Overlap in the wing shape of migratory, nomadic and sedentary grass parrots

Date: 03, Nov, 2020
Author(s):   Stojanovic, D., Neeman, T., Heinsohn, R.
Publisher: Journal of Avian Biology

Bird wing shape is highly correlated with mobility, and vagile species have more pointed wing tips than sedentary ones. Most studies of bird wing shape are biased to the Northern Hemisphere, and consider only two migratory syndromes (north–south migrants or sedentary species). There are major gaps in knowledge about the wing shapes of different taxa with other movement strategies (e.g. nomads) in the Southern Hemisphere. Parrots are a prominent Southern Hemisphere bird order with complex movement patterns, but their wing shapes are mostly unstudied. We test whether three metrics of wing shape of grass parrots (Neophema and Neopsephotus spp.) correspond to their purported migration syndromes (and other factors). We show that two strongly migratory grass parrots and an arid‐adapted nomad had pointed wings, with flight feathers longer distally and shorter proximally. However, purportedly sedentary species overlapped extensively with migrants and nomads in all aspects of wing shape. Taxonomic relationships, purported migratory syndromes and ecological barriers did not explain the variation we recorded. The most distantly related species (Neopsephotus) had most dissimilar wing shape to the others, but broadly conformed to the expectations of long pointed wings of a nomad. Why purportedly sedentary grass parrots had unexpectedly pointed wings is unclear. We propose the hypothesis that this wing shape may persist in sedentary populations if individuals experience strong but intermittent selection to disperse when environmental conditions are poor. If pointed wings are not costly during good times when individuals are sedentary, this wing shape may persist in populations as a ‘back up' in bad times. Our study highlights the interesting migration patterns in the Southern Hemisphere that remain largely unstudied. Wing shape offers an interesting way to identify potentially undiscovered capacity for movement in data deficient species, which may also have implications for conservation.

Overlap in the wing shape of migratory, nomadic and sedentary grass parrots