Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Falcons, Songbirds, and Seriemas

We did not stay at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge for very long on 20 February. It was noon, a bad time to look for birds, windy, drought-stricken, and we had plans to visit South Padre Island. We did take a quick drive over to Osprey Lookout, guarded by this spectacular Crested Caracara.
Caracaras are falcons that look like hawks but act like vultures. They share a common ancestor with typical falcons, like the American Kestrel we found later in our trip in New Mexico. More distantly related are forest and Laughing falcons (Morrison and Dwyer 2012). I took this photograph of a Laughing Falcon, in the early 1960s, in Veracruz, Mexico. I have also seen this species in Peru.
Much of the birding world is all a-twitter at the recent discovery that falcons are not closely related to hawks, but are another example of convergent evolution. Their closest relatives appear to be parrots and songbirds. The American Ornithologists’ Union and the newest Sibley guide now place falcons and parrots between the woodpeckers and songbirds (ABA).

The story gets stranger. Genetic evidence suggests that another family of birds, Seriemas, are also closely allied with falcons, parrots and passerines (BirdsEye Birding). Seriemas are odd, South American birds that were thought to be related to cranes. I photographed the Red-legged Seriema in the last photo in northern Argentina in the mid-1960s.

1 comment:

  1. very informative - wonderful photos from yesteryear!
    thanks much
    john holden