Avian - Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation


Taxonomic Ranks

  • Domain
  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus 
  • Species
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Latin Names

  • Latin names used by scientists and other educated persons as they learnt Latin and Greek
  • Latin and Greek common languages in Europe and Asia, so scientific ideas could be shared
    • due to Roman and Macedonian empires
  • Binomial Nomenclature is unique to a species
    • less confusion compared to common names
    • animal names had to be standardised due to globalisation
    • Carl Linnaeus came up with Binomial Nomenclature
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Modern Birds

  • Aves
  • 10,500 extant species
  • Roughly 23 orders

What makes a bird

  • fore appendages modified as feathered wings
  • endothermic
  • high metabolic rate
  • flexible neck
  • fused posterior vertebrae
  • bones lightened with numerous air spaces
  • skull lightened by a reduction in bone
  • presence of a horny bill that lacks teeth
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Taxonomic Groups: Struthioniformes

  • Ratites
  • Large flightless birds adapted for running
  • Have 3 toes, apart from the ostrich which has 2
  • Many are on the DWAA
  • Cassowary are the most dangerous bird on the planet
  • 'large, flightless birds; wings with numerous fluffy plumes. Ostriches and rheas.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Anseriformes

  • Waterfowl
  • Adapted to living near/in water
  • Watertight feathers help buoyancy
  • webbed feet
  • 'waterfowl; South American screamers, ducks, geese and swans; the latter three groups possess a wide, flat bill and an undercoat of dense down; webbed feet'
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Taxonomic Groups: Galliformes

  • 'land fowl; short beak, short, concave wings; strong feet and claws'
  • e.g., curassows, grouse, quail, pheasants, turkeys
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Taxonomic Groups: Podicipediformes

  • 'short wings; soft dense plumage; feet webbed with flattened nails. Grebes.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Phoenicopteriformes

  • 'oval-shaped bodies with pink or crimson-red feathers; black flight feathers; exceptionally long legs and necks; large bills curve downwards in the middle; upper bill is smaller than lower bill. Flamingos.'
  • Filter crustaceans with bill
    • pink colour due to diet
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Taxonomic Groups: Columbiformes

  • 'dense feathers loosely set in the skin; well-developed crop. Pigeons, doves, sandgrouse'
  • stout-bodied, short neck, short and slender bill
  • only birds to produce crop milk
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Taxonomic Groups: Cuculiformes

  • 'Reversible fourth toe; soft, tender skin. Plantaineaters, roadrunners, cuckoos.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Caprimulgiformes

  • 'owl-like head and plumage, but weak bill and feet; beak with wide gape; insectivorous. Whip-poor-whils, other goatsuckers. Swifts and hummingbirds were formerly grouped in a separate order, Apodiformes. Molecular studies have resulted in their being grouped with other Caprimulgiformes.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Gruiformes

  • 'order characteristics variable and not diagnostic. Marsh birds, including cranes, limpkins, rails and coots'
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Taxonomic Groups: Charadriiformes

  • 'order characteristics variable. Shorebirds, gulls, terns and auks.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Gaviiformes

  • 'strong, straight bill; diving adaptations include legs far back on body, bladelike tarsus, webbed feet, and heavy bones. Loons.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Pelecaniformes

  • 'four toes joined in common web; nostrils rudimentary or absent; large gular sac. Pelicans, boobies, cormorants, anhingas, frigate-birds. Herons and egrets were formerly in a separate order, Ciconiiformes. Molecular studies in their being grouped with other Pelecaniformes.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Procellariiformes

  • 'tubular nostrils; large nasal glands; long and narrow wings. Albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels'
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Taxonomic Groups: Sphenisciformes

  • 'heavy-bodied; flightless; flipper-like wings for swimming; well insulated with fat. Penguins'
    • dense feathers with more feathers per square inch than any other bird
    • bones in wings have fused to make flippers 
  • piscivorous
  • penguins have solid bones because of the high amount of time they spend in the water swimming
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Taxonomic Groups: Accipitriformes

  • 'diurnal birds of prey. Strong, hooked beak; large wings; raptorial feet. Distinguished from Falconiformes by molecular characteristics. Hawks, eagles and vultures.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Strigiformes

  • 'Large head with fixed eyes directed forwards; raptorial foot. Owls'
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Taxonomic Groups: Piciformes

  • 'Usually long, strong beak; strong legs and feet with the fourth toe permanently reversed in woodpeckers. Woodpeckers, toucans, honeyguides, barbets.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Coraciiformes

  • 'large head; large beak, metallic plumage. Kingfishers, todies, bee-eaters, rollers.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Falconiformes

  • 'strong, hooked beak; large wings; raptorial feet. Falcons. Distinguished from Accipitriformes by molecular characteristics.'
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Taxonomic Groups: Psittaformes

  • 'maxilla hinged to the skull; thick tongue; reversible fourth toe; usually brightly coloured. Parrots, lories, macaws'
  • can be trained
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Taxonomic Groups: Passeriformes

  • 'largest avian order, 69 families of perching birds; perching foot; variable external features. Swallows, larks, crows, titmice, nuthatches and many others.'
  • perching and song birds
  • 3 toes facing forward, 1 toe facing backwards
  • largest order
  • include Corvidae
    • very intelligent birds
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Bird Extinctions: Dodo

  • exterminated by the end of the 17th century
    • due to invasive species and persecution from sailors
  • no large predators on Mauritius Island meant Dodos were too curious about the sailors and went towards instead of away from them 
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Bird Extinctions: Moa and Haasts Eagle

  • endemic to New Zealand
  • Early Aborigine settlers ate the Moa for food
  • Tales of an eagle that could carry away children were probably about the Haasts Eagle
  • No Moa meant no food for the Haasts Eagle
  • both extinct by 1445
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Bird Extinctions: Stephen Island Wren

  • One island off New Zealand
  • Lighthouse keepers cat brought a new bird
    • all of the population were killed by the lighthouse keeper's cat
  • by 1894 they had disappeared
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Bird Extinctions: Passenger Pigeon

  • were the most numerous birds in North America
  • hunted to extinction
  • last one died in Cincinatti Zoo
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  • either rare or endangered
  • threats to birds include:
    • habitat loss
    • bioaccumulation of pesticides
    • pet trade
    • pollution
    • invasive species
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Conservation: Rachel Carson

Discovered that a pesticide that had been implemented in agriculture was affecting the egg shells of birds. As the parents ate the invertebrates that had died of the pesticide this was causing them to produce eggs with softer shells. When the parents sat on the eggs to incubate them the eggs would break under the weight of the adult. This caused populations in the area to decline rapidly.

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Conservation: Kakapo

  • parrot from New Zealand
  • Endangered as rats and cats introduced
  • 90 birds survive on protected islands
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