Environment Birds’ nests – another Australian first

Birds’ nests – another Australian first

The most common birds’ nests found today first evolved in Australia and these nests may be the key to the success of many of our bird species, according to new research from Macquarie University.

The research looked at the nests of passerines – common song birds which include lyrebirds, fairy-wrens and magpies – and found the ubiquitous ‘open’ cup nest evolved in Australia multiple times more than 40 million years ago.

These nests evolved when many of today’s bird species were rapidly diverging from one another, and nests, as well as many other aspects of behaviour, plumage, song and life history variation were also changing quite rapidly.

The fact that these common open cupped nests appear to have arisen several times in different lineages, but around the same time, suggests that this was driven by the emergence of new predators or parasites or by changing climates and habitats.

“Australia is host to the ancestors of today’s common birds around the world, and the open cup nest that originated here is one of the innovations that perhaps has made them so successful,” said study co-author Professor Simon Griffith from the Department of Biological Sciences.

“Among the passerine birds – which make up 60 per cent of the world’s birds – most species today build open cup-shaped nests, and only a minority build more elaborate roofed structures.

“This research really underlines the importance of Australia as the source of much of the worlds’ avian diversity – Australia was where many key features of birds started out and still holds representatives of many of the ancient families,” concluded Professor Griffith.

The study was led by Professor Jordan Price from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in the United States.

Read more about this breakthrough study here. Story credit: Macquarie University newsroom.

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