Birds of the World






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Passeriformes, Oscines, Corvida - Wedgebills, Mudnesters,
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Corvida (-oidea)
Families: Wedgebills and Whipbirds, Quail-thrushes, Australian Mudnesters, Sitellas,
    Shrike-tits, Whistlers, Shrike-thrushes,
Batrachotoxins in passerine birds
  Order Passeriformes - Perching Birds
   Suborder Passeres - "Oscines," Song Birds
Wiki     ToL     EoL
Wiki     ToL
  Passerines. Most passerines are smaller than members of non-passerine orders. They have a perching foot with three toes directed forward and the one (the hallux) backward with locking tendons to facilitate perching when their tendons are flexed. All passerines scratch by bringing the foot over the wing. Incubation ranges from 11 -21 days. Young are altricial - they hatch blind with little or no down - and nidicolous - spending 10-15 days or so in the nest.  Subsequent development is rapid and young approach adult mass at fledging. Parents provide care beyond fledging.
Oscines, Suborder Passeres, are our "song birds" with complex syringeal muscles used to produce varied and complex vocalizations.
Covida. Australasia center with old endemics and radiations including the corvids, Old World orioles, shrikes, and vireos.
  Wedgebills, Quail-thrushes
Harris (2009) lists the following two families - other sources combine both into the Family Cinclostomatidae. Placed in the Subfamily Cinclosomatinae by Sibley and Ahlquist (1990).
   Wikipedia suggests that the Picathartidae (rockfowl)(Wiki), Chaetopidae (rock-jumpers, split from Turdidae)(Wiki), and the Malaysian Rail-babbler (Wiki) might form a superfamily.
  (Family Eupetidae - Wedgebills and Whipbirds)
  10 species, 4 genera. Australia, New Guinea and Malayasia. This group includes Papuan jewel-babblers (Ptilorrhoa) (Wiki), the Malaysian Rail-babbler (Eupetes) (Wiki), and whipbirds and wedgebills (Psophodes) (Wiki). It may also include the Ifrit (Ifrita)(Wiki)? This taxon may be a sister group of the Corvidae, Vireonidae, Laniidae, and Irenidae.
   Dickinson (2003) also includes Melampitta in this family. These pitta-like birds with black plumage, strong legs and erectile feathers on the forecrows (Wiki). Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) place them with the cnemophile birds-of-paradise - the Cnemophilidae). Relations are also suggested by the Australian Mudnesters. The genus could, perhaps, form the Family Melampittidae.
   The Jewel-babblers and rail-babbler are thrushlike birds with a long tail and short wings. Whipbirds and wedgebills are smaller. The bill is relatively short. The Malay Rail-babbler has inflatable sacs on the neck. Most are dull, some have crests. They tend to be shy and are more often heard than seen. They forage on the ground or in low vegetation. The family ranges from occupants of tropical rain forest to arid scrub. They feed on fruit, seeds, stems and insects.
   Breeding is poorly known but most species appear to nest on the ground or in low vegetation. All lay 2-3 eggs. The female incubates for 16-25 days and chicks fledge after 17-29 days.
  Family Cinclostomatidae – Quail-thrushes
Wiki    EoL
  5 species, 1 genus (Eupetes).  All representatives are found in Australia and New Guinea. EoL places this genus in the Eupetidae.
   Ground-dwelling birds of the forest floor - usually in dry sclerophyll forest and scrub in Australia and in rain forests in New Guinea. Males may be boldly marked. The tail is long and fan-shaped. They are generally shy and walk with a dovelike stride.
   The nest is a loose cup of grass and twigs located under plants. They lay 2 (3) eggs. The female incubates 11-14 days and young fledge at 14 days (before they can fly).
  Australian Cough, Apostlebird
The following family (Subfamily Cororacinae by Sibley and Ahlquist, 1990) is recognized by all most authors:
  Family Corcoracidae – Australian Mudnesters
Wiki     EoL
  This family includes the Australian Chough (Wiki) and Apostlebird (Wiki). 2 (2) species, 2 genera (Corcorax, Struthidea). Both species are endemic to Australia (eastern third and northern central area).
   They are grayish, medium-sized insectivores with relatively stout bills. Both species are social, foraging in the leaf-litter with a distinctive gate, calling continuously as the feed on seeds and insects. They frequent woodlands and urban areas. When disturbed, they cluster in a nearby tree where they may engage in allopreening. Groups may contain a male, several females, and young from the previous year (they take up to 4 years to mature).
   They build large, open nests using mud, bark, vegetation and manure on a horizontal nest. They build the structure in stages, applying layers of mud with their bill and allowing it to harden before continuing. All members of the group assist in building. They lay 2-9 eggs (more than one female may participate). Incubation takes 18-19 days and young fledge after ~29 days.
   Apostlebirds are named because they occur in groups of 12 (more or less). The White-winged Cough resembles unrelated choughs (Corvidae).
  Sitellas, Shrike tits, Whistlers, Shrike-thrushes
Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) place the sitellas (Neosittidae), whistlers, and shrike-thrushes in the Subfamily Pachycephalinae as four separate Tribes Neosittini, Falcunculini, and Pachycephalinae, forming an ancient radiation of Australian song birds. Their Tribe Mohouini (Moho) contains recently extinct Hawaiian songbirds and is moved to the Passerida (with waxwings). Clements (2007) recognizes two families: Neosittidae and Pachycephalidae (including the shrike-tits and shrike-thrushes but not the Mohouini).
   Harris (2009) places these birds in the following four families with the whitefaces being moved to the Acanthizidae (thornbills) in the Superfamily Meliphagoidea.
   This is an ancient radiation of Australian song-birds with modern representatives in New Zealand, New Guinea, and the South Pacific islands. They are small to medium sized and are proficient singers.
  Family Neosittidae – Sitellas
Wiki     EoL
  2 or 3 species, 1 genus (Sitella). Australia and New Guinea. Recent evidence links this group to whistlers and berrypeckers, not the true nuthatches of the Northern Hemisphere.
   Nuthatch-like scansorial birds found in The Black and Papuan Sitellas are birds of high altitude forests, the Varied Sitella occurs in woodland and forests preferring trees with rough bark. They as relatively small with long wings and a plump body. The tail is short (and is not used as a prop) - their legs are short but toes and claws are long. They forage in small flocks or family groups, usually in the canopy of trees.
   The often have nest-helpers (young of previous broods). They build a cup-shaped nest well above the ground. They lay 1-5 eggs which the female incubates for 20 days. Young fledge at ~18days.
  Family Falcunculidae - Shrike-tits
  4 species, 2 genera (Falcunculus (EoL) Eulacestoma (EoL)). Peripheral Australia and northern New Guinea in forests-montane, eucalypt and sclerophyll woodlands.
   Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) include the genus Oreoica, the Crested Bellbird, with this family. Traditional wisdom places it in the Dicruridae (drongos). They also include Rhagologus, the Mottled Whistler, with this group. It is generally placed in the Pachycephalidae (whistlers) - below.  
   Shrike-tits are relatively bright with bold head patterns while the ploughbill is dull. Individuals are relatively small with a wedge-shaped bill with a hooked tip. Insects provide most of their food. Individuals often forage in small family groups or mixed species flocks. All strip bark, open seeds, and dig into dead wood. Shrike-tits use twigs to probe holes and crevices to dislodge insects - another example of tool-using.
   They build a deep cup placed above the ground. They lay 2-3 eggs which the female (largely) incubates for 18-20 days. Both parents feed the young which fledge at 15-17 days. Their nests are often parasitized by cuckoos.
  Family Pachycephalidae - Whistlers
Wiki     EoEoL
  41 (57) species, 6 (9) genera (Mohoua, Falcunculus, Oreoica, Rhagologus, Pachycare, Hylocitrea, Coracornis, Aleadryas, Pachycephala). Australia, Malayasia, southeast Asia. Included in the Corvidae by the Encyclopedia of Life.
   Whistlers are relatively small with a large head, short neck, shore-thick bill, broad wings with 10 primaries with variable tails. They have robust legs and feet. Some species are relatively dull - others are brightly colored. As their name suggests their songs are diverse and melodious. The forage in trees, usually in the canopy or mid-level. They feed mainly on insects and spiders.
   Monogamous - some have helpers. They build a woven cup placed in a tree of shrub. They lay 2-3 eggs which both parents incubate for 15-16 days. Young remain in the nest 10-12 days but are fed by both parents for a post-fledging period.
  Family Colluricinclidae - Shrike-thrushes
Wiki     EoL
  14 species, 3 genera (Colluricincla, Pitohui, Oreoica). Australia, New Guinea, and southeastern Asia. Includes the Pitohuis and Crested Bellbird. Included in the Corvidae by EoL. Often included in the Pachycephalidae. The Pithouis (Wiki) may be a distinct family (with Oreoica (Wiki)) placed near the Oriolidae.
   Similar in size and shape to thrushes but stoute with a broader bill. Most species are sexually dimorphic but most are drab - gray or brown (some with rufous). The pithouis - at least three species - have toxic feathers. Most are relatively shy, foraging in relatively dense vegetation or on the ground in tropical forests and second growth. They have loud musical calls (especially the Crested Bellbird). They feed on a variety: seeds, fruit, invertebrates, small vertebrates, etc. They may kill prey by hitting it on a branch and dismember larger prey while holding it with a foot.
   Most species are monogamous, building open cups located above the ground. 2-4 eggs are incubated for 14-21 days by both parents. Young fledge 13-17 days later. At least 2 pithouis have nest-helpers.
  Batrachotoxins in passerine birds   
Wiki        Wiki
   In 1989, Jack Dumbacher was studying the Raggiana Birds-of-Paradise, Paradisea raggiana, in Papua New Guinea in the Varirata National Park. Incidental to the capture of this Bird-of-Paradise, other birds including the Hooded Pitohui (Pitohui dichrous), a pachycephaline, were captured. They noted that the pitohuis has a pungent odor that lingered. They also fought actively when captured and frequently scratched their handlers - when they placed their damaged fingers or hand in their mouth they experienced a numbing sensation that was attributed to a poisonous plant brushing the bird in his normal activity. He returned the following year to examine these birds more closely and discovered that the active agent was in the feathers.                                                                                                                                                                                       
   Returning with feather samples, he enlisted the help of John Daly who had pioneered studies on South American poison dart frogs. These amphibians secrete three steroidal alkaloids called batrachotoxins (BTX) in concentrations that would prove fatal if a few grains were ingested - the toxins stop electrical impulses in muscles and nerves causing cardiac arrest. Unknown in any other organism, the pitohuis feathers and skin were found to contain high concentrations of BTX,
   Subsequent study showed that the concentration of toxins differed in different areas of New Guinea and that several other species of pithoui also concentrated the toxins to a lesser extent. They also found toxins in an unrelated bird, the Bleu-capped Ifrita, Iftria kowaldi, a member of the Family Eupetidae. This suggested the toxins were acquired from food rather than biosynthesis by the bird. In subsequent studies the source of toxins have been traced to melyrid beetles (Choresine). These beetles are cosmopolitan with relatives in the Colombian rain forests that could be the source of BTX in Phyllobates frogs as well.
   The Hooded Pitohui is brightly colored - brick red belly and black head. The combination of striking coloration with toxicity might be an example of aposematism (warning coloration). The Variable Pitohui has several forms that resemble the Hooded Pithoui - a case of Müllerian mimicry?