Reader response about the Shelley’s

22 Oct

A big thanks to RFCG blog reader, Sven from Germany, for his contributions and insights. Feel free to comment.


Hi Malcolm, (hi Eelco),

Thanks a lot for sharing your observations and thoughts about Shelley’s. The bottleneck hypothesis is an interesting one. I am trying to fully understand it; are you saying the bird might originally have inhabited a much larger habitat including environmental characteristics that it would be much better adapted to (such as more open habitat?)?

I find two aspects quite remarkable:
1) Shelley’s, although placed in the same genus Cryptospiza as the other three crimsonwing finch species, really is a “phenotypic outlier”. From their outer appearance, reichenowii, salvadorii and jacksoni seem to be much closer to each other than to Shelley’s. I know that it is dangerous to hypothesize about genetic relatedness from the outer appearence, but it is tempting to assume that Shelley is genetically further apart from the three others than we believe. May be it is even a separate sepcies? The best answer to this would be a molecular genetic study. One might prick a feather from one of the next netted Shelley’s and have it investigated by a molecluar genetic lab in comparison with genetic material from the other three species (which will be easy to collect).
This would certainly cost some money, but I think the results would be very interesting.

2) How likely is it that you are placing your nets at places that are simply not visited by the birds, although they are there? This may be a naive question from someone who has never been to a tropical rain forest. To me, the footings and photos of the habitat look as if there was an impenetrable thicket and some clearings/paths where it is possible to place mist nets. I understand that many finches will visit open spaces in the rain forest to feed on grass seeds. But assume Shelley’s diet does not involve grass seeds and it just stays in the most impenetrable part of the rain forest. Hence, you would net such a bird only as a very rare exception, but it might still be there in good numbers.
Just a thought, might be nonsense….

And last, I just wanted to add that there is at least one other known photo of a Shelley’s. It was published in “Les Oiseaux du Zaire”, the capture of the photo says that it was photographed in the Virunga National Park on the 10th March 1974.

Best regards from Germany,


4 Responses to “Reader response about the Shelley’s”

  1. rarefinch October 22, 2010 at 12:09 #

    Hi Sven

    Thank you for your hearty and insightful response to the RFCG’s blog contents. Do you know how the RFCG could get hold of the photograph published in Les Oiseaux du Zaire?


    • Sven Cichon October 22, 2010 at 12:46 #

      Hi rarefinch,

      unfortunately, I do not possess the book, but do have a scanned version of the photo. One of the editors of the German Bird Magazine “Gefiederte Welt” sent it to me when I submitted an article about RFCG/Shelley’s and the pink-billed parrot finch to them. I had stated that the foto of the netted Shelley’s (by was the only know photo. And then he came up with this one. I assume that he has the book. I could forward you the photo (by email?) for your peronal use, the copyrights probably do not allow to post it on a website (?).
      The book was obviously published in 1976 in Belgium by Leon Lippens & Henri Wille. Please find a link below where you can find the bibliographic specifications of the book:

      Best regards,

  2. Martin Milautzcki December 10, 2010 at 10:21 #

    I think Sven is right when he is stating that the Shelley’s might be more distantly related to the crimson wings genus than previously thought. May be it represents phylogenetically a very young taxon – formed during the last glacial periods when rainforest mountains were nicely isolated from surrounding ecosystems. Rainforest mountains are refugia for quite some rare bird species. Unfortunately these refugia have become very rare themselves and divided into disconnected relicts – no way for endemics to spread their wings and migrate to other suitable habitats.


    • eelcomeyjes September 15, 2011 at 08:01 #

      Martin my sincere apologies for the late response, but we really appreciate your thoughts . It is great food for thought. Some of us have always wondered if the Shelley’s crimsonwing may just be a little different to the other crimsonwings

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