Passeriformes I


Tyranni: Suboscines

Passeri: Oscines


Muscicapoidea and allies

The 46 Orders








Passeriformes has been attributed to Linnaeus, 1766. Since I don't understand Latin, I could be mistaken, but it appeared as though Linnaeus did not actually use the genus Passer, but merely cites Brisson as a alternate name (just as he cites English names of birds). He considered the House Sparrow to be Fringilla domestica. That means that Linnaeus's use of Passeres doesn't qualify. According to Brodkorb (1978), who does attribute Passeriformes to Linnaeus, Nitzsch, 1820 is next in the priority line. I haven't yet found any early usage based on Passer.

There are not only more passerines than any other order of birds, there more passerines than all of the other orders put together. Nearly 60% of all extant bird species are Passeriformes.

Although we have long known which birds are passerines and which are not, their relationships have been poorly understood. A comparison of Clements 5th edition (which uses an old taxonomy) and Howard-Moore 3rd edition (more recent, but not current) shows how much revision has been necessary. There are still many passerines that are classified in the wrong family (and genus) which makes it harder to determine proper family boundaries and relations. Recent work on passerine taxonomy has done much to clarify the situation, and these pages are an attempt to incorporate the latest information.

New Zealand Wrens: Acanthisitti Wolters, 1977

Until recently the New Zealand wrens were considered suboscines. However, the passerines have a basal split between the New Zealand wrens and all other songbirds (Barker et al., 2002; Barker et al., 2004). The common ancestor of the suboscines and the oscine passerines comes after the split between the New Zealand wrens, so we cannot put the New Zealand wrens in the suboscines. That not only forces them into their own family, but into their own suborder, Acanthisitti.

The Acanthisittidae are endemic to New Zealand. Together with the oldest splits among the suboscines and oscines, this suggest a southern origin for the Passeriformes. Attempts to date the split between the Acanthisittidae and the other passerines suggest that it may date to the period when New Zealand separated from a still-joined Australia and Antarctica (see Ericson et al., 2002a).

Acanthisittidae: New Zealand Wrens Sundevall, 1872

2 genera, 4 species HBW-9

EUPASSERES Ericson et al., 2002b

The remaining passeriformes are called the Eupasseres. They consist of the oscines (Passeri) and the suboscines (Tyranni).

Suboscines: Tyranni Wetmore & Miller, 1926

The oscines have roots in Australia. The origin of the suboscines is less clear. One group, the ancestral Tyrannides, went to the Americas (probably South America), while the ancestral Eurylaimides went to the Old World (India?). Although South America and India were once joined with Australia-Antarctica as Gondwana, the separation between them seems to long predate the split between the oscines and suboscines.

One possibility is that all originated when Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica were still joined, with the ancestral Acanthisittidae in the portion that became New Zealand, the ancestral oscines in the Australian part, and the suboscines in the Antarctic part (which may have had a subtropical climate then). The western suboscines (ancestral Tyrannides) could have easily made their way to South America. The Eurylaimides remain a problem. One suggestion is that the eastern suboscines spread onto the now-submerged Kerguelen Plateau, and thence to India (see Moyle et al., 2006a). They could then ride along as India drifted into Asia.

The oscine group is bigger, so we consider it the main trunk, and investigate the smaller suboscine branch first. It has two parts, the Old World Eurylaimides and the New World Tyrannides.

Old World Suboscines: Eurylaimides Seebohm, 1890

Eurylaimides tree Like the passerines as a whole, the suboscines have generally been identifiable as suboscine, but teasing out the relationships between the suboscines has been difficult. The next division is between the Old World subsocines (Eurylaimides) and the New World suboscines (Tyrannides). The Old World suboscines, the pittas, asities, and broadbills have recently been reorganized (Irestedt et al., 2006b; see also Moyle et al., 2006a). The Sapayoa, Sapayoa aenigma, has finally found a new home in this group as the only New World representative of the Eurylaimides (see also Fjeldså et al., 2003; Chesser, 2004). However, whether it is closer to the Calyptomenidae or Philepittidae and Eurylaimidae remains unresolved. Using different genes, Irestedt et al. (2006b) find it sister to Calyptomenidae, while Moyle et al (2006a) find it sister to Philepittidae + Eurylaimidae. In either case, the split is quite ancient. The antiquity of the split, together with uncertainty about its closest relatives, justifies separate family status for Sapayoa.

The main split among the Eurylaimides appears to be between the pittas and the rest. However, although this seems most likely, not all analyses agree. Fjeldså et al. (2003) found it and the Calyptomenidae closer to the Pittas than to the rest of Eurylaimides. Moyle et al. found that the broadbills were not a natural grouping. Some are more closely related to the Sapayoa and the asities than they are to the other broadbills. This list considers the broadbills to consist of two families, one of them sister to the asities, the other sister to the rest of the broadbills, asities, and Sapayoa. In contrast, the SACC treats all of the broadbills, including the asities and sapayoa, as one family, Eurylaimidae.

Calyptomenidae: Calyptomenid Broadbills Bonaparte, 1850

2 genera, 6 species Not HBW Family

The division between African Smithornis and Calyptomena of Sundaland is quite deep, and it would not be unreasonable to put them in separate families.

Sapayoidae: Sapayoa Irestedt et al., 2006

1 genus, 1 species Not HBW Family

The Sapayoa has been long separated from the other Eurylaimides, probably since the early Eocene. There were likely many more members of its clade, with it the only survivor.

Philepittidae: Asities Sharpe, 1870

2 genera, 4 species HBW-8

The Asities of Madagascar are also placed in their own family.

Eurylaimidae: Eurylaimid Broadbills Lesson, 1831

7 genera, 9 species HBW-8

Except for Grauer's Broadbill, this family is Indo-Malayan.

Pittidae: Pittas Swainson, 1831

3 genera, 34 species HBW-8

Pitta taxonomy follows Irestedt et al., (2006b), who recommended resurrecting the genera Erythropitta and Hydrornis.

The Red-bellied Pitta, Erythropitta erythrogaster, has been split into Northern Red-bellied Pitta, Erythropitta erythrogaster, and Southern Red-bellied Pitta, Erythropitta macklotii. The Southern Red-bellied Pitta consists of birds from the Moluccas, New Guinea and Australia. The Northern Red-bellied Pitta ranges over the Philippines and the Indonesia except for the Moluccas. See Irestedt et al. (2013).

Based on Rheindt and Eaton (2010), the Banded Pitta, Hydrornis guajanus is split into three species: Malayan Banded-Pitta, Hydrornis irena, Bornean Banded-Pitta, Hydrornis schwaneri, and Javan Banded-Pitta, Hydrornis guajanus. Since these are allopatric taxa, it is difficult to establish appropriate species limits. In my mind, the fact that irena seems to cross water barriers that are comparable to those separating the other two species suggests that more than water separates them, that they are biological species.

Sula Pitta, Erythropitta dohertyi, is now treated as a subspecies of Red-bellied Pitta, Erythropitta erythrogaster, because of a lack of vocal differences (Rheindt et al., 2010).

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