[Ontbirds] Packenham Bullock's Oriole identification notes

Jeff Skevington jhskevington at gmail.com
Wed Jan 20 11:38:04 EST 2016

Hello Ontbirders,

Many of you will be interested in our findings (don't shoot the messenger).
My lab sequenced a mitchondrial gene called COI for two droppings and DNA
from the a breast feather from the oriole. All 3 sequences obtained were
identical - and are a perfect match for Baltimore Oriole. Bullock's Oriole
COI is quite different from Baltimore (they are not even sister taxa
according to this gene).

What does this mean about the parents though? It tells us nothing about the
father. It means that the mother, or the mother's mother, or mother's
mother's mother (you get the picture) was a Baltimore Oriole. Mitochondrial
DNA is passed down maternally and in theory can come from a very old hybrid
event. In reality, it is usually from a recent hybrid event.

We need to sequence a nuclear gene to absolutely identify both parents.
Unfortunately, nuclear gene data is much more sporadically available online
than COI data. To match our bird, we require that the gene chosen be
present in online databases (i.e. that it has been sequenced for both
Bullock's and Baltimore Oriole before so that we have data to match our
bird to). We are looking into this and will report back in a few weeks when
I have had time to deal with it.

What does this mean for the record? I suggest that we wait until more data
become available before changing your ebird records but we are certainly
dealing with either a hybrid (likely - but it could be from a recent or old
hybridization event) or a pure Baltimore that really threw everyone off

Thanks to Bruce di Labio for providing the samples to be sequenced! You
have to love these challenging bird identifications. It would be great to
get samples from other orioles that have been identified in Ontario this
winter and I recommend routine sequencing for all of these difficult field
ID's. It has become routine in Britain but is just catching on here.

If you are following a rare bird where identification is not trivial,
please don't hesitate to collect a sample and send it to me (or to any lab
that does molecular taxonomic research). Samples should be picked up and
placed onto a tissue and into a baggie using a q-tip or branch. Human DNA
contaminating the sample is a pain to deal with so don't pick it up by hand
please. They should be sent to me immediately before they degrade. Samples
out of soil are problematic. Best to follow the bird and watch for it to
defecate onto a branch or leaf. A shed feather works well too and can be
easy to come by if you watch the bird for more than a few minutes.

And don't forget, the oriole can be viewed at the Wild Bird Centre if you
want to make detailed notes on morphology. They would undoubtedly
appreciate a donation when you visit!

Good birding,


Jeff Skevington, Research Scientist
Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
960 Carling Avenue, K.W. Neatby Building
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0C6, Canada
Mobile: 613-720-2862
E-mail: jhskevington at gmail.com

More information about the ONTBIRDS mailing list