Mar 22 2013

Who’s My Nearest Relative?

Published by at 5:30 am under Peregrines,Tenth Page

Peregrine falcon, Dorothy (photo by Jessica Cernic Freeman)

Remember the first time you were puzzled by the arrangement of birds in your field guide?   Why were loons at the beginning of the book?  Why did kingfishers come after hummingbirds?

It took me a long time to get used to taxonomic order but I finally mastered it and could thumb to the right place every time.

Not anymore!  DNA testing has revealed new relationships.  The old order is shaken up.  Ducks are first, kingfishers follow motmots, falcons have moved to be near their closest relatives.

So here’s a quiz:
Of the four birds shown below, which two are most closely related to peregrines?

Red-tailed hawk?                                                      Red-crowned parrot?
Red-tailed hawk by Bobby Greene, Red-crowned parrot from Wikimedia Commons

 

Red-legged seriema ?                                      Yellow-crowned night heron?
Red-legged Seriema (Wikimedia Commons), Yellow-crowned Night-heron (Chuck Tague)

 

Amazingly, parrots and seriemas are the falcons’ closest relatives. Seriemas, from South America, are actually an older species than falcons and peregrines.

The evidence first surfaced in 2006. In 2012, a proposal was made to the AOU (American Ornithological Union) to change the taxonomic order of falcons, moving them away from hawks and near parrots.  Here’s a wealth of information on the move.

  • Paul Hess blogged about this in 2012 at Breaking Up The Hawks on the ABA blog.
  • The AOU Checklist is in the new taxonomic order.
  • And this link has a chart of the new relationships and descendants. Click here for a large version of the chart where the most ancient species are at the bottom, the newly evolved at the top. Falcons are a relatively new species, third from the top … saving the best for last.  :)

 

(photo credits: Peregrine falcon (Dorothy) by Jessica Cernic Freeman, Red-tailed hawk by Bobby Greene, Red-crowned parrot by Roger Moore Glandauer via Wikimedia Commons, Red-legged seriema from Wikimedia Commons, Yellow-crowned night-heron by Chuck Tague.
Inspiration for this Tenth Page comes from a conversation with Dr. Tony Bledsoe, Dept of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Who’s My Nearest Relative?”

  1. Steve-oon 22 Mar 2013 at 9:11 am

    Parrots and seriema

  2. Mary Jo Bermanon 22 Mar 2013 at 9:20 am

    Well, Alex, based on head and beak shape — I’ll say “what are hawk and parrot”

  3. Bill Parkeron 22 Mar 2013 at 9:39 am

    The current way we analyze DNA may indicate the parrot as the nearest relative. However, in a few years taxonomists could decide that they should rank DNA differently – some more important than others and change the order. There have been many changes in taxonomic order, as then current, scientific opinion changed. There is also a lot of politics in these decisions change – who can get the most votes at the AOU meetings. Biological science is far from being exact and changes as we learn more. In 1929, less than 100 years ago, Pennsylvania had an official State Ornithologist, who thought we should shoot and kill Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and Peregrine Falcons as they killed song birds. Pennsylvania even paid a $5 bounty for Northern Goshawk heads. Science does change. Should field guides be loose leaf books?

  4. Kate St. Johnon 22 Mar 2013 at 9:42 am

    Bill, loose leaf field guides: what a great idea!

  5. Kate St. Johnon 22 Mar 2013 at 10:00 am

    Amazingly, parrots and seriemas are the falcons’ closest relatives. Seriemas, from South America, are actually an older species than falcons/peregrines.
    The evidence first surfaced in 2006. In 2012, a proposal was made to the AOU (American Ornithological Union) to change the taxonomic order of falcons, moving them away from hawks and near parrots.

    Paul Hess blogged about this a year ago in Breaking Up The Hawks on the ABA blog.

    Two charts:
    The AOU Checklist is in the new taxonomic order.

    And this link has a chart of the new relationships and descendants. Click here for a large version of the chart. The oldest species are at the bottom. Falcons are a relatively new innovation. :)

  6. Dianeon 22 Mar 2013 at 11:12 am

    On a recent visit to my favorite avian vet I was told that wild flocks of African Grey Parrots have been seen stalking and eating live prey. At first this surprised me but more and more I believe it. Especially after reading that they are related to peregrines!

  7. Kate St. Johnon 22 Mar 2013 at 11:15 am

    Diane, Oh My Gosh! Ancestral ties!

  8. Karen Langon 22 Mar 2013 at 2:33 pm

    That would be Louie…he’s less than 3 miles from Dorothy ;) I really needed a laugh :)

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