• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Bird Families of the World, 12th edition (1 Viewer)

andrew147

Well-known member
Interesting, but I note that the essay only discusses Passeriformes.

I am mystified by the growing trend of treating Passeriformes as if it is equivalent to the whole group of non-Passeriformes when, surely, Passeriformes as an evolutionary unit is only equivalent to any other single non-passerine order (i.e. all passerine diversity and 'separableness' is roughly equivalent to a Hoatzin).

If families like Hylocitreidae, Erythrocercidae, Hyliidae, Pellorneidae, Leiothrichidae, Zosteropidae, Hypocryptadiidae... and many others (depending on different authorities) are genuinely worth recognising, then it follows that Psittacidae, Accipitridae, Cuculidae, Phasianidae and so on should also be separated into multiple families composed of ancient, monophyletic lineages.

In a world where Pellorneidae is separable at the family level, then, to maintain consistency, Anatidae alone should be considered
to involve around 10 families (Plectropteridae anyone?)

I know it is an unpopular view - and they didn't have the circumscription correct - but I think that the Sibley-Alquist-Monroe notion of a huge Sylviidae, Corvidae, Fringillidae etc (with numerous subfamilies and tribes), described overall avian diversity more successfully than do all these tiny, often undiagnosable passerine families.
 
Last edited:

jurek

Well-known member
I heard an opinion of somebody interested in general zoology birds are enormously and unnecessary oversplit. Diversity of all oscine passerines in size, behaviour, ecology is equivalent to one-two families of mammals, eg. true mice Muridae. Not to mention that reptile paleontologist would treat all birds as a family or superfamily of theropod dinosaurs.

It sounded blasphemic, but just look how many birds which are extremely similar visually and ecologically and are confusion species in field guidebooks are now in separate families (Phylloscopus-Hippolais warblers, Acrocephalus-Locustella warblers, Emberiza-Calcarius buntings etc. etc).
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
"Rankings" are arbitrary, which is why I don't put much stock in them. But they can be useful to organize things.

Personally...I find the Sibley-Alquist-Monroe families too coarse. On the other hand, I was against the break up of Timaliidae or recognition of Scotocercidae. In this case of Sylviidae, there were valid reasons to split them up, as it turns out many members are not all that closely related to one another. In the case of Timaliidae and Scotocercidae, this isn't the case...this is just eyeballing divergences and trying to use that as a benchmark (something I am against)

I would guess a major reason why we see songbirds parsed out so much is that simply, Passeriformes make up almost half of bird diversity, and are by far the most successful clade of bird. We don't get that diversity in any other bird group, and for the most part a lot of those traditional families are monophyletic anyway with little morphological differentation

Jurek...I don't think I have ever heard any dinosaur researcher ever propose recognizing one family of bird. I know Vladimir dinets proposed recognizing a single songbird family, but....that would render songbirds taxonomy hopefully complicated and noninformative.
 

andrew147

Well-known member
"Rankings" are arbitrary, which is why I don't put much stock in them. But they can be useful to organize things.

...well, evidently! But, my point was that if we are to understand anything useful by the terms 'order', 'family' 'tribe' then they should be applied more consistently (within a single work) to groups which roughly represent equal and equivalent taxonomic units. The notion that Hypocryptadiidae could be equal and equivalent to e.g. Phasianidae is absurd... it is just a weird sparrow, which are themselves only fairly well diverged from other finch-types.

We don't get that diversity in any other bird group, and for the most part a lot of those traditional families are monophyletic anyway with little morphological differentation.

I'd argue that, in some ways, all of those families I mentioned were MORE diverse than the whole Oscines (where 'diverse' is taken to mean something other than 'speciose'). Indeed, they do represent monophyletic units but so do 'Sylvoidea', 'Corvoidea', 'Passeroidea' and so on and each of these seems roughly equivalent - in terms of age and variety - to many non-Passerine families.
 
Last edited:

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
You could use that as an argument though for splitting those other families up more.

By recognizing smaller divisions of songbirds, we can create nomenclature that easily organizes them. I will not comment on splitting Hyptocryptadiidae, etc, since I don't disagree with you, but I think say, lumping all nine-primaried oscines into Fringilliidae would make a very uninformative taxonomy. As is Thraupidae has subfamilies, tribe, genera, species complexes, etc. If it was simply another subfamily or worse tribe of Fringillidae, than we would have to use all sorts of new and obscure taxonomic ranks to describe Fringillidae diversity, and at that point it probably would make more sense to recognize different families.
 

andrew147

Well-known member
...yes, BUT... that is the situation we have now! The taxonomy of Hypocryptadius or, indeed, the whole 9-primaried assemblage is only clear if one understands lesser-used taxonomic divisions i.e. Passeroidea.

I understand that this is subjective but I would argue that a more meaningful taxonomy is provided by larger, monophyletic Passerine families with a logical internal structure.

For me, nothing obfuscates meaningful taxonomy more than this proliferation of monotypic families. For example, if 5 separate families are created for Hylocitrea, Hypocolius, Bombycilla, Dulus and the silky-flycatchers, then this tells us nothing at all which is taxonomically useful and, indeed, the close relationship of these taxa is only apparent if one is cognisant of the obscure term Bombycilloidea. Surely, a single family with 4 subfamilies, one with 2 tribes (if indeed Hylocitrea and Hypocolius are closest relatives) would provide far more immediate meaning.

I deviate from my original point anyway. What I really want to know is why, in many cases, 'family' seems to be for Passerines what 'tribe' or even 'genus' is for non-Passerines. Surely, these things cannot solely be driven by family-orientated world birders? ;)
 
Last edited:

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
andrew147,
I would like to counter that for many non-specialists, the terms subfamily, tribe, and superfamily are equally obscure, as opposed to one being more obscure than others ;)

Niels
 

Snapdragyn

Well-known member
I have no position in regards to lumping songbirds into broader families or splitting non-passerines into narrower families - but I strongly (avidly!) support the notion of doing one or the other in order to have a consistent meaning & equivalency of nomenclatural rankings at least w/in Aves! Does the supposed justification of supporting additional songbird families because "I have evolved a preference for Family level taxa to be (a) distinctive and diagnosable and (b) to have been evolving on their own evolutionary path since at least the early Miocene (i.e., 16-23 mya)" when this same standard is nowhere evident in the treatment of non-passerines betray a blatant bias toward songbird classification, a complete lack of awareness of current hypotheses of divergence dates between & among numerous non-passerine lineages, or an utter disregard for the inconsistency displayed by not using the same standard throughout? Perhaps more likely it is merely an unwillingness to take on the monumental task of applying this standard across non-passerines & facing the ensuing uproar over the resultant burgeoning list of families thus erected. I certainly have no intention of posting my own world list, where I've attempted to apply a more conservative 23-34 MYA threshold for 'family' (rather than the 16-23 Roberson uses)... & come up w/ 28 families of Psittaciforms as a result.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I too don't like monophyletic families (unless you are dealing with truly oddball birds, like say the Kagu), BUT, in some cases more families are needed. At any rate we seem to be arguing at different levels...all the examples you provide here I would probably agree would be better treated as lumped into larger families

A good example of where splitting up families is needed is I would say the Sylviidae. Had we wanted to not split this family up, we would have needed to lump long-tailed tits, bulbuls, cisticolas, white-eyes babblers, and swallows all into Sylviidae. In my personal opinion, this would make the group far far too heterogenous, and remove any useful meaning when referring to "Sylviids"and not terribly useful. At any rate, I find for the most part the new sylviid families pretty cohesive (Arcrocephalidae, Phylloscopidae, etc).

I think scientists are still in the process of figuring out if families should be defined by age of divergence or similarity in morphology/behavior/ecology. I would not be surprised if some of these age of divergence of families are not lumped together at some point.
 

andrew147

Well-known member
Yes, Mysticete, I'm half in agreement with regard to the Sylvoidea. There would be little support for including swallows (especially) in an expanded Sylviidae and, in order to avoid paraphyly, several other families are necessary.

However, the current trend of recognising as many as 20 families of Sylvoids confounds any clear understanding of their inter-relationships. It would seem entirely reasonable - in terms of diagnosis, cohesion and monophyly - to include Bernieridae, Donacobiidae & Locustellinae as subfamilies of Acrocephalidae; a similar treatment could see Cettiidae, Hyliidae, Scotocercidae, Erythrocercidae & Phylloscopidae as subfamilies/tribes of Aegithalidae. And, of course, all those babblers, white-eyes, yuhinas, parrotbills and Sylvia warblers make a very coherent core Sylviidae.

Niels, yes, but that makes it all the more important for 'family' to be applied consistently. Furthermore, if more obscure terms are not desirable then larger, unified families would tell a non-specialist far more about inter-relationships. Imagine a non-specialist first becoming aware of the existence of the Bornean Bristlehead - surely the notation "family Corvidae" is going to be far more informative than "family Pityriaseidae".

Snapdragyn, I completely agree that consistency is the problem. Currently, most world lists treat Passerines very differently to non-Passerines in terms of the consistent application of taxonomic labels. Also, I would be fascinated to see your modified world list.
 
Last edited:

Xenospiza

Distracted
Supporter
I would agree that the amount of families in the Passeriformes is too high. Surely the ibon is a sparrow... When I saw Hylocitrea this year, its call and behaviour reminded me of a waxwing immediately.
I think that coming up with 28 parrot families would show that the present developments in songbird taxonomy are ridiculous. We'd be much better of calling them clades and not worrying about rank anymore.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Personally...I would disagree with placing leaf-warblers with long-tailed tits...the two are very different in appearance, and aegithalidae has always been narrowly defined.

You say recognizing Bornean Bristlehead as member of Corvidae would help birders, but it would also obscure the distinctiveness of the bird. The only way to make the Bristlehead a crow is to lump woodswallows, Batis, bush-shrikes, Vangas, drongos, fantails, monarch flycatchers, and shrikes as crows. At that point, Corvidae is rendered so heterogeneous that it loses any context of meaning for most birders.
 

andrew147

Well-known member
The only way to make the Bristlehead a crow is to lump woodswallows, Batis, bush-shrikes, Vangas, drongos, fantails, monarch flycatchers, and shrikes as crows. At that point, Corvidae is rendered so heterogeneous that it loses any context of meaning for most birders.

Yes! And ioras, birds of paradise, orioles, vireos, painted berrypeckers - shove them all in! This would make Corvidae heterogenous to an approximately similar degree as traditionally defined Anatidae, Psittacidae, Phasianidae, Accipitridae and so on. All of those corvoid groups would still represent recognisable units to birders, regardless of their formal, familial designation...

...and this still does not explain why 'family' doesn't consistently indicate a more or less certain degree of divergence across all avian orders. I think I've figured out the answer now anyway. Simply, there is a stronger resistance to lumping traditionally circumscribed families than there is to creating new ones - regardless of the level of genuine divergence. Therefore, when it turns out that traditional members of a particular family (e.g. Cettia) are closer to members of a different traditional family (Aegithalidae) than they are to other members of their own traditional family (Sylviidae) - the preferred result is to split them into multiple families rather than including them in a family with their closer relatives, or, lumping all together. This seems to be regardless of whether or not the level of genetic or morphological divergence is roughly equivalent to that of a subfamily, a tribe or even a genus. A driving factor behind this seems to be the fact that passerines are so speciose.

Mysticete, it was enjoyable discussing this with you even if our opinions are at odds. Certainly, we can both look forward to the future designation of Pachycaridae, Oreoscopidae, Ifritidae, Rhagologidae, Eulacestomidae, Platylophidae, Melampittidae, Hemipidae, Chaetorhynchidae, Lamproliidae, Namibornidae, Geomaliidae, Cataponeridae, Auriparidae, Cephalopyridae, Maliidae, Micromacronidae, Carpospizidae, Amaurocichlidae, Sporopipidae, Amblyospizidae, Icteriidae, Zeledoniidae, Mitrospingidae, Lamprospizidae and Saltatoridae |=)|
 
Last edited:

jurek

Well-known member
Probably monophyletic groups are inherently often useless or very difficult to use practically.

Common pattern of evolution is that "evolutionary tree" looks more like a bush with many basal, similar forms, and a few sticking branches: subgroups which evolved to be very distinctive. Trying to make monophyletic groups results in one of the two: One is taking the whole bush, and we have large group which has mostly similar members, but also includes several very different subgroups. Another solution is to cut the bush into branches: each distinctive subgroup receives its own group, but there is also a great number of very small and very similar groups. Both approaches are impractical.

The solution combining phylogeny with practice would be to allow paraphyletic groups, and provide phylogenetic tree as a separate information.

In this case, traditional Old World warblers might be something like "basal and smaller Sylvioidea".
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
A taxonomy divorced from phylogeny is in my opinion, utter garbage and pointless.

A big hang up I see is some attachment to the idea that families and order have some sort of platonic truth. THEY DON'T. Rather they are convenient labels for monophyletic clade, and represent some rough layering of clades.

Avise and colleagues I think had a paper a few years back where they attempted to use genetic divergence to rank taxa. Their paper if anything proved that it is impossible to create an equivalent system of classification for all organisms, in that the fruit fly genus Drosophila had an equivalent amount of genetic diversity as (IIRC) the entire mammalian clade Carnivora. IF we wanted to make all ranks the same, we would be looking at most insect genera being ranked as classes and orders, and most bird orders and families being ranked as species or genera.

If you don't like the new changes in classification, as a birder feel free to not use them. But your viewpoint is probably not shared by the majority of modern taxonomists, so get used to disappointment
 
Last edited:

andrew147

Well-known member
Again, Mysticete, you miss my point - wilfully or otherwise. I am not proposing taxonomy divorced from phylogeny.

I was simply seeking a reason why 'family' is so inconsistently applied WITHIN Aves, WITHIN single works. Drosophila is not my present concern.

As soon as someone starts citing someone else's qualified opinion as "utter garbage" and summoning the support of an unspecified 'majority' - it merely becomes apparent that they are unskilled at defending their own viewpoint. And, yes, it is disappointing.

Best wishes,

Andrew
 
Last edited:

Richard Klim

-------------------------
Concerning the over-splitting of passerines at family level, in 2009/2010 BOURC and Dutch Birding adopted a broader Emberizidae, encompassing Calcariini, Cardinalini, Thraupini, Emberizini, Icterini and Parulini. But, as noted already, compared with splitting, it's always harder to 'sell' proposals for lumping (whether at family or species level), and this treatment hasn't gained wider acceptance.
 

Daniel Philippe

Well-known member
... and to please the family splitters:

Barker, F. K. et al., 2013. Going to extremes: Contrasting rates of diversification in a recent radiation of New World passerine birds. Syst. Biol. In press

abstract
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top