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A Glimmer Of Hope For The Western Grasswrens, The Origins Of Moving Upper Bills in Birds, and the Genetic Stability of Chatham Island’s Black Robin

Neil is an author, scientist, and ornithologist based in Canberra. Each week, he rounds up some of the most recent news, stories, and insights on all things birds through this weekly bird wrap. This week, Neil talks about:

  •  A glimmer of hope for the return of the Western Grasswren
  • The surprising discovery of bird anatomy from 67 million year old bird fossils
  • How the rare Black Robins from Chatham Island rose back from near extinction

A glimmer of hope for the return of the Western Grasswren

The first story focuses on the Western Grasswren, a small and elusive bird species native to the arid regions of Australia. It has a brown back, a pale grey belly, a long, thin tail, and a small beak. Through the years, the Western Grasswren has faced significant threats, including habitat destruction, degradation, and possible extinction. 

However, there is some good news. The Western Grasswens are being reintroduced in Dirk Hartog Island as an arc to potentially save the species from the harmful impact of the dangers it is already facing through an initiative called Return to 1616 Ecological Restoration Project, whose goal is to restore degraded habitats like the Western Greasswren, hoping to get the number of species back to how it was when the Dutch first set foot on the island in 1616. 

It may sound like a tall order, but it’s indeed an amazing glimmer of hope in the midst of all the threats our environment is facing on a worldly scale.

The surprising discovery of bird anatomy from 67 million year old bird fossils

The second story explores the intriguing and unexpected discovery of the origins of a bird’s beak. Recently, a bird fossil has been discovered in Belgium. Scientists believe that the fossil must be at least 67 million years old, from a time when it is believed that dinosaurs inhabited the earth. It was put aside to be studied further, although no one paid attention to it specifically, until recently. 

It turns out, this fossil is actually proof that one thing we thought we knew about birds has been wrong all along: the origin of a movable upper bill in birds. For many years, scientists believed that a movable upper bill is a recent adaptation that evolved in birds as a response to changing food sources and the need to extract food from different habitats. However, new evidence reveals that this adaptation has a much older and more fascinating origin, dating back 67 million years ago. 

These kinds of discoveries should serve as a reminder that we should not completely turn our backs on the past, or else we could easily be missing out on some surprising yet amazing discoveries. 

How the rare Black Robins from Chatham Island rose back from near extinction

The Chatham Island Robin is a small, rare, and beautiful black bird native to the areas off the coast of New Zealand. Sadly, the population of the black robin depleted to as low as 30 because of the disruption of human activity in their natural habitat. 

To save the species, they bred a new population from a single pair of Black Robins. However, this raises a valid concern about whether this method caused any genetic anomalies in the surviving new population. After comparing the DNA of a Black Robin from the 1800s and one from the more current population, the results show very little difference, which means that Chatham Island’s Black Robin has a surprisingly stable genetic diversity, which has allowed it to persist and recover from near extinction.

The video concludes with a reminder of the incredible diversity and resilience of bird species, and the importance of looking into what’s left of the past continued research and conservation efforts to protect as many fascinating and unique bird species as possible. 

Australia is indeed a bird paradise. Visit to book birdwatching walks and safaris around Canberra to different parts of Australia, as well as other stunning locations off the beaten path.

The Best Birdwatching Tours and Safaris in Australia | Neil Hermes: Author, Ornithologist and Tour Guide

A scientist by background, and a keen author, researcher, tour guide, and ornithologist, Neil traveled to Australia and other parts of the world for decades. His expeditions are fuelled by his unwavering passion for birds, publishing his findings, planning birdwatching safaris, and participating in bird conservation efforts along the way. His passion for both birds and tourism gave him the much needed push to start Neil Hermes Safaris, touring aspiring birdwatchers and enthusiasts around Canberra, and all over Australia.

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