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Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Junco film a fascinating look at quick evolution

Admit it. You see a junco at the feeder and mentally shrug. Juncos. Pigeons. Whatever. It's a classic case of familiarity breeds, if not contempt, disinterest.
But juncos are rock stars in the documentary"Ordinary Extraordinary Junco," a DVD produced by Indiana University, a film released this spring for birders and anyone with even a minimal interest in birds.
The film starts at the University of San Diego, built in the 1960s amid sage scrub and chaparral. It was an environment not suitable for juncos, which lived at higher elevations in more friendly environs and migrated every winter.
Over the years, campus landscaping changed the environment, and in 1983 the first junco sighting was recorded.
In a short time, a critical mass of breeding pairs created a viable "island" of junco habitat. It also allowed researchers to study juncos that had adapted to cats, humans, construction, expansive lawns and artificial lights.
Researchers discovered that they had a ringside seat to rapid evolution.
The birds' breeding season shifted, the males were more interested in parenting and less aggressive in general (lower testosterone), had less white in their tails and less black in their heads, became bolder, explored more food opportunities, and allowed human approaches three times closer and twice as fast as noncampus juncos.
The males sang at a higher frequency to (theoretically) get their songs above the hum of traffic.
Evolution was happening practically in the moment and DNA and other physical evidence supported that conclusion.
The film is a terrific combination of photography, biology, evolution, interviews, field work and graphics; and would make an excellent teaching tool.
"Junco" takes viewers to several countries; discusses the connections between several junco types, including pink-sided, yellow-eyed and white-winged; and explores evolutionary issues.
For information on how to view the film, go to juncoproject.org/about/usage.
The film is extraordinary.
Starling stories: Words from readers seem to agree that starlings as a group are avian non grata, but interacting with an individual starling can be interesting. Vicky Bowerman of Snohomish had heard about Arnie the Darling Starling, which was "rescued," could talk and almost made the Tonight Show.
There was a starling named Radio, who had been rescued' by a woman who brought home many birds, dedicating a room in her home to their rehab. The room became so messy that, when opening the door, she got in the habit of saying, "What is this?!"
Young Radio Starling could mimic that sentence so that when she opened the door, Radio would say, "What is this?!"
One night a lightning and thunder storm came by. This time, when she opened the door, Radio greeted her with "What's this?" in a quivering, shaky little voice.
Bowerman's son brought home a baby bird, which they fed with wet cat food. When he could fly, he perched in a ficus tree, and when Bowerman read to her two young children, it would fly down and land on her head.
I stress that picking up baby birds and bringing them inside generally is not a good thing, even if done with a good heart.
For reasons, go to news.nationalgeographic.com and do a find on "baby bird out of nest"; or go toaudubonportland.org/wcc/urban/babybirds.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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