Scientists have made a discovery about a new population of yellow-headed birds found in the Amazon rainforest, known as the golden-crowned manakins with yellow feathers. The bird is named for the yellow crown on top of its green body. These are in fact the first-known hybrid bird species that inhabits in a small range within the Amazon rainforest.

The researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough have discovered that the golden-crowned manakins are a hybrid of two other species which later evolved to become a unique creature.

Jason Weir, Associate Professor at University of Toronto in Canada said, “While hybrid plant species are very common, hybrid species among vertebrates are exceedingly rare.”

Professor Weir and his team gathered feather samples in two separate field trips to Brazil. They were then able to arrange a large portion of the golden-crowned manakin’s genome, including 16,000 different genetic markers. The researchers found that the golden-crowned is about 80 percent opal-crowned and around 20 per cent of the bird’s genome came from the snowy-crowned.

Weir further added, “Most Amazon bird species diverged from their most recent relative around 1.5 to 4 million years ago, so these are all young birds by comparison.” Something known as the coalescent modelling was used by the scientists to figure out at what point the golden-crowned manakin split off from its parental species. The scientists found that it was about 180,000 years ago when the two parental species mated initially and established the hybrids population. Also, both the parental species diverged from a common ancestor about 300,000 years ago.

Weir added, “The golden-crowned manakin ended up with an intermediate keratin structure that does a poor job of making either the brilliant white or the reflective iridescence of the parental species.”

The test result showed that earlier, the golden-crowned manakin likely had duller white or grey feathers on its existence as a result of the keratin structure. However, later the yellow feather eventually evolved as an alternative to attract females. This is the reason why it is a unique coloured species.

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