The evolution of nest shape

Although not yet published there is a nice story in Science News about our work on the

The domed nest of a zebra finch

evolution of nest shape. The story can be found here. The work is currently under review for publication but was presented by lead author Jordan Price at the recent North American Ornithological Congress. Jordan did this work with us whilst on Sabbatical early this year.

The cost of being social

One of the papers from Enrico Sorato’s PhD work was published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology. In the paper, we showed that in the chestnut-crowned babbler,

Chestnut-crowned babbler (picture Jodie Crane)

individuals suffer a cost of hanging around with their group mates, even if they are not actively involved in feeding offspring. That’s because over the course of a breeding attempt the foragers have to move further into the territory away from the nest to find enough food, incurring greater costs of moving and foraging. This cost, which has not been considered before may help to understand individual decisions about when to stay and when to leave a social group, and will contribute to the optimal group size. The paper is entitled The price of associating with breeders in the cooperatively breeding chestnut-crowned babbler: foraging constraints, survival and sociality, and can be found here.

Sam arrives in Norway to work on the SNP data from the Australian sparrows

SamNorwayASam is currently in Norway working with the house sparrow genetics group in Trondheim to look at SNP data from the Australian sparrows. During his trip, he is being hosted by Glenn-Peter Saetre in Oslo and Henrik Jensen at NTNU in Trondheim. This molecular work should provide a high level of coverage for population genetics and history and hopefully also for looking at selection across the different Australian climates.

Sparrows from India?

SparrowMaletrimB&WSam’s first sparrow paper has just been published in the open access journal Avian Research, which means that it’s freely available (here). In our paper we have looked at the history of the house sparrow introduction into Australia in the 1860’s. A great effort was made to introduce sparrows in an effort to use them to fight the insect pests that were perceived to be causing significant damage to the ability of the farms to feed the early colonists. One of the most surprising findings of the historical research that we conducted was that although it is commonly believed that the sparrows came out from England, we found clear evidence that the first birds to arrive and breed in Australia in fact came from India.

Peri’s second paper!

Peri’s second paper was published today in Molecular Ecology. It was a follow up to her first paper which attracted useful discussion by Anders Forsman (Lund, Sweden). The new paper clarifies our thoughts on why polymorphic species might be vulnerable because of the negative interactions between different morphs. Conceptually it builds from our work on the Gouldian finch and long-tailed finch.

The paper can be found here:

Nest boxes off to Armidale


Nestboxes for house sparrows are leaving today on their way to Armidale where they’ll be erected at a number of properties around this inland city. Hopefully they will provide welcome homes for house sparrows that will be studied as part of our research into how birds are effected by climate. The house sparrow was introduced into Australia in the 1860’s and has become widely established across a range of different climates.

The relatively high altitude of Armidale and it’s position to the west of the dividing range provides a very different climate from most of the coastal cities in Eastern Australia.

Rain at Fowlers……

Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station, where we conduct a lot of our ongoing fieldwork, has received 32mm of rain in a rain event over 7-8th May. This is a significant amount and will help to replenish the environment out there and set up a good winter and hopefully good breeding conditions for the zebra finches and chestnut-crowned babblers………