This Bird Can Wreak Havoc in Backyards

pin-tailed wydah, studied by Graduate Center Professor Mark Hauber
By Bonnie Eissner

A new study coauthored by Professor Mark E. Hauber (GC/Hunter, Psychology) shows that the parasitic pin-tailed whydah — an attractive and popular pet — poses a new threat to beloved birds in the U.S. as well as Puerto Rico and Jamaica.

The handsome pin-tailed whydah, native to Africa, has crossed the ocean thanks to the pet trade. But the bird’s behaviors aren’t always conducive to captivity, and once released into the wild by disgruntled owners, the brood parasite can wreak havoc.

After seducing and then mating with a female partner, the handsome male pin-tailed whydah flies away to breed more babies. The female subsequently lays her eggs in the nest of a different species of bird, known as a host bird. Without distinguishing the whydah chicks from her own, the host bird feeds and nurtures both sets of offspring, often at great personal cost.

The New York Times reported on the study, noting that Hauber is “worried” about whydahs finding new, unsuspecting host birds, particularly in the U.S. in regions such as southern California, southern Texas, and southern Florida.

“These birds don’t look like a virus or bacteria, but they have the same impact,” Hauber says in the Times.

An evolutionary ecologist, Hauber focuses much of his research on brood parasites, such as wydahs, cuckoos, and cowbirds. Through his lab, based at Hunter College, he collaborates with doctoral students from the Graduate Center as well as master’s and undergraduate students from Hunter.

Hauber and his collaborators published their study on the pin-tailed wydah in late June in The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

Learn more about the Hauber Lab

Submitted on: JUN 30, 2017

Category: Animal Behavior | Faculty | General GC News | Research Studies