Taxonomy 101

Hopping DownWhat gorgeous wings these guys have. An impressive span mixed with such a conglomeration of colors, really very stunning. If you click on the above picture, you can see the primary and secondary flight feathers I was yammering on about previously. The falcons primaries are huge!

I had much to do at work today, so I couldn’t stay long. I did not see Hercules, but Max was very actively tending to the chicks. He really didn’t stray very far away. I caught this picture as he was jumping down into the nest to a chorus of chick vocalizations. I couldn’t see for sure if he had anything in his talons, but it didn’t really appear that he did.

On Recognizing Peregrines – Since I brought up the beautiful wings, maybe I’ll talk about peregrine taxonomy and identification.

Peregrines are a type of raptor, which is a bird of prey that hunts for food using its sharp, hooked beak for tearing and strong, sharp talons for grasping. Raptors are known for their excellent vision. They are predatory and carnivorous (although vultures mostly eat carrion). The diet, habits and hunting styles vary greatly between species. Wing shape, body proportions and flight style also vary greatly.

On Taxonomy – Taxonomy means “the science of classification”. Biologists group and categorize extinct and living species of organism according to a number of different taxonomic schemes. Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist, invented the science of taxonomy when he published his book Systema Naturae in 1735. The full title of the book translates as: “System of nature through three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with difference of character, synonyms, places.” His classification scheme, with additions and edits, is still used today.

The classification hierarcy looks like this: Kingdom –> Phylum (Division (for Botany)) –> Class –> Order –> Family –> Genus –> Species. Organisms are classified according to shared physical characteristics.

Like us, Homo sapiens sapiens, Peregrine Falcons belong to Kingdom: Animalia as we are both animals. We also share Phylum: Chordata, which means that we all have had, at one time in our development, a hollow dorsal nerve cord (notochord), pharyngeal slits (slits in the wall of the throat), an endostyle (a groove in the wall of the throat) and a tail.

From here, it gets complicated, with subphylums, infraphylums, superclasses, etc… But, in the simplified version, birds and humans part company at this point. We humans go off with Class: Mammalia (the mammals) and birds go into Class: Aves.

Two superorders separate birds that can’t fly, like ostriches and emus (Superorder: Paleognathae) from birds that can fly (Superorder: Neognathae). Obviously, peregrines can fly – and how! So, next they are split from birds in the infraclass: Galloanserae, which includes birds like ducks, geese and chicken-like birds (grouse, pheasant, quails, etc..) into the infraclass: Neoaves.

Now we get to orders. Some taxonomists put all diurnal birds of prey in the Order: Falconiformes. But, some taxonimists have split the order in two.

The taxonomic order Acciptriformes includes most diurnal (active in the day) raptors like hawks, eagles and vultures. But, falcons have thier own order called Falconiformes. Nocturnal (active at night) birds of prey are in the order Strigiformes, which are owls. The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy expanded this group to include nightjars.

The Acciptiformes include four families: Cathartidae, Pandionidae, Acciptridae and Sagittariidae. The Family Cathartidae includes the New World Vultures, which are vultures (including condors) found in North and South America. Osprey comprise the Family Pandionidae. The Secretary Birds comprise the Family Sagittariidae. But the larges family in Acciptiformes is Acciptridae.

Acciptridae includes accipiters (bird hawks), buteos (buzzard hawks), eagles, kites, bazas, buzzards, goshawks, sparrowhawks, snake-eagles, serpent-eagles, harriers and Old World vultures. So, that’s the big family.

The order Faloniformes includes all members of the Family Falconidae, the True Falcons, which means falcons, kestrels, merlins, gyrfalcon and the Crested Caracara, which is an uncommon bird that lives in Texas and Baja California.


~ by Steph on May 29, 2006.

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