Readers’ wildlife photos

December 18, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have our Sunday batch of themed bird photos by John Avise. John’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Fancy Tails

Many bird species have fancy tails, often displayed most prominently by males and thus presumably having evolved under the influence of sexual selection via female choice.  In some species (such as peafowl and grackles), fancy tails evidently impede graceful flight and predator avoidance, thus exemplifying how natural selection and sexual selection can sometimes work in opposition to a trait.  But other species with fancy tails (such as swallows, kites, and frigates) are among our most gifted flyers.  With the exception of Peafowl (which were introduced from India), all species posted this week are native to North America and were photographed in Florida, California, Texas, or Colorado.

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica:

Barn Swallow flying:

Black-billed Magpie, Pica hudsonia:

Black-billed Magpie flying:

Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalis mexicanus:

Great-tailed Grackle flying:

Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus:

Magnificent Frigatebird, Regata magnificens:

Magnificent Frigatebird juvenile:

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta:

Northern Pintail flying:

Northern Pintail tip-up feeding:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus:

Swallow-tailed Kite, Elanoides forficatus:

Forster’s Tern, Sterna forsteri:

Peacock, Pavo cristatus (the quintessential example of a fancy tail):

16 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. The peahen also shares the tail, albeit less colourfully, & I wonder then where the gene for that resides on the genome & if it is therefore a sexual characteristic rather than just the colours being the sexual characteristic? I have not expressed this very well. I mean I know we have things like nipples in mammals, that are in males & females, so is it linked to the XY chromosome? I appreciate birds are ZW female & ZZ male.

    1. Genes producing secondary sexual differences are often on non-sex chromosomes. Their expression being influenced by hormones.

  2. PS John, is there an aerodynamic reason for forked tails? They are found in such disparate groups from raptors to terns… & long tails presumably help with balance or manoeuvres in woodland?

    1. If there is an aerodynamic reason for forked tails, I doubt that it is for maneuvering in woodlands, because most of the fork-tailed species that I’ve photographed live in open habitats such as grasslands.

    2. If there is an aerodynamic reason for forked tails, I doubt that it is manoeuvrability in woodlands, because most of the birds I’ve photographed with forked tails live in open spaces such as grasslands.

      1. No, I meant long tails like tits, wagtails, magpies which tend to be birds in scrub or woodland- & forked tails elsewhere…

  3. I can certainly understand how a fancy tail can aid in fancy flight, up to a point, but then what is the evolutionary advantage of the roadrunner tail? Is it sexual selection? Or does it aid in running somehow? I’ve only had the luck of seeing one, briefly, in person. It did in fact run on the road, hopped a fence and disappeared in a split second.

    Love the grackles. such charming birds I enjoyed watching while visiting Dallas. And the flycatchers are always a thrill to see in the prairies and fields around where I live.

  4. My favorites are roadrunners. I’ve been lucky to see a few. They are to me very impressive and intelligent birds.

  5. From both ends, tops and bottoms you add to my appreciation and love for birds.

    Thanks once again for helping note and celebrate some of the world’s biodiversity.

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