Gold-throated hummingbird discovered in Peru

Scientists found a gold-throated hummingbird in the Cordillera Azul National Park in Peru that, according to John Bates, a curator of birds at the Field Museum in Chicago, didn't "look like anything else."

"My first thought was, it was a new species," he said.

But following a DNA analysis, scientists discovered that the bird was actually a hybrid of two other species of hummingbirds: the Heliodoxa gularis, and the Heliodoxa branickii, both of which have pink throats. "We thought it would be genetically distinct," commented Bates. "But it matched Heliodoxa branickii in some markers."

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Newly discovered hummingbirds

The gold-throated hybrid, center, with its parent species H. branickii (left) and H. gularis (right)
(Image credit: Kate Golembiewski/Field Museum)

The discovery led scientists to question how a bird with a gold throat could come from two birds with pink throats. The answer has to do with the "complex ways in which iridescent feather colors are determined," according to a press release from the Field Museum.

"It's a little like cooking: if you mix salt and water, you kind of know what you're gonna get, but mixing two complex recipes together might give more unpredictable results," explained Chad Eliason, a senior research scientist at the Field Museum. "This hybrid is a mix of two complex recipes for a feather from its two parent species."

The color of the hummingbird's feathers is derived from both a base color, which is the actual pigment, and a structural color, which is how it looks once light reflects off of the feather, CNN reports. Since "the parent species each have their own way of making magenta," Eliason said, "you can have this ... surprising outcome when you mix together those two recipes for producing a feather color."

The findings were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. "New tools like genetic data open up new understanding of how these events happen across geography and time," Bates said.

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