Introducing the Inti Tanager – a genus and species of bird new to science!

Inti Tanager (Heliothraupis oneilli); photo by co-author Ryan Terrill

Introducing the Inti Tanager! – a genus and species of bird new to science from the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. The world “Inti” is the Quechua word for Sun, reflecting the bright yellow color of the bird. The bird was spotted back in 2000 by Dan Lane from Louisiana State University. However, it took many years of study for a careful description to be written and finally published. Dan is the lead author of the paper, with several co-authors including Burns lab members. Our lab’s contribution was working on the genetics. The bird is so unusual, it was hard to even figure out to which family the bird belonged just based on its appearance. The most likely candidate family seemed to be tanagers. Tanagers are the largest family of songbirds and the group of birds the Burns lab has been working on for many years. Through analysis of its DNA sequences, we were able to show it is indeed a tanager, and also we were able to pinpoint where exactly within the tanager family the bird belongs. Turns out it’s most closely related to the Black-goggled Tanager and the Gray-head Tanager. Although it clearly belongs with the tanagers, the bird was so different in appearance and DNA from other tanagers, we gave the bird a new genus name. This is noteworthy since only about 10 new genera have been described in the last 50 years. The genus name we chose is Heliothraupis which comes from Greek words that roughly translate to “Sun Tanager”. Thus, the genus name reflects the common name of the bird. The DNA work in our lab was done in two stages. Former Burns lab student Luke Klicka (now a professor at Peru State College) sequenced several mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Several years later, another Burns lab student, Rosalyn Price-Waldman (now a PhD candidate at Princeton), sequenced thousands of genetic loci known as Ultraconserved elements. Together, the data showed where this bird fit within the avian evolutionary tree, and we are excited to finally be able to share this amazing bird with the rest of the world!

The paper can be downloaded here:

Inti Tanager by Daniel Lane
Frontispiece painting of Inti Tanager by Daniel Lane, included with the paper (
Phylogenetic Relationship of Inti Tanager relative to other tanagers, from our paper
(; paintings by Daniel Lane

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AOS & SCO-SOC 2021 Meeting

Burns lab members past and present will be well represented at this week’s virtual American Ornithological Society Conference. Here is a list of presentations that include former and current Burns lab members (in bold). Current members also have an asterisk.

All times Eastern:

Monday, 9 August; Session 6; 14:26
Determining bird colors from digital images for high-throughput analyses of color evolution
Whitney L. E. Tsai, Shawn T. Schwartz, Elizabeth A. Karan, Mark S. Juhn, Mackenzie Perillo, Trevor Brokowski, Allison J. Shultz, Thomas B. Smith, and Michael E. Alfaro

Tuesday, 10 August; Session 4; 10:13
Degree of habitat heterogeneity correlates with the evolution of plumage colorfulness (Cardinalidae)
Scott BF*, Shultz AJ, Burns KJ*

Tuesday, 10 August; Session 4; 11:05
Speciation and color evolution in hummingbirds
Beltrán DF, Shultz AJ, Parra JL

Wednesday, 11 August, Session 7; 10:13
Combining genetic, morphometric and ecological-niche modeling methods to assess the evolutionary origins of the Black-throated Gray Warbler Setophaga nigrescens)
Tofflemire MA*, Klicka J, Epperly K

Wednesday, 11 August; Session 8; 14:39
Dorsal color variation among subspecies of the “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco complex
Yang ET, Unitt P, Mason NA

Wednesday 11 August 11, Session 8; 14:52
Analyzing the population structure of the Pacific Swallow, a highly dispersive island-inhabiting species
Broyles G, Myers B, Scordato E

Wednesday, 11 August; 17:30 – 19:00
Poster Session: Evolution, genomics, and phylogenetics;
A resolved phylogeny of Cardinalidae based on ultraconserved elements
Scott BF*, Klicka J, Burns KJ*

Wednesday, 11 August; 17:30 – 19:00
Poster Session: Annual cycle and breeding biology
Investigating the genetic mechanisms of bill color plasticity and its environmental drivers across time and space
Demery A-JC, Houtz J, Lovette IJ et al.

Thursday, 12 August; Session 7, 14:00 
A supergene underlies phenotypic variation in redpolls
Funk ER, Mason NA, Taylor SA et al.

Thursday, 12 August; Session 7; 14:13
The importance of gene flow in archipelagos: Case study in a Pacific island flycatcher
Gyllenhaal EF, Klicka LB, DeCicco LH et al.  

Friday 13 August 1, Session 8; 10:39
Variations in genomic architecture among Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) along an elevational gradient in western USA
Shakya SB, Wang-Claypool CY, Cicero C, Bowie RCK, Mason NA 

Friday 13 August 1, Session 6; 15:05
Demographic inference of commensal swallows in southeast Asia and Oceania
Myers BM, Hund AK, Friedman N et al.

Friday 13 August 1, Session 8; 15:05
Morphology of migration: Associations between wing shape, bill morphology, and migration in kingbirds (Tyrannus)
MacPherson M, Jahn A, Mason NA

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Congrats Nick – a year late!

Nick Vinciguerra is back in San Diego for a visit, so this gave us a chance for a little in-person celebration of his MS defense since we couldn’t celebrate in person last year. Organized by Jenna – a little bird hike at Mission Trails Park (with a surprise hooding!), followed by lunch and cake a Eureka. Congrats Nick!

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Burns Lab Updates Spring 2021

Time for an update of Burns lab news from the past 6 months. First off, I would like to highlight three recent papers by Burns lab students:

Nick Vinciguerra published one of the chapters of his MS thesis, looking at bill evolution in tanagers:

Bill diversity in tanagers, from Vinciguerra et al. 2021

Amelia Demery published one of the chapters of her MS thesis, together with former Burns lab student Nick Mason. She looked at the interplay between song and bill evolution in tanagers:

Figure from Demery et al. 2021, showing vocalizations of Sporophila angoensis

Brian Myers published another paper from his dissertation. This paper focused on Allen’s Hummingbirds, highlighting their colonization from the Channel Islands to mainland California. He also wrote a blog post about it. 

Figure from Myers et al. 2021; Allen’s Hummingbird and distribution on the Channel Islands and mainland California

In addition to papers, huge congratulations to Sarah Hood who received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Sarah just finished the second year of her MS studying population genetics and migration in the Allen’s Hummingbird.

Sarah Hood and Allen’s Hummingbird

Congrats also to Burns lab undergraduate Aubtin Rouhbakhsh who was admitted to the graduate program at the University of Hawaii. We wish Aubtin the best of luck!

Aubtin watching Allen’s Hummingbirds

Congrats to graduate student Michael Tofflemire who received a grant from LA Audubon’s Schreiber fund for his dissertation research on the comparative phylogeography of California birds.

Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata), one of the birds Michael is studying for his dissertation

Lastly, starting in late March, we were able to resume in-person Ornithology class field trips. It was great to take students in the field again. Below are some photo highlights. Check this link for some more pictures of Ornithology class field trips this year and previous years.

Black-chinned Hummigbird, Mission Trails Regional Park
Greater Roadrunner, Mission Trails Regional Park
Snowy Egret, San Diego River
Acorn Woodpecker, Mount Laguna
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Burns Lab Updates

It’s been a while since I updated this page, but a lot has happened in the Burns lab in the past 1.5 years or so. Of course, Covid has been challenging, but we are still continuing, and there are many good things to celebrate. Here are some highlights:

PhD student Brian Myers successfully defended his dissertation and completed an internship with the USGS. He has recently started a post-doc with Liz Scordato at Cal Poly Pomona. 

Brian Myers Defense
Brian’s defense celebration (pre-covid, of course!)

MS student Nick Vinciguerra successfully defended his thesis in Summer 2020 and started a PhD program in the lab of Mike Anderson at the University of New Mexico.

Nick's Thesis
Slide from Nick’s thesis defense looking at 3D bill shape evolution in tanagers.

MS student Ben Scott received research grants that allowed him to visit museums to gather plumage color data from cardinals for his project. He successfully defended his MS proposal in summer 2020 and is well on his way to finishing his degree in Spring 2021. 

Ben Scott Kevin Burns LACM
Ben and Kevin, measuring plumage color of cardinals, grosbeaks, and buntings in Summer 2019 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History

MS student Sarah Hood started in the Burns lab in Fall 2019. Since arriving, she has received an AOS award for her project on Allen’s Hummingbird subspecies and migration and has completed much of the field work for her project. 

Sarah hard at work and her study subject, Allen’s Hummingbird

PhD student Michael Tofflemire joined the Burns lab in Fall 2020. He came to the lab from the University of Washington, where he worked in the lab of John Klicka on phylogeography of the Black-throated Gray Warbler. 

Michael Tofflemire
Michael Tofflemire joined us last Fall

Undergrad Aubtin Rouhbakhsh presented results of his research on Rufous x Allen’s Hummingbird hybrid zone at the 2020 SDSU Student Research Symposium. He graduated in May and is currently applying to graduate school.

Aubtin Rouhbakhsh
Undergrad Aubtin Rouhbakhsh presents results of his research at 2020 SDSU Student Research Symposium in February 2020

We had a great spring semester of Ornithology, even though we had to make the switch to online learning mid-semester. The students of course were disappointed with the loss of the field component, but they all handled the transition well and we had some great field trips before the shutdown. 

Ornithology Students 2020
Last Ornithology field trip before the Covid shutdown, at Lake Hodges watching grebe courtship

Two publications I would like to highlight:

Brian Myers published the first chapter of his dissertation in the Auk (now called Ornithology). This chapter focused on behavior and morphological changes across the Allen’s x Rufous Hummingbird Hybrid Zone.

Allen’s and Rufous Hummingbird and figure from Brian’s paper showing hummingbird displays:
Myers, B. M.*, D. T. Rankin, K. J. Burns, and C. J. Clark. 2019. Behavioral and morphological evidence of an Allen’s × Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin × S. rufus) hybrid zone in southern Oregon and northern California. The Auk: Ornithological Advances 136 (4) ukz049

Former Burns lab student Rosalyn Price-Waldman published the first chapter from her MS thesis in Evolution. She co-authored this work with another former Burns lab student, Allison Shultz, who is now the curator of birds at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and also and adjunct at SDSU. The paper showed that speciation rates are correlated with changes in plumage color complexity in tanagers. 

Figure from Rosalyn and Allison’s paper looking at color complexity and speciation in tanagers:
Price-Waldman, R. M.*, Shultz, A. J., and K. J. Burns. 2020. Speciation rates are correlated with changes in plumage color complexity in the largest family of songbirds. Evolution. 74 (6), 1155-1169.

Here’s our last picture together, before the Covid pandemic. Taken at the Welcome Reception for new grad students in September 2019.

Burns Lab 2019
Burns Lab September 2019, Welcome reception for new students

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2020 Virtual NAOC

Burns lab members past and present will be well represented at next week’s virtual North American Ornithological Conference. In a perfect world, this meeting was going to be in Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, the conference and talks look awesome. Here is a list of presentations by both former and current Burns lab members (in bold). All times Eastern:

8/10/20 14:30
Workshop: Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Ornithology: Mini Discussion
Organizers: Amelia-Juliette Demery, Jennifer Houtz, & Shailee Shah

8/13/20 10:45
An Examination of Genomic and Acoustic Differentiation Between Eastern, Lilian’s, and Western Meadowlarks
Johanna K Beam, Erik R Funk, Scott A Taylor

8/13/20 10:45
The Role of Plumage Coloration in the Diversification of High Elevation and High Latitude Finches
Erik R Funk, Nicholas A Mason, Garth M Spellman, Kristen C Ruegg, Kevin Winker, Scott A Taylor, Erika Zavaleta, Jack J Withrow

8/13/20 11:00
The Evolution of Plumage Coloration and Its Underlying Mechanisms in Male and Female Tanagers
Allison J Shultz, Jacqueline E Dall, Dakota E McCoy, Kevin J Burns

8/13/20 14:30
The Relative Importance of Natural Selection and Sexual Selection in Speciation in the Tanagers
Rosalyn M Price-Waldman, Amelia J Demery, Nicholas A Mason, Allison J Shultz, Pascal O Title, Kevin J Burns

8/13/20 10:45
Natural History Collections are Critical and Underutilized Resources for Contemporary and Future Studies of Urban Evolution
Allison J Shultz, Benjamin J Adams, Kayce C Bell, William B Ludt, Gregory B Pauly, Jann E Vendetti

8/13/20 18:35
Pantropical gene flow in three booby species
Danny Jackson, Erik Funk, Vicki Friesen, Dave Anderson, Tammy Steeves, Jamie Morris-Pocock, Scott Taylor

8/15/20 10:15
Systematics, Species Delimitation and Mitochondrial Introgression in the Narcissus Flycatcher Complex.
Herman L Mays, Isao Nishiumi, Bailey D McKay, William Mauck

8/15/20 10:45
The Impact of Natural History on Plumage Color in Cardinalidae
Benjamin Scott, Kevin Burns

8/15/20 12:35
Plenary: Natural history collections as windows on avian ecology and evolution
Nicholas Mason

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2019 AOS in Anchorage

Burns Lab 2019

Burns Lab at 2019 American Ornithology Society meetings in Anchorage, Alaska


Burns lab members past and present will be well represented at next week’s American Ornithological Society Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. Here is a list of presentations by both former and current Burns lab members (in bold):

Wednesday 1100
Population Genomics of Hawaiian House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus): Investigating Genetic Variation of an Introduced Population
Demery AC, Edwards S, Shultz AJ

Wednesday 1400
A Tale of Two Transects: Sexual Selection Across a Hummingbird Hybrid Zone
Myers BM, Rankin DT, Brelsford A, Burns KJ, Clark CJ

Wednesday 1400
Integrative Approaches to Species Delimitation in Birds
Cicero C, Mason NA, Jimenez RA, Wait DR, Wang-Claypool CY, Bowie RC

Wednesday 1430
The Relative Roles of Natural Selection and Sexual Selection in Speciation in the Tanagers
Price-Waldman RM, Demery AJ, Mason NA, Shultz AJ, Title PO, Burns KJ

Wednesday 1615
Coalescent-Based Species Delimitation in Avian Taxonomy: History, Promise, and Pitfalls
Mason NA, Fletcher NK, Gill B, Funk C, Zamudio K

Wednesday 1700
Phylogenomics of the Parrots of the World
Smith BT, Brumfield R, Ferreira M, Mauck W, Merwin J, Wright T, Joseph LG

Wednesday 17:30
Pathogen-mediated genotypes of colorful phenotypes: integrating research across organizational levels to study biodiversity
Shultz AJ

Thursday 1045
Admixture Mapping the Genetic Basis of Species Differences in Avian Hybrid Zones
Brelsford AT, Nwankwo EC, Myers BM, Clark CJ, Kirschel AN

Thursday 1105
Bill Divergence & Speciation in Corvidae
Scott BF et al.

Thursday 7:30 (kiosk 3 e26)
The Ornithology Collection of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACM)
Shultz AJ

Friday 1100
Genetic Connectivity and Differentiation among Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) Along an Elevational Gradient in the White Mountains of California
Wang-Claypool CY, Mason NA, Cicero C, Bowie RC

Friday 1650
The Long and the Short of It: Linking Genome-Wide Signatures of Selection Across Evolutionary Timescales in Birds
Shultz AJ, Arnold B, Sackton TB

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Congratulations Rosalyn!

Congratulations to Rosalyn Price-Waldman for successfully defended her MS thesis. Her project investigated the interplay of natural and sexual selection in diversification. Rosalyn will begin working on her PhD in Cassie Stoddard’s lab at Princeton this fall. She will be missed and we wish her the best of luck!

Rosalyn Price-Waldman

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Welcome Ben!

The Burns lab welcomes new MS student Ben Scott. Ben received his Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Occidental College. While at Occidental, Ben worked in the Moore Lab of Zoology with John McCormack on phylogeny and trait evolution of New World Jays. Ben also spent some time working at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, home of the largest egg collection in the world. Welcome Ben!



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Rosalyn at Molecular Evolution Workshop

Rosalyn had a busy summer, starting with two weeks working with collaborators in the Faircloth lab at LSU and ending with ten days at the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Workshop on Molecular Evolution in Woods Hole, MA. The workshop provided an overview on topics in molecular evolution including phylogenetic inference, population genetics, comparative genomics, and much more. One focus of the workshop was hands-on instruction in the latest software, often by the authors of the programs. The workshop was an incredible experience, and Rosalyn is excited to apply what she learned to her thesis work on the phylogenomics and trait evolution of tanagers.

Workshop in Molecular Evolution

Attendees at 2018 Workshop on Molecular Evolution held at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA

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