Calling Birds by Clades

The featured images illustrate only one portion of the great complexity in the organization of bird orders. A problem arose when searching for an acceptable naming system that would be meaningful and easy to use. Classically there are thousands of bird varieties with more than 40 orders. This is obviously not going to work for citizen scientists unless they are essentially ornithologists. Alternatively, I selected a new method of ordering birds. Naming of the birds is built on bird “clades” * . This method is based on Avian DNA and evolutionary periods. It covers almost all of the post Cretaceous epoch until today.

For management of the Everglades Ark database I needed to call birds by names to distinguish one from another. I searched the internet resources for a simplified method of naming the birds without individualizing each animal. I decided that this could be done in a two-step fashion. Step one is field observation where a reduced drop down list could be used for organized sorting. The second stage is to enter the common name and scientific name after the field observation.

There is a continuing discussion regarding the classification of birds and which order belongs in which clade. Despite these discussions the organization is sufficient for our purposes. On the Everglades Ark Epicollec5 site the new list of avian clades puts most orders into five major clades listed here:

  • Strisores — nighthawk, frogmouths, diurnal swifts, hummingbirds other nocturnal birds
  • Columbaves — pigeons, sandgrouse, turacos, bustards, cuckoos, mesites
  • Gruiformes — cranes, rails, crakes, Sungrebe, flufftails, others
  • Aequorlitornithes — shorebirds, waterbirds, flamingos, grebes, gulls, tropicbirds, penguins, including pelcans, ibis, heron 
  • Inopinaves — all landbirds and songbirds, including raptors, hawks, owls, toucans, falcons, parrots.

This is based on the following scheme published in Science News:

Fig 1. Top half
Fig 2. Bottom half

This illustration shows the organization of the bird orders and their partitioning into subgroups called clades. The illustration continues from Fig 1 lower left to Fig 2 upper right.

Phylogeny of birds:

“The five major, successive, neoavian sister clades are: Strisores (brown), Columbaves (purple), Gruiformes (yellow), Aequorlitornithes (blue), and Inopinaves (green). Background colors mark geological periods. Ma – million years ago; Ple – Pleistocene; Pli – Pliocene; Q. – Quaternary. Clade numbers refer to the plot of estimated divergence dates. Illustrations of representative bird species are depicted by their lineages.” **

It is easy to see that the “green” Inopinaves have the largest number of orders mostly from the Quaternary period. The “blue” Aequorlitornithes has the second largest number of orders and they are from the Pliocene period. I expect that the greatest number of observations will be these two clades.

Because of the DNA portions that each clade share I can speculate that related clades will suffer from virus diseases that attach to the similar DNA and RNA sites. I will surveil the literature over time to see if there are corresponding connections.


A higher classification of modern birds (June 28, 2019)


Whole-genome analyses resolve early branches in the tree of life of modern birds

* Clade – a natural group

** Image credit: Richard O. Prum et al., doi: 10.1038/nature15697

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#Strisores #Columbaves #Gruiformes #Aequorlitornithes #Inopinaves #bird #period #order

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