Sunday, April 8, 2007

Birds of the Day: Sypheotides and Pseudopodoces

I just watched the visually stunning (shot in HD!) show Planet Earth, the grassland episode. There was footage of a pretty interesting bird, the Hume's Ground Jay, Pseudopodoces humilis. These are grassland birds of the Tibetan Plateau. The show contained a few clips of them exiting burrows dug by Pikas. I remembered them from reading the family guide Crows and Jays which has a nice plate depicting them running along the ground. Well, I checked my favorite Bird Families of the World website, and was stunned to learn what family they are really in. Recent molecular shows they are actually not related in Corvidae (Crows and Jays) but are instead most closely related to... Paridae. That's right, Chickadees and Titmice! As Don notes, this bird has gone from being the smallest Jay species to the largest Tit species. The exact relationship within Paridae has yet to be shaken out, but it is clearly related, and the name has been changed to Hume's Groundpecker or Hume's Ground-Tit, the name used in the show.

While this was a fascinating bit of bird systematics that I discovered after the show, the real stunner tonight were other bird clips. A black heron-like bird bursts from the tall grass prairie, using flapping assistance in a leap straight into the air in a breeding display, before falling back down. Despite the excellent footage, I was stymied as to what the bird was: was it a Heron (Ardeidae)? Not quite. Crane (Gruidae)? Not really. It was clearly some sort of Gruiform or Galliform, but finally I had to look it up. "Lesser Florican" they called it. As it turns out, this bird is a Bustard, Family Otidae, Order Gruiformes. I definitely wouldn't have guessed that. I was unable to dig up any links to the actual clips, but I did find a photo of the display jump from this site. The wiki turns up scant information, but this site turns up a little more info, including a picture of a mounted specimen. The Lesser Florican, Sypheotides indica, is a monotypic genus of Bustard that is quite endangered. The last link provides some information on it's conservation status.

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