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Why scientists say birds will all soon look like Zazu from ‘The Lion King’

They are developing larger beaks, for instance, to maintain a relatively constant body temperature.


Yellow-billed hornbill, Kruger National Park, South Africa
(Greens and Blues via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Birds will soon all look like Zazu in "The Lion King" because of climate change, according to new research.

They are adapting to global warming by developing big beaks - and shedding distinctive features, say scientists.

Species that are not going extinct are shape shifting to survive, say British scientists.

Lead author Dr. Emma Hughes, of the University of Sheffield, has spent her career examining broad body traits in our feathered friends - such as different bills.

She explained: "I began to wonder what will happen with global change. So, not only how traits are currently distributed globally, but what might happen to morphological and phylogenetic diversity under the global extinction crisis.

"As species go extinct you expect the traits that they represent to also be lost. But what we found was that with morphological diversity, the traits were lost at a much, much, much greater rate than just species loss could predict."

Added Hughes: "This is really important because that can lead to a major loss of ecological strategies and functions."


Birds, like humans, are warm blooded. They are developing larger beaks, for instance, to maintain a relatively constant body temperature.

Bills of parrots, for instance, have got up to up to ten percent bigger in 150 years - since the start of the industrial revolution.

Toucans use their huge bills to keep cool in the heat of the tropics. The appendage doubles as a giant radiator.

Diversity loss is most likely to affect those with extreme features. Birds' size and shape vary wildly - from the giant, flightless ostrich to the tiny, buzzing hummingbird.

Hughes said: "Those are the sort of species that you'd expect to be more at risk of extinction.

"We do find strong evidence to support the hypothesis that the largest and smallest species are likely to be most at risk of extinction."

The study also found certain regions are also more likely to be left with populations of bird species - that resemble each other.

Hughes said: "The Himalayan mountains and foothills are at particular risk, and it is likely the loss of trait diversity will be considerable."

They are home to some of the most beautiful and rare birds in the world like colourful quails, tits, warblers and jays - along with stunning pheasants called tragopans.

She went on: "The dry and moist forests of south Vietnam and Cambodia are also vulnerable."

They include the Siberian blue robins, the Stork-billed kingfisher, the Black and red broadbill and the Oriental paradise flycatcher.

Hughes and colleagues hope their work will help people understand how biodiversity loss will change the world.

She added: "The global extinction crisis doesn't just mean that we're losing species. It means we are losing unique traits and evolutionary history, including species that could confer unique benefits to humanity that are currently unknown."

Last year Australian scientists revealed elephants and rabbits are coping with global warming - by turning into Dumbo and Bugs Bunny.

They are developing bigger ears. Elephants use them as fans - while an extensive network of blood vessels contract in rabbits to cool them down.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests birds are most likely to start resembling red billed Zazu - Simba's big beaked mentor in Walt Disney's "The Lion King."

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