Birds of the World



  Lone Pine, AU



Totipalmate Swm



 NW Vultures





  NZ Wrens
   OW Suboscines


 NW Suboscines
   NW Flycatchers

 Aust. Wrens
 Aust. Robins
 OW Orioles
 OW Flycatchers
 N Creepers
 OW Warblers
 OW Sparrows
 9-prim. Oscines

   Hawaiian Honycrp
   NW Sparrows
   NW Warblers
   NW Blackbirds


Struthioniformes (Ratites) - Tinamiformes
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Ostriches, Rheas, Cassowaries, Emus, Kiwis, Tinamous
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Extinct Ratites, Non-passerines and Passerines
Ostrich, Rhea, Southern Cassowary, Emu, Kiwi, Red-winged Tinamou
  CLASS AVES - Birds
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Homoiothermic (Greek) or homeothermic (Latin) (so called "warm-blooded") vertebrates covered with scales and feathers. Forelimbs modified into wings which most species use in flight. Hindlimbs retain their role in swimming or propulsion on the ground. Large eyes, highly developed nervous system, complex behavior. Most females have only one (the left) ovary and all lay large shelled eggs which develop outside the female (all birds are "oviparous").
  Subclass Archaeornithes - Ancient Birds, Archaeopteryx
  Extinct birds of the Mesozoic - Archaeopteryx had true teeth, separate, articulated caudal vertebrae, and no convincing skeletal adaptations for powered flight - but did have a long, balancing tail and asymmetric flight feathers on the wing (the flight feathers in flightless birds tend to be symmetric - the vane on each side of the central rachis is about the same size). Archaeopteryx was probably arboreal and capable of short flights or glides to adjacent vegetation. A variety of feathered reptiles and near-birds occurred in the Jurassic (see Origin of Birds). From this assemblage emerged modern birds.
  Subclass Neornithes - Modern Birds
  Modern birds are characterized by the presence of feathers that permit flight and facilitate thermoregulation (like mammals, birds are homoiotherms - "warm-blooded" vertebrates - they tend to maintain a constant and relatively high body temperature). Flight feathers of the wing (remiges) attach to bones of the hand (primaries) and the ulna in the forearm (secondaries). Tail feathers (rectrices) attach to the pygostyle, a compound bone formed by the fusion of several caudal vertebrae (see Feathers - Structure and Feathers - Function)

The Neornithes are divided into two Infraclasses: the Paleognathae (Eoaves) with 57 species in 14 genera and the Neognathae with 9,615 species in 2,043 genera (9,672 species, 2,067 genera total - Sibley & Monroe, 1990). The Neognathae are, in turn are divided by most authors into the Galloanserae (gallinaceous birds like pheasants and quail and waterfowl including ducks, geese, and swans) and Neoaves (other groups of "modern" birds as follows:
  Infraclass Paleognathae (Eoaves) - Ratites and Tinamous
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  The Paleognathae contain several related groups that include 57 living species placed in 14 genera. They are the descendants of several parallel evolutionary sequences in isolated continents resulting in large flightless species. Their isolation argues against a close relationship but many features of their structure suggest that they are indeed sister groups that separated by vicariance with the splitting of the World Continent into continental land masses and that they evolved large size and flightlessness in the absence of competing mammals. DNA-DNA hybridization confirms their phylogenetic relations.

    Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) group these birds in the Parvclass Ratitae with two orders (Struthioniformes [ratites] and Timamiformes [tinamous]). Ratites have an unkeeled sternum and are flightless; tinamous are carinate - they have a keel on their sternum that anchors flight muscles and they are able to fly. Both groups have a paleognathous palate.
   Relations among these groups is still uncertain - morphological and molecular data conflict and different methods of analyses lead to disparate results. Stay tuned - agreement that these taxa are related is a step forward. One suggestion is to place each group in a separate order.
  Order Struthioniformes - Ratites
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  There are 10 living species and more than 50 extinct species of paleognathous birds. The paleognathous (or dromeognathus) palate is defined by having a broad vomer that interposes to prevent the articulation of the basisphenoidal rostrum with the pterygoids and palatines). This is regarded as a "primitive" type of palate. They are flightless with reduced wings and no keel on the sternum ("ratite" as opposed to "carinate"). The coracoid is fused with the scapula and clavicles are absent of reduced. The ostrich has a pygostyle (fused caudal vertebrae that support the tail feathers). There are no or very few unfeathered areas of skin (apteria). Their feathers lack interlocking mechanisms (hamuli) on the barbs. They are eutaxic (the fifth secondary is present). The scale covering the bill (rhamphotheca) is compound and the maxilla is covered at its base with a cere containing the nasal grooves. Nostrils are impervious. They have intestinal ceca. The oil gland is present (and naked) only in chicks of rheas and emus and in kiwis. Young leave the nest soon after hatching (nidifugous).
   Ratites lack distinct sex chromosomes - instead they carry sex markers on morphologically indistinct sex chromosomes. The evidence that all of these groups belong in one order can be questioned. Molecular evidence is ambiguous but paleobiogeographical evidence favors distributing ratites in separate orders as follows: Struthioniformes (Ostrich), Rheiformes (rheas), Casuariiformes (cassowaries and the Emu), and Apterygiformes (kiwis).
  Family Struthionidae - Ostrich
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  1 species, 1 genus. Ostrich (Struthio camelus). Africa (historically ostriches were also found in the Middle East extending to Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia).
   Ostriches are the largest living bird (adult males may be 8-9' tall and weigh 290 pounds - large males may reach 340 pounds). Females are a bit smaller. They have a relatively small head with a stout bill and a long neck. Their eyes are the largest of any land vertebrate. Their legs are scaled and unfeathered. Their legs and feet are powerful (and dangerous). They are cursorial (running) animals and normally reach 15-20  mph (up to 40-45 mph when escaping a predator).
   Their pelvic musculature is ABXY+. This is the only bird with two toes (3 and 4). The larger inner toe resembles a hoof and has a small nail. The smaller outer toe lacks the nail. Their terminal phalanges are shortened. The pubes unite in a ventral symphysis (unusual in birds - the pelvis is usually open to facilitate the passage of large eggs). They have a pygostyle (fused caudal vertebrae supporting the tail feathers) and two carotid arteries.  Their beak is broad, short, and flat with oval nares. There is no syrinx. There are 20 cervical vertebrae, 4 alular feathers, 16 primaries, 20 secondaries, and 50-60 rectrices. The wings span over 6' and are used in mating displays or to shade chicks. The sternum is "ratite" (no keel). The ostrich has no crop and also lacks a gall bladder. They have 3 stomachs. They have two large intestinal ceca (up to 28" long) with an internal spiral valve. Feathers have no aftershaft and the plumage is downy. Ostriches secrete urine (they have a "bladder") and feces separately. Males have a black and white body, females are duller. The head is bare and the neck is covered with fine feathers. Males have an erectile penis that is 8" long.
   Ostriches are social and form nomadic family groups (up to 40 individuals). They live on short-grass plains and arid savannas. They feed on low plants and may graze on the flowers and fruits of acacias. They may eat carrion and small vertebrates (lizards, tortoises). They often mingle with grazing mammals to feed on large insects stirred up by their feet. When threatened, they will lie flat or run - if attacked, they will kick.
   Ostriches are polygynous. Up to 7 females may mate with a male and lay their eggs in a communal nest - a scrape in the ground, often excavated by the major hen who contributes up to 12 eggs. A nest may contain a total of 15 - 60 eggs (the major female may attempt to remove the eggs of others). Ostrich eggs are the largest of any living bird (weighing over 1 kg, > 2.2 lb.). The clutch is usually incubated by the primary female during the day and the male at night. Incubation lasts 35-45 days. Young are precocial and nidifugous. The nuclear pair defends them for several days and the male continues to help them find food for up to 9 months. When two males meet, their chicks may form a crèche, guarded by one of them. Infant mortality is high - jackals, hyenas and the Egyptian Vulture like eggs and young ostriches. An individual may live for up to 30 years.
   Ostriches are now farmed in many areas of the world for their decorative feathers, meat, and skin (leather).
Ostrich, Struthio camelus.
Brehms Tierleben, 1892.
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  Family Rheidae - Rheas
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  2 species, 1 (2) genera. Greater Rhea (Rhea americana), Lesser (Darwin's) Rhea (R. pennata) or (Pterocnemia pennata). South America (central western coastal area, interior - Brazil south through Argentina in the east.
Rheas are the largest birds of the New World - standing 5-6' and weighing up to 88 lbs. Females are slightly smaller than males. They have a relatively small head, a long pointed bill, a long neck, and robust legs with 3 toes (no hallux) and their middle phalanges are short. Their tarsus has horizontal plates in front. They are a dull gray-brown with short downy feathers.
Rheas are ratite (no keel on the sternum) and paleognathous. Their pelvic muscles are BXY+. They have only a left carotid artery. They have 17 cervical vertebrae, 12 long, loose primaries, 16 secondaries, and no tail feathers; there is a ventral apterium. Their feathers have no aftershaft. They have a claw on each wing. The tarsus is scutellate. Their caeca are large with a vestige of a spiral valve. They have a bladder-like expansion of the cloaca. The syrinx is tracheobronchial with one pair of intrinsic muscles. Their wings are relatively large and are spread while running, acting like sails. When threatened, they flee in a zigzag course, utilizing first one wing, then the other.
Rheas are social and forage in family groups (up to 30 individuals). They may move with herds of various mammals (deer, guanacos, vicunas, etc.). They feed on a variety of plants and will eat insects and small vertebrates. They are found on the pampas and grasslands with tall scrub. The Lesser Rhea lives in the arid puna of the Andean plateau and Patagonian lowlands.
Rheas are polygynous - males may mating with 2 -12 females. He builds a nest (a platform of vegetation) in which each female lays. Only the male incubates. Females may mate with other males while their first consort incubates (polyandry). The male may place some eggs outside the nest as sacrificial decoys to protect the nest itself. Some males recruit a subordinate male to incubate his eggs, then starts another nest. Males care for the precocial young for several days as they learn to feed and young may remain with the family group until they become adults - (2-3 years).
    Rhea Rhea (Greater or Lesser?).
Brehms Tierleben, 1892
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  Cassowaries and Emus. Sibley and Monroe (1990) place the cassowaries and emus in the Family Casuariidae and separate each group inito Tribes (Casuariini, Dromaiini). Most sources, however, keep these groups as separate families as follows:
    Family Casuariidae - Cassowaries
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  3 species, 1 genus. Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), Dwarf Cassowary (C. bennetti), and Northern Cassowary (C. unappendiculatus). The Southern Cassowary is the largest in the group and is the second heaviest living bird (after the Ostrich). New Guinea and tropical northeastern Australia. They are closely related to emus.
   The Southern Cassowary is nearly 6' tall. They have long necks and very powerful legs with 3 toes with short middle phalanges and sharp claws. The hallux has a long, raptor-like claw and with a jump and kick they can eviscerate predators. They have a cacique or helmet on the head (below).
   Their head is bare - a bright blue - and they have red wattles/warts. Their plumage is coarse and the aftershaft is as long as the main shaft. Wing feathers include 5-6 remiges reduced to spines with no barbs. There are no tail feathers. Their is a claw on the second finger.
   Cassowaries are "ratite" and paleognathous. Pelvic muscles are BXY. Their clavicles are rudimentary and their intestinal caeca are reduced. They have two carotids but only the left goes to the head. There is no syrinx. Intestinal caeca are reduced. They have 18-19 cervical vertebrae. There is no pubic symphysis. The aftershaft is as long as the main shaft. Feathers include a shaft and loose, hair-like barbules. They lack the uropygial gland.
   All 3 species of cassowaries have horny caciques (a keratinous skin over a core of cellular-material) that continues to grow throughout their life. It may play a role in sound reception or acoustic communication (at least two species have very-low frequency sounds used in communication in dense rainforest - it is the lowest known bird call and is at the edge of human hearing).
   Cassowaries are shy, solitary, and hard to see. They live in tropical forests, coastal swamps and riparian habitats (Dwarf Cassowaries live in highlands). They feed on  fruits, seeds, berries - and occasionally invertebrates and small vertebrates. They may also eat carrion (note that Australia lacks specialized carrion-feeders such as out New World "vultures"). They eat fallen fruit and then distribute seeds through the rain forest.
   Their nest is an ill-formed collection of plant material placed near a tree or along an edge. Females lay in the nests of several males (serial polyandry). Nests contain 3-5 eggs. The male incubates for 50-52 days and provides most of the parental care, tending the young for up to 9 months.
   Cassowary meat is reputed to be so tough as to be essentially inedible.
  Southern Cassowary Southern Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius.
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Southern Cassowary

    "Helmkasuar." Brehms Tierleben, 1892.   Bird World, Kuranda, Australia
    Family Dromaiidae - Emus
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  1 species, 1 genus. Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Australia. (Three endemic races/species in Tasmania (D. n. diemenensis) and on King (D. ater) and Kangaroo (D. baudinianus) Islands were eliminated by European settlers). Closely related to cassowaries.
   Emus are Australia's largest bird. They are long-necked and flightless. They stand over 6' and weigh ~80 (40-110) lbs. Females are somewhat smaller. Their legs are long and powerful - there are three toes with short middle phalanges (there is no hallux).  They are a dull gray with whitish or pale blue skin on the neck and head. Chicks are spotted.
   Emus are "ratite" and paleognathous. Their pelvic muscles are BXY. Clavicles are rudimentary. The aftershaft is as long as the main shaft. Intestinal caeca are reduced. They have two carotids but only the left goes to the head. There is no syrinx. Wing feathers are reduced to spines (vestigial) and there are no tail feathers.  Their feathers are unique - they have a double rachis in a single shaft. They have or 20 cervical vertebrae. There is no pubic symphysis. They are the only bird with a gastrocnemous muscle in the lower tarsus. 
   The Emu has colored bare skin on the side of its head and on its throat - the opening of the external ear is evident behind the eye. Their soft bill is adapted for grazing.
   Emus are usually gregarious and may be found in groups  up to 10 (or more). Emus can reach speeds of 30 mph and also swim. They are nomadic and can travel long distances. They range from tropical woodland to farmland and arid plains (avoiding the most arid deserts and urban areas). They are omnivorous. They are important dispersers of plant seeds.
   They have loud booming, drumming, and grunting sounds that can be heard for long distances. Booming involves an inflatable, thin-walled neck sack.
   Males build a nest in a shallow depression in which his mate lays eggs about every 2-3 days and he begins to incubate before the clutch is complete. Females lay 3-11 (up to 20) eggs which the male incubates for about 2 months (56 days). During this period he does not feed or drink and may loose up to one-third of his body weight. The female, meanwhile, may mate with other males and will lay multiple clutches so at least some of the chicks in most broods have multiple parents. Emus also practice brood parasitism so young may be unrelated to either "parent." Some females may stay to guard the nest but most leave. Females may nest up to 3 times in a season. Chicks are precocial and leave the nest in a few days. They are tended by the male for 12 months or more as they learn to feed and survive. Most breed in their second year. They may live 10-20 years in the wild.
   Emus are farmed for meat, oil, and leather. They were an important food source for Aborigines
    Emu Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae.
Bridbane, Lone Pine, Australia
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    Lone Pine (near Brisbane), Australia)    
    Family Apterygidae - Kiwis
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    3 (5) species, 1 genus. Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis), Little Spotted Kiwi (A. owenii), and Great Spotted Kiwi (A. haastii). New Zealand. Clements (2007) and Harris (2009) also recognize the Southern Brown Kiwi (A. australis - the Brown Kiwi), Okarito Brown Kiwi (A. rowi), and North Island Kiwi (A. mantelli) - the last two are added species. 1 species is endangered, 4 are vulnerable.
   Kiwis are smaller (chicken-sized) flightless birds with only vestigial wings and very long bills for their size. They also lay the largest eggs (relative to their body size) of any bird (the egg weighs 1/4 to 1/3 the weight of the female - 6 times the size of a chicken egg - with a yolk 50% larger than in other birds). It takes the female 30 days to produce each egg. Sexes are similar (females have a longer bill). Their plumage is shaggy and hair-like - waterproof at the tips and downy at the base.
   Kiwis are "ratite" (the sternum has no keel) and paleognathous. Their pelvic musculature is ABXY+ and they have muscular legs with 4 toes with the hallux small and elevated. Their beak is long and decurved with nostrils opening at the tip. The olfactory areas of the brain are also large, suggesting a well-developed olfactory sense which they use to find food. Each nostril has a valve near the base allowing kiwis to eject water and waste through the nostrils while foraging. Their plumage is lax and hair like with no aftershaft. They have large rictal vibrissae. Wings are short and concealed by body plumage. There is no pubic symphysis (facilitating the passage of their relatively large egg). Kiwis lack pneumatic bones - they have medullary bone with marrow like mammals. Their eyes are reduced. Kiwis are mainly nocturnal. They have only the left carotid. They have long intestinal caeca. There is no syrinx but they do make sounds facilitating finding them at night. There are 16 cervical vertebrae, 3-4 primaries, 9 secondaries, and no tail feathers (just a small pygostyle). There are small apteria. They have a tarsal spur (no bone). They lack the uropygial gland. Their ventriculus ("gizzard") is small and they have long intestinal caeca.
   Kiwis are nocturnal and keep to cover when foraging in soil and leaf litter. They prefer subtropical and temperate podocarp and beech forests but are adapting to different habitats as original vegetation disappears. Most of their diet is invertebrate (earthworms plus beetles, grubs and caterpillars). They may accumulate up to 30% of their body mass in fat - reserves used during their long breeding season. During the day they hide in a burrow or thick vegetation, sleeping with their necks tucked under the vestigial wing.
    Kiwis are monogamous and mate for life. Males call at night during the breeding season and may be heard from some distance. They lay one (rarely up to 3) very large eggs at intervals of 14-30 days in their nesting burrow. In most species, the male alone incubates (62-93 days) - but females help in the Great Spotted Kiwi. Incubation lasts 63-92 (70) days. Several species may lay 2 broods. They young lack and egg tooth and break the shell using their feet when hatching. They receive nutrition for the first week from the yolk sac which remains attached to their body. Afterwards, they venture from the burrow to feed - they are precocial - active and fully feathered. Young are independent within 2-3 weeks after hatching. Many young are lost to predatory mammals.
   Because of their presence in New Zealand, Kiwis have been presumed to be related to moas, but DNA studies suggest that moas are more closely related to the ostrich and kiwis are more closely related to emus and cassowaries (perhaps an import from Australia).
Brehms Tierleben, 1892.
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    Extinct Ratites and Other Flightless Birds Wiki     ToL
    There are at least 13 species of moas (Dinornithidae) living in New Zealand until Recent times when Europeans arrived to complete their demise. They were wingless/flightless and stood up to 3 m tall - in an area without terrestrial mammals, moas were the herbivorous counterparts of large grazers.
   Elephant-birds (Aepyornithidae - 9 species) were found in Africa, Madagascar (bones), and Europe (fossil egg shells). Their fossil egg shells were used by natives in Africa to carry water. They stood up to 3 m tall (450 kg) - they were the World's largest birds.
   Mihirung birds or dromornithids (Dromornithidea - 8 species) were found in Australia during the Paleocene. One species reached 3 m in height. The group has been classified with the Order Struthioniformes but are now considered to belong in the Anseriformes (waterfowl).
    Order Tinamiformes - Tinamous
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    Family Tinamidae - Tinamous
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    47 species, 9 genera. Tinamous range from northeastern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. Four extinct species are known. Tinamous resemble other terrestrial birds but, based on their palatal structure, reptilian-like blood proteins, and other traits, are believed to represent  an early Gondwanian divergence most closely related to ratites. They have no close living relatives. However, Tinamous are carinate (their sternum has a keel and robust pectoral muscles and they can fly rapidly for short distances. Nevertheless, they usually walk or run - flying only to escape predators. Tinamous are rarely seen - they are shy and secretive. Their vocal calls are the best way to locate them.
   Tinamous are quail-like birds ranging from 6 -18 inches in length (females are larger than males). They have a small head, thin neck, and plumb, rounded body. Their bill is broad at the base and relatively short - and is somewhat decurved. Their wings are rounded and their tails are very short.  They have the smallest heart and lungs relative to body size of any group of birds. Most species are cryptically colored.  
   Tinamous also have a dromaeognathous (paleognathous) palate and their pelvic musculature is ABXY+. They have two carotids. Tinamous are weak fliers with a keeled sternum ("carinate"). They have short wings and tail and 3 or 4 toes. Their rhamphotheca is complex and the nostrils are covered by a cere. They lack a pygostyle and the skeleton is pneumatic. They have short legs - their flexor tendons are Type 2. Their nares are impervious and most are holorhinal. They have a small oil gland. Their caeca are large and they have a tracheobronchial syrinx. The crop is large. Their aftershaft varies and some species have dorsal powder downs. There are 16-18 cervical vertebrae, 10 primaries, 13-16 secondaries, and 8-12 small rectrices. Their feathers have the barbules attached (not hooked). The adult down is sparse. Back and rump feathers are loosely anchored in the skin and their easy loss may facilitate escape from a predator. Males possess a penis. Their furculum is U-shaped. 
   Tinamous are terrestrial and forage on the ground. They feed mostly on small fruits and seeds. They also eat buds, flowers, and tender vegetation along with arthropods, snails, slugs, worms and some small vertebrates. They live in a variety of tropical and sub-tropical settings from sea level to montane cloud forests. Individuals of forest-dwelling species tend to be relatively solitary but in more open habitats they may form small groups (or even large flocks).
   Tinamous are territorial. Some may be monogamous. Some then shift to serial polyandry with the female distributing eggs among several males' nests. Males may also be polygynous, fertilizing multiple females. The nest is usually a pile of vegetation. Clutches may contain up to 16 eggs. Their eggs have porcelain-like shells which are intensely pigmented. The male incubates for 16-20 days and hatching is asynchronous. Young are precocial and  nidifugous and run as soon as they hatch. They become independent in 10-20 days. Chicks have a dense coat of down which develops into their juvenal plumage. This is replaced by a complete post-juvenal molt soon after fledging.
   Tinamous may be hunted for food throughout their range (where not protected).
    Red-winged Tinamou Red-winged Tinamou, Rhynchotus rufescens.
Brehens Tierleber, 1892.
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    "Non-Passerines" and "Passerines"
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    Sibley and Monroe (1990) divide the Neornithes into 21 orders. The first 20 of these are often designated as "non-passerines" and include both the Paleognathae (with 57 species 14 genera) and Neognathae (with 3,960 species placed in 896 genera). Included in the non-passerines are a diverse assemblage that includes the ratites, chicken-like birds, waterfowl, woodpeckers, parrots, swifts and hummingbirds, owls, rails, shorebirds, herons, tube-nosed swimmers, etc. - many of our birds of the beach. Non-passerines are simply any bird that is not a passerine.
(Order Passeriformes) are much more homogeneous - considering their degree of variation they could all be placed in one family or even a smaller taxon. However, to facilitate classification, a number of families are recognized (33 by Sibley and Monroe, 1990; 96 plus several groups of uncertain placement by Dickinson, 2003; 99 by Clements, 2007; and 96 by Harris, 2009). In this web, we probably add 10 families to this total (based on a variety of recent studies and suggestions). Some of these added families may hold up over time, others will be merged as relationships become better understood. There are 5,712 species of Passerines placed in 1,161 genera. Explore this diversity.
    Banner - Emu, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, AU