Febirdary #8 Young

Instead of going the obvious route and drawing a baby bird, I wanted to interpret the next two prompts in evolutionary terms. It is of course strange to speak of species being young or old. We’re all here, right now, after all. We’re the same age, have evolved for the same millions of years. However the rate of evolution can be different, and if there are no driving forces that require change from a design (and with design I of course mean ‘design’), it may stay more or less the same for a very long time. Crocodiles, sharks, jellyfish; these animals have changed very little since they appeared. They work, and so there is no need to shake things up much.

Normally evolution is slow enough for us humans to hold onto our fallible concept of separate species, but sometimes pressing circumstances ask for rapid changes to the status quo. Blackcaps provide a prime example of this. Central European blackcaps spend the summer in Germany and Austria and winter in Spain. But recently, an increasing part of the population can be found wintering in Britain. These birds move north instead of south during the winter.

The cause? Enthusiastic backyard feeding in Britain. There is such an abundance of food being put out that even dainty blackcaps can get through the winter months. Physical changes are following suit: blackcaps that winter in Britain have shorter, rounder wings, instead of the pointy ones needed to fly long distances. Their bills are also thinner and longer, to better take advantage of the variety of backyard food. This is speciation in action, evolution happening right under our noses. Give them a few more years, and we may have two species of blackcap on our hands.

– Coloured pencil and fineliner on brown toned paper, 14,8 x 21 cm