017 6:09 pm

It’s had quite an effect on Hillary’s looks.

Jay Hope
Reply to  Pop Piasa
January 25, 2017 12:50 am

‘It’s had quite an effect on Hillary’s looks’

Reply to  R. Shearer
January 25, 2017 12:58 am

Mr Shearer, you are referring to the wrong kind of “birds”… 😉

Reply to  AussieBear
January 25, 2017 6:15 am

My little chickadees.

Dean - NSW
January 24, 2017 5:44 pm

They must be coming up for a funding review….
I would have thought increasing black colouration would be a disadvantage in the 73 degree warmer than last week conditions we find ourselves in.

January 24, 2017 5:45 pm

Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
Another classic example of how to fleece the taxpayer by prefacing your study with “climate change” and have it funded, published in Nature mag, cited and promoted.
The damage to “science” that “climate” has and is doing is farcical.

January 24, 2017 5:46 pm

Good Lord. 34 years and this is what they come up with. Lets see if we can access the likely thought process… nobody really cares about what we have spent our lives obsessing about. We need a little click bait. Throw in climate change. Ta Da. Add this paper to the 97%.

Reply to  troe
January 25, 2017 6:57 am

The idea that you can measure evolutionary forces (which are believed to take place on a time scale of millenia or more) in only a 34 year period is ridiculous on its face.

george e. smith
Reply to  wws
January 25, 2017 2:18 pm

Not so.
ALL of my children are totally different from me, and also no two of them are in any way alike.

January 24, 2017 5:47 pm

Errrr, uhmmm … are they saying that (very) slightly warmer weather makes it easier for male birds to “connect” so they don’t have to waste energy on plumage?
How is that a bad thing?

Bemused Bill
Reply to  jkp416
January 24, 2017 7:22 pm

Easier to connect=less stressful. Look around the world and see where the most brightly coloured birst tend to thrive…at the same latitudes to the corals.

Bemused Bill
Reply to  Bemused Bill
January 24, 2017 7:23 pm

Birds…goddam it. Typo.

george e. smith
Reply to  Bemused Bill
January 25, 2017 2:21 pm

Well Birsts of Paradise are not getting any uglier; and in their neck of the woods, that would be fatal to family tree spreading.

Reply to  jkp416
January 24, 2017 9:40 pm

Population is probably self culling from ample food supplies, so mating or not mating is the control device.

Reply to  jkp416
January 24, 2017 11:21 pm

… so they don’t have to waste energy on plumage?

For some creatures, a display feature is indeed ‘expensive’ to grow. The fitter critter can grow a bigger more ostentatious display feature and thereby signal that he is a better mate. A classic example would be the peacock’s tail.
In this case, I find it hard to believe that white feathers are harder to grow than black feathers. As far as I can tell, the only difference is color and the bird seems to have no trouble growing white feathers elsewhere on his body.
How about an alternate theory … posited by me … I am not a biologist (IANAB).
How about the white spot is related to birdie testosterone, like a male human’s bald spot is related to testosterone (Yes I know, it’s complicated). In that case, the size of the white spot could be affected by chemical pollution, or other stressors like noise, or changes in available food, or any of a thousand other environmental factors that don’t actually affect fitness. Did you know that birds that live near highways sing differently? A particular species may actually thrive better in a human environment, many do, but it will change its song to adapt to the greater noise.
Anyway, it seems to me that these academics have made the unexamined assumption that this bird’s display feature takes more energy to grow or somehow indicates a fitter individual. The change could just be an adaptation similar to other birds who change their song in the presence of noise.

Reply to  commieBob
January 25, 2017 6:17 am

Brightly colored birds are more easily spotted by predators.

Reply to  commieBob
January 25, 2017 7:03 am

“Brightly colored birds are more easily spotted by predators.”
That observation leads me to an exciting alternative hypothesis, which I will point out has just as much evidence in its favor as the “global warming” hypothesis does.
As you say, brightly colored birds are more easily spotted by predators. So it is logical to surmise that predation dangers have lessened, which implies a lower number of predators. The primary predators of songbirds would be hawks and other raptors. (egg stealers such as snakes have no relation to the visibility of the plumage) So, why would there be a lower number of raptors? Because windfarms have been killing so many of them, tens of thousands every year!
Therefore, I propose that Alternative Energy, in the form of giant wind turbines, is Making Birds Uglier.
And you can’t prove it’s not true!!!

John in Oz
January 24, 2017 6:01 pm

More CO2 leads to…
more greenery leads to…
extended range of habitat leads to…
less competition per unit area leads to…
white patch-challenged birds having more success leads to…
average size of white patches diminishes leads to…
“It’s worse than we thought” – send more money

Reply to  John in Oz
January 24, 2017 7:38 pm

I thought size didn’t matter.

Bemused Bill
Reply to  Ken
January 24, 2017 7:56 pm

Said the Bishop to the actress.

Reply to  John in Oz
January 25, 2017 1:31 am

More CO2 leads to…
more greenery leads to…
extended range of habitat leads to…

Yep, that is the connection I would have proposed.

January 24, 2017 6:12 pm

Climate change is certainly making most liberal AGW believing women nastier as well as uglier. Have you ever looked at Naomi Oreskes? Yee Gods!

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Allencic
January 24, 2017 6:19 pm


Reply to  Allencic
January 24, 2017 6:32 pm

If you think it is only women, have a look at Michael Mann.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
January 24, 2017 8:22 pm

Difference is, Mike can still get action because he is rich and famous. No man cares if Naomi is rich and famous. Funny how the sexes differ that way.

Reply to  Allencic
January 24, 2017 6:57 pm

How about Kari Norgaard? She gives me nightmares.

Reply to  Allencic
January 24, 2017 7:48 pm

That is why Viagra had to be invented 😉

Reply to  ossqss
January 24, 2017 8:27 pm

Or dark nights.

Reply to  ossqss
January 25, 2017 6:18 am


Reply to  ossqss
January 25, 2017 5:50 pm

Paper bag?

January 24, 2017 6:17 pm

This study is pure garbage. There is no reason for assuming a connection between slight warming and this claimed(?) evolutionary change, except for the obvious fact that any study that implies that global warming is somehow bad for something, will get published. There are likely dozens of explanations for this (claimed) change, including simply random change that has no evolutionary purpose.

Reply to  arthur4563
January 24, 2017 11:42 pm

“This study is pure garbage.”,
Too true, it’s the same logic that says because one event eg CO2 production by humans, occurred at the same time as another eg temperature increases after the Little Ice Age, then it caused that event.
“This study is pure garbage.”

Go read a chart
Reply to  Jon
January 25, 2017 12:04 am

Even worse, it presumes that any changes are caused by adaptation. No reason is offered for the failure to consider simple genetic drift. Fake science.

Reply to  arthur4563
January 25, 2017 12:20 am

I wouldn’t be so cavalier about dismissing the conclusions of the study. After all, I know for a fact that climate change has made a whole bunch of scientists dumber.

Warren Latham
Reply to  arthur4563
January 25, 2017 1:50 am

+ umpteen, to the power of “EW”.

January 24, 2017 6:21 pm

There is the MOOREBIRD, which gets uglier all the time, and heavier too. Known to be flightless now.

Robert B
January 24, 2017 6:21 pm

“The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion” – so lets concentrate on it not being able to get a date?
It also points out that it is known to hybridize with Ficedula hypoleuca, a similar bird with males having a smaller white patch. From the reference ” Two mechanisms reduce the costs to female collared flycatchers of pairing with male pied flycatchers. ” so the females don’t think that size of man’s penis is proportional to the size of his white patch.

January 24, 2017 6:22 pm

Yes! YES!!!
(b = −0.324 ± 0.071 mm2 yr−1, t1,32 = −4.58, P < 0.001)
(b = −0.00406 ± 0.00126, t1,31 = −3.22, P = 0.003)
They have Wee p values!
It must be true.

Reply to  TonyL
January 24, 2017 7:22 pm

“Wee p values”
You need to get that looked at.. ! 🙂

Reply to  AndyG55
January 25, 2017 2:40 am

You jest when you should not.
Do not treat lightly with wizards.
For they are subtle,
and quick to anger.
Study well, then weep for your lost soul.

Steve Case
January 24, 2017 6:38 pm

Global warming/Climate Change causes brain fungus, hard stools, warts …

Reply to  Steve Case
January 25, 2017 1:02 am

And let’s not forget the Heartbreak of Psoriasis…

January 24, 2017 6:40 pm

What about Tweety?

January 24, 2017 6:51 pm

Didn’t Darwin sort this out?

Ron Booth
Reply to  jimmmy
January 24, 2017 8:16 pm

YES He did. He described it as sexual selection or something like that, rather than natural selection.

Steve Lohr
January 24, 2017 7:00 pm

And the model said: Hail the model. Thank God for the Model. Without the model there would be no science. And the damning quote is: “An ‘individual animal model’ describes a decline in the genetic values of breeding males during the study, which simulations showed was unlikely to result from drift alone.” My thought? I think the simulation is a wee bit off, that’s what I think!!

Mike Bromley the wannabe Kurd
January 24, 2017 7:02 pm

“they were not able to determine the mechanism behind this link”….Thereby erasing any hope of repeatable experiments or alternate explanations. Wow.

Reply to  Mike Bromley the wannabe Kurd
January 24, 2017 8:47 pm

If they can’t find the mechanism, they can’t prove the cause.

Reply to  Mike Bromley the wannabe Kurd
January 27, 2017 12:28 am

Literally not doing that. But thanks for the hilariously obtuse input.

January 24, 2017 7:02 pm

Go to any credible ornithology website and look up the breeding ranges of any common bird species. Robins, geese, finches, raptors…you name it. Many species live and breed over huge areas on any continent and there are significant differences in temperatures between these wide regions. Here’s the breeding range of Am robin:comment image
Which brings me to a funny/sad story. Three years ago, four of my “colleagues” (a small group of highly educated folks with interests in energy and climate) met with three profs at the University of Lethbridge. Waste of time for sure. THEY knew everything and we knew nothing. (Yet they made several untrue statements and simply refused to listen to facts.) Anyway, we were discussing growing season changes and to prove to us how the climate was changing and seasons longer, one said. “Robins now breed in the Arctic.” Huh? So when I got home, I emailed a map of the breeding range of the Am robin from a 1962 edition of “The Birds of Canada.” You guessed it. Robins were breeding inside the Arctic Circle way back then as well as today.
Love Anthony’s post today with this quote: “Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” Shakespeare’s MacBeth, Scene 5.5
That applies to myriads of climate types, eh?

Bemused Bill
Reply to  CLIVE
January 24, 2017 8:04 pm

Excellent comment. If only Monty Python were still around, we might see more of Anne Elk, or the Dept of Silly Sciences etc.

January 24, 2017 7:12 pm

wouldn’t the climate have to actually change first? do these idiots actually think the birds read peer reviewed papers written by hoaxters?

Reply to  General P. Malaise
January 27, 2017 12:29 am

The climate did change. People in glass houses…

January 24, 2017 7:15 pm

These dudes missed something. It’s all due to fickle female tastes in Style. Some of the males have gotten the word, others haven’t.

Duane Truitt
January 24, 2017 7:20 pm

Realizing that this post just hits the highlights of the study, it seems to be missing several key questions and their answers:
1) How much actual warming occurred in the areas where the birds lived over the 34 year period? Where is their dataset?
2) What is the biological mechanism that supposedly selected the males’ smaller, ahem, thingy …. and given that the climate has been warming for the last 15,000 years, why the heck didn’t the thingy disappear 14,966 years ago? Did it used to be massively larger 15,000 years ago?
3) If the population of these animals is stable or increasing, how the heck can these researchers assert that a warming climate is somehow “stressing” the birds?
Just askin’

Reply to  Duane Truitt
January 24, 2017 7:24 pm

“How much actual warming occurred in the areas”
Yep.. ALWAYS the first thing to check..
Generally you find it very little, if any.
The warming is just an ASS-umption.

January 24, 2017 7:32 pm

After 34 years of studying the collared flycatcher all they could come up with is climate change caused their ornamental feathers to decline? This is just silly. How anyone could take this seriously is beyond me. Papers like this are making a mockery of science. Everyone knows birds are just losing their male/female feather differentiation to get more sex.

Reply to  markl
January 24, 2017 7:43 pm

Perhaps it’s not warming. Perhaps homo sapiens are not the only species that has evolved in such a way that cross-gender, cross-dressing, even sex change surgery are more common place. Or could it be that the warming climate has caused that evolution in humans.
These are indeed exciting times for those who are looking to publish papers showing the dramatic effects of global warming.

January 24, 2017 7:41 pm

Who the heck paid for this 34 year study? Really, 34 years for what? How much did they actually get paid? Did they have a real job in 34 years?
I could easily deduce the degradation of their eyesight and cogent perception (through testing them) of these people was part of the birds transformation after 34 years of wasted funds. Gheeze.
Really, how much money was spent on this?

Reply to  ossqss
January 24, 2017 7:45 pm

For the record, many of the birds I actually observe here in Florida have their plumage changed by their diet/food source over time. Just sayin…….

Ore-gonE Left
January 24, 2017 7:51 pm

I always thought my gray hair was the result of my divorce. Silly me, I now learn. from a taxpayer funded study by “scientists”, that it was the damn climate! Who can I sue????????

Myron Mesecke
January 24, 2017 7:53 pm

Perhaps the females have gotten ‘easy’ so the males don’t have to look as good.

Reply to  Myron Mesecke
January 24, 2017 8:02 pm

Friends with “benefits” leads to lower expectations. A form of polygamy without the commitment.

January 24, 2017 7:54 pm

Might I suggest an occasional topical application of “Rogaine” for our romantically challenged feathered friends……
Heck, it’s worked wonders for the “Bald” Eagle here in the States…..
The Bald Eagle is reaching population saturation (because of some serious “Hanky Panky”) in many places where it was extirpated as recently as 20 years ago….. That would be about the length of the “pause”, perhaps the pause caused Bald Eagles to repopulate areas ???
Disclaimer: I do not work for the “Rogaine” folks…..
\sarc off
Who (without others money) has the time to follow the extent of the ornamental plumage of one species of bird for 37 years ????
Cheers, KevinK ( Amateur Ornithologist with a “life list” exceeding 1700 species on 6 continents )

January 24, 2017 8:00 pm

The thesis is that catastrophic anthropogenic climate change causes avian aesthetic changes that exceed a tolerable social cost leading to increased Planning. Humans in first-world nations suffer from the same dilemma, but it well precedes modern temperature records and computer models that suggest a progressive warming. Perhaps the birds just want to have fun, evolving into diversified social classes different from their parents and grandparents.

John Robertson
January 24, 2017 9:00 pm

Or perhaps,that larger white patch makes these birds easier to see for our furry friend,the domestic house cat.?
Or makes the bored killers see the bird as a more fun victim?
Evolution in just 34 years?
Climate change does so much…

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  John Robertson
January 24, 2017 9:13 pm

It takes 30 years of weather to get a single climate datum point.
So, their evolution was over a 4 year period, I think.

January 24, 2017 9:08 pm

Study: Climate Change is Making Some Birds Uglier
Guest essay by Eric Worrall A new study claims climate stress is making some birds lose their mating ornamentation. Climate change ecology: Hot under the collar A 34-year study of collared flycatchers demonstrates that males are evolving to be less ornamented in response to rising temperatures. For male collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis; pictured), having a…
Continue reading →
Why should I continue reading?

Peter Morris
January 24, 2017 9:54 pm

Oh, well. Dang.
That does it. I’m all on board the CO2 is evil train now. Can’t have my grandkids looking at ugly birds.

January 24, 2017 10:05 pm

Dear oh dear. If there is a correlation with global temperatures, there is just as strong a correlation with the price of rum in Jamaica or the salaries of Presbyterian ministers in Nova Scotia. All have gone up (reportedly) in the last 100 years. What publicity-seeking garbage.

January 24, 2017 10:15 pm
Jerry Henson
Reply to  PiperPaul
January 25, 2017 3:59 am

PP, the golden plumage obviously crowns a smart, aggressive, and dominate

Reply to  Jerry Henson
January 25, 2017 2:53 pm

If you have ever seen one of those pheasants live (quite rare in this country) you realize it is quite possible the most stunningly beautiful bird in creation. I think it even outdoes the BIrds of Paradise.

January 24, 2017 11:24 pm

Meanwhile in the Homo sapiens world humans are living longer and healthier lives, and suffering less from extreme weather.

January 24, 2017 11:48 pm

This could be caused by interbreeding, some of the birds I see in our town sure are ugly but that has always been the case nothing to do with global warming as it goes right back to the stone age. {Sark} not sure about the feathered variety though.

Reply to  Stephen
January 25, 2017 1:27 am

Must be all the ‘hot air’ that is making demo-KratZ birds so UGLY !!

January 25, 2017 1:26 am

That’s funny, we have some of the most beautiful parrots in the hottest regions of Australia!

January 25, 2017 1:26 am

Ain’t ugly in the eyes of the beholder? Examples …. Whoopi, Rosanne, and Michael Moore are ugly in my eyes, but liberals think they are beautiful.

Bruce Cobb
January 25, 2017 4:14 am

Well, we know that “climate change” is making birds angry, so ugly in addition might not be such a stretch:

January 25, 2017 4:56 am

And would somebody explain to me how having a larger heat-reflecting white spot makes one less fit in higher temperatures? The take home lesson from this would seem, rather, to be that the birds have so little trouble from hotter weather that they can afford to go without their white spot.

Gareth Phillips
January 25, 2017 4:58 am

Some birds can look quite nice after a few pints. I must admit I have never gone to bed with an ugly bird, but I sure woke up with a few.

January 25, 2017 6:13 am

The most colorful birds are all found in the tropics.

Eric Selin
January 25, 2017 6:31 am

I wonder what sorts of stress …assuming there is stress involved, would lead stressed animals to become less competitive in successful mating? It seems unlikely to me.

Greg in Texas
January 25, 2017 6:49 am

They first need to prove their premise, as stated in the first sentence. (“Secondary sexual traits have high heritabilities and are exposed to strong, environmentally sensitive selection, and so are expected to evolve rapidly in response to sustained environmental change.”)

January 25, 2017 7:45 am

“A 34-year study of collared flycatchers demonstrates that males are evolving to be less ornamented in response to rising temperatures.”
Well, this can’t be a serious problem because if the heat actually causes these changes, then this has happened before, since it was just as hot or hotter back in the 1930’s as it is today, so that must mean that the flycatchers lose their attractive plumage when the heat is on, but when it start cooling off, like it did from 1940 to 1975, the flycatcher must regenerate its attractive plumage, or else we wouldn’t be seeing them losing it again today, it would have already been lost in the 1930’s. Right? Where am I going wrong here?

Mickey Reno
January 25, 2017 7:57 am

Hey, they said the secret words, “climate change.” You say the secret word, you win the money. Them’s the rules.

January 25, 2017 7:58 am

One of the long-standing bird issues here in AK are birds with deformed beaks. The cause was usually blamed on man-made global warming due to CO2 emissions with all the expected hand wringing and calls for immediate action.
One of the things found in the birds was a high level of a previously unknown virus. One of our outdoors writers (who does pretty good local stuff) suggests that the virus is spread by bird feeders (which we have a lot of), which allow the birds with deformed beaks to eat and survive when they normally wouldn’t. He used a line in his piece that we are literally loving our birds to death. Doesn’t have anything to do with climate change or global warming at all. Sometimes making things easier for the wildlife harms them more than not doing it. Cheers –

Bruce Cobb
January 25, 2017 8:18 am

I believe climate change is responsible for the large number of dead parrots, particularly the Russian Blues. This idea that they are just “pining for the fjords” is just silly. A group has formed to help highlight the issue, called The Dead Parrots Society”.

January 25, 2017 8:21 am

Science is clearly over-funded. This paper is ground-zero.

January 25, 2017 8:39 am

In as much as evolution is really no more than simple adaptation, I have no issues with this nonsense.

January 25, 2017 9:12 am

Maybe the female’s desire will correspond accordingly. I mean tons of female humans thought 1970’s ornamentation was attractive and cool. Just sayin. It’s probably not worse than we thought.

FJ Shepherd
January 25, 2017 9:19 am
J Mac
January 25, 2017 11:18 am

Junco science……

Mickey Reno
Reply to  J Mac
January 25, 2017 7:50 pm

Good one, J Mac.

Not Chicken Little
January 25, 2017 11:31 am

If this is “science” I am proud to be called anti-science and a skeptic. And by the way, the sky is still NOT falling.

Reply to  Not Chicken Little
January 27, 2017 12:29 am

You’re writing on the fucking internet. Literally created for and by scientists.

corvid lover
January 25, 2017 11:44 am

Look to the funding source and you’ll see why climate change is in the paper. Federal funding for this type of researchx has for at least 10 years, required that “climate change be addressed’. Meaning – plan for climate change, possible effects of climate change, etc. I know as I was a federal grant manager for a state game and fish agency.

January 25, 2017 12:04 pm

Nonsense — derived from ill-conceived notions long-since shown false but still accepted as dogma.
Splendor and misery of adaptation, or the importance of neutral null for understanding evolution by Eugene V. Koonin explains why. The paper discussed is here.
The authors of the flycatcher study are forced to believe nonsense because of their Darwinian-doctrine — that “In its extreme but not uncommon form, the selectionist, or adaptationist, paradigm perceives every trait as an adaptation.” and all adaptions are necessarily, required by doctrine, to be pro-survival.
If anyone has any interest in this, I’ll write an expanded essay on it. (reply to this if you’d like to see something on this — writing anti-Darwin is tricky, so I’ll only risk it is there is interest.)

Horse Feathers
January 25, 2017 12:46 pm

Climate change is responsible for one thing, I’ve noticed – It has created a generation of snowflake lemmings who cannot think for themselves and keep muttering the 97% mantra as they sail off over the edge of the sanity cliff. So much for the educational (brainwashing) systems.

Mickey Reno
Reply to  Horse Feathers
January 26, 2017 7:48 am

Shouldn’t “snowflakes” who believe in CAGW be called “dewdrops?”
(you know, because it’s so warm … children will never again know what snow is… can I get a rim shot please… [ba dump bump] … thank you… Anyone,? Anyone? Buehler? )

Bill Parsons
January 26, 2017 7:36 am

Loss of distinctive plumage = The “Harrison Birderon” Effect?

January 26, 2017 9:05 am

On the subject of plumage, shouldn’t the devolution of the Elizabethan ruff-collar to the present collar-less ‘T’ shirt be evidence of Global Warming?

January 26, 2017 11:57 pm

It’s amazing how many people can prove the study’s finding are wrong while demonstrably having no familiarity with it.

Reply to  Simon
January 27, 2017 9:02 am

And it is amazing to me that your are such a cowardly wimp that you don’t tell people that your are the lead author of the study, Simon Evans, writing from the University of Zurich.
You must be afraid of being proven wrong.

Reply to  Anthony Watts
February 7, 2017 7:37 am

Are you serious? Having an understanding of the study makes my opinion ineligible? If I was a cowardly wimp wouldn’t I be on some self-help website for scientific illiterates?
Why would I be afraid of being proven wrong? All the data are archived online, freely available, so you are able to conduct your own analyses. Why don’t you do that? It’d show that you’re not some tin-hatted nutjob, after all.

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