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Friday, June 27, 2008

Falcons are really Parrots?

A new study published this week in the journal Science reveals some surprising previously unknown facts about the bird family tree--such as that falcons might actually be more closely related to parrots than to hawks. And that parrots, falcons, and songbirds are all more closely related to each other than to any other birds. Go figure! And it looks like hummingbirds and swifts evolved from nocturnal nightjars. Its going to take a while to confirm these results and to sort it all out, but there are going to be changes to how we view bird evolution, that's for sure. At any rate, you can read a summary here.


Unknown said...

Fascinating. A couple of years ago (last year? who can remember!), a speaker at my bird club spoke about the upcoming changes in the genetic profile and understand of the families of birds. He shared a few things and said that all bird books would have to be rewritten! Interesting times.

slybird said...

The popular reporting on this work is so bad, it makes me cringe. Particularly this one:

There are a bunch of mistakes in the article you cite, too. Many of the new groupings proposed are not brand-new or surprising (although a few are) - many corroborate work done in the past 5-10 years.

Also, while falcons are the sister group to the passerines and parrots, that doesn't make the statement 'falcons are really parrots' valid at all.

I know I'm just quibbling over relatively minor things... a systematist's version of "There is something wrong on the internet"

If you want the actual paper I can pass it along, email me. I'll be doing a thorough write-up soon.


birdchaser said...

Thanks Nick, I have the actual paper. And while the title of my post was deliberately provocative (but note the question mark), I think my quick summary of two of the more interesting findings is accurate. For those who missed the nuance, falcons are not really parrots--they are just much more closely related to each other than previously thought by most taxonomists, and both groups are more closely related to songbirds than previously thought.

I also agree that besides these interesting findings, much of the rest of it isn't all that earth-shattering. And most folks won't be all that interested in the arcane details of order-level taxonomic changes suggested in the paper.

Though for taxonomists, its all pretty cool.

birdchaser said...

Also, for most folks sister group means something more like the Pointer Sisters rather than its cladistic definition. And while we're on the subject, cladistics doesn't mean anything to most folks as well. Either does taxonomy. Most folks probably think that has something to do with stuffing birds or mounting deer heads on the wall!

Anonymous said...

Science is one journal that I don't subscribe to . . . will have to check this article out!

Anonymous said...

I think it's all a plot by the publishers to get us to replace all of the guidebooks we've accumulated over the years.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading the article in Science. It seems to me that the only thing that has changed are some cladistic relationships that are important if you are an Ornithologist but, for the birder not much has really changed. I really do not think that bird guides will have to be totally re-written as some people have suggested--maybe re-organized to reflect cladistic relationships and maybe not. The birds still look like what is in the guides.

Good birding,

Donna Barr said...

All I can say is, now I know they're related, I'm going "D'oh! Why did I never see that?" The short, strong bill with the little notch, the abrupt forehead, the Ra-like area around the eye, the big head and feet, the long body form. They may be only relatives, but they're staying in the same house for the holidays.

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