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No. 10: Spring 1980

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Why Birds Are Pretty

Darwin believed that many male birds are brightly colored because females prefer flashy finery and thus put evolutionary pressure on the development of these characteristics. A large-scale study by Baker and Parker indicates that Darwin erred and that the evolutionary pressure comes instead from predators avoiding brightly colored targets. Instinct tells the predators -- incorrectly in many cases -- that colorful prey taste bad or are noxious.

The remarkable (possibly strange) aspect of bird coloration is the incredi ble external similarity of unrelated birds occupying similar habitats. Example, the American Eastern Meadowlark (left) closely resembles the African Yellowthroated Longclaw (right).

(Krebs, John R.; "Bird Colours," Nature, 282:14, 1979.)

Comment. Two questions cannot be repressed: How do the genes orchestrate this amazing convergence in response to environmental factors? Why was evolution not equally clever in equipping predators with countermeasures to see through these ruses?

American Eastern meadowlark (left) resembles the African yellow-throated long claw (right)

From Science Frontiers #10, Spring 1980. 1980-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987