Ep. 34 - The Downy-Hairy Game

Did you ever wonder why Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers look so much alike? No? Neither did we, but it was because we always assumed they were just closely related species. Maybe you did, too, but thanks to the wonders of DNA analysis, we now know that these two look-alikes are not even in the same genus. So, what gives?

Researchers recently looked into this stumper-of-a-problem, and, in this episode, Bill and Steve break down what might be the cause. Along the way, we cover mimicry, game theory, which feeder bird is the toughest, and much more.

Oh, and Bill talks about how he might have Lyme disease.


Download the episode transcript

This episode was recorded at the Owens Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora, NY on January 6, 2019. The sanctuary is owned and protected by the Western NY Land Conservancy. Please consider supporting them or your local land conservancy.

NOTE: During the episode, we say things like “the mimic wants to be like the model,” but we didn’t clarify that evolution isn’t directed and the species in question do not purposefully evolve in any particular way. It’s all natural selection. Sorry for being too loose with our language!

And thank you to Joe Stormer for putting in the time and effort to transcribe this episode.

Works Cited:

Leighton, G.M., Lees, A.C. and Miller, E.T., 2018. The hairy–downy game revisited: an empirical test of the interspecific social dominance mimicry hypothesis. Animal Behaviour137, pp.141-148.

 Prum, R.O. and Samuelson, L., 2012. The Hairy–Downy Game: A model of interspecific social dominance mimicry. Journal of theoretical biology313, pp.42-60.

 Weibel, A.C. and Moore, W.S., 2005. Plumage convergence in Picoides woodpeckers based on a molecular phylogeny, with emphasis on convergence in downy and hairy woodpeckers. Condor, pp.797-809.