As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Lost British birdsong discovered in New Zealand birds

Recordings of New Zealand yellowhammer accents enable scientists to hear how their British relatives might have sounded 150 years ago

Georgia Brown

Thursday 12 January 2017 13.26 GMT Last modified on Thursday 12 January 2017 15.41 GMT
A new study reveals that a type of native birdsong, now lost in Britain, can still be heard in New Zealand where the birds were introduced in the 19th century.

By comparing recordings of yellowhammer accents in both countries scientists were able to hear how the birds’ song might have sounded in the UK 150 years ago.

The study, published in Ecography, examined yellowhammer accents in the UK and New Zealand, where over 600 of the birds were introduced in the 1860’s and 70’s and later became pests. It found some dialects that likely existed in the UK appear to have gone extinct, yet they still exist in New Zealand – a phenomenon that also occurs in human languages.

The researchers say the decline in birdsong is likely to be linked to falling yellowhammer populations in the UK.

The research was led by a Czech team, who encouraged volunteers to collect and submit recordings of singing yellowhammers using smartphones and cameras. Using these citizen science project recordings, the scientists compared the patterns of yellowhammer dialects in the native range of Great Britain, and in the invaded range of New Zealand.

The New Zealand birds had almost twice as many dialects as their British relatives, overturning the scientists’ expectations that the range of dialects would be greater in the mother country.

Lead author Pavel Pipek, of the Charles University in Prague, said: “It was fascinating to have this unique opportunity to study yellowhammer dialects from native and introduced populations and how they have evolved over 150 years.


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