GalapagosQuest is an interactive expedition developed by Classroom Connect that will take a team of scientists and explorers on a journey of discovery through the extraordinary Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Follow along here for daily reports on their quest.
The Hood Mockingbird
The Hood Mockingbird's fearlessness and willingness to eat just about
anything are adaptations which have helped it to survive in the Galapagos|
March 4, 1999
Web posted at: 4:23 p.m. EST (2123 GMT)
By Christina Allen
Kersplash! I jumped off the dingy ("panga") to make my first wet landing onto Gardner Beach. Seawater soaked my backpack, but cooled my sunburned skin. The water was turquoise blue and so clear I could see to the bottom, over 40 feet down.
It was only 8 a.m., but the sun was already blazing like it was noon. I plopped down on the beach for a refreshing drink. No sooner had I cracked the seal on my water bottle than five screeching birds jumped all over me trying to get at the water.
"What the heck is going on?" I thought. I had never seen animals this tame or demanding. I had come to Española to see if sea lions had been infected by pox. I could see that these pesky birds were going to steal most of my attention.
Desiree, our expert Galapagos guide, saw me. "I see you've met the Hood Island mockingbird," she laughed. "Annoying, aren't they?"
"It must be an introduced species," I responded sarcastically.
The island mockingbird is perfectly suited to Española (Hood) Island, one of the driest in the Galapagos. In order to survive, the mockingbirds have learned to be extremely resourceful and aggressive. They didn't just search me for water, they investigated every shoe, backpack, life jacket, twig, camera, and bit of seaweed on the beach.
They're equally as frisky when it comes to food. I saw the Hood Mockingbird eat booby poop and skin off the toes of marine iguanas. This curiosity and fearlessness helps the Hood mockingbird find food that other animals overlook (or just plain refuse to eat).
Their willingness to eat strange stuff has probably helped the mockingbird adapt to the varied environments of the Galapagos. How?
Imagine a bird called the long-tailed mockingbird, living on the Ecuadorian mainland. She was flying along, preparing to make a nest, when a storm hit and she got blown off course, 600 miles to be exact.
Below she spotted land and managed to set down. There she found nothing but saltbush plants and lava rocks. She was so hungry from her long trip that she grabbed the first possible meal; a lava lizard. She'd never eaten one before, but it satisfied her hunger and thirst enough to settle down and lay some eggs.
The mockingbird population grew and the birds with certain characteristics did best. In addition to aggressive and resourceful personalities, the birds with longer beaks had an easier time stabbing lizards and exploring crevices for centipedes. These birds got more food and had more babies to carry on their parents' traits. Little by little, the population changed. Eventually, most mockingbirds on Hood Island were aggressive, resourceful, and long-beaked.
This is the process of natural selection and adaptation. Once in a while, due to chance, a bird is born with a long beak or an aggressive personality. These traits help certain birds survive and are passed on in the offspring. The more this happens, the more "adapted" the entire population becomes for living in the unique environment.
Hood Island mockingbirds have developed another interesting "adaptation" to survive. Instead of the small families they used to have, birds now join in big family groups. Siblings help take care of the babies in order to increase the whole group's chances for survival. This way, the family's traits have a better chance of being passed on and there is more time for the rest of the group to look for food and defend their large territory.
The same process that has created the endemic Hood mockingbird has also created endemic mockingbirds on San Cristobal and Floreana. Unfortunately, mockingbirds on Floreana have gone extinct due to cats that settlers brought to the island. The Galapagos mockingbird inhabits the remaining Islands, making a total of four species that have evolved from a common ancestor.
As we travel the islands, I hope to study these other species to see first hand how they're different and similar to the Hood Island mockingbird. I can't imagine them being any more aggressive or curious, but who knows, maybe they'll try to peck my toes or steal my lunch!
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