Date: April 27, 2016
Source: Central Ornithology Publication Office
The Sapayoa, a rainforest bird from Central and South America, is an evolutionary enigma--genetic analysis shows that its closest relatives are bird species living across the ocean in Asia and Africa. Now, new research in The Auk: Ornithological Advances demonstrates for the first time that its natural history links it to its evolutionary relatives thousands of miles away.
How the Sapayoa ended up so far from other members of its lineage remains a mystery, and little is known about its reproductive biology or social behavior. However, new field work in Panama by Sarah Dzielski and Benjamin Van Doren of Cornell University and their colleagues reveals that Sapayoas consistently build nests that hang over the water along ravine-bottom streams. One of the active nests they observed was attended by a family group comprised of an adult male and female and two immature males, all four of which brought food to the two chicks. The researchers were surprised by the social behavior they observed, which included mounting between individuals of the same sex, possibly to establish dominance and maintain social cohesion.
These are the first extended observations of Sapayoa breeding behavior, and they provide hints at how this unusual bird is connected with its roots. Many of the Sapayoa's Old World relatives are cooperative breeders, getting help from family groups, and the pear-shaped hanging nest also is consistent with Old World "suboscines," the group of birds to which Sapayoas belong.