Under Construction

'Land Birds'

John Harshman
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taxon links [up-->]Coraciiformes [up-->]Passeriformes [up-->]Falconiformes [up-->]Bucerotiformes [up-->]Psittaciformes [up-->]Leptosomatidae [up-->]Cariamidae [up-->]Trogoniformes [up-->]Piciformes [up-->]Strigiformes [up-->]Coliiformes [up-->]Accipitriformes [down<--]Neoaves Interpreting the tree
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The root of the current tree connects the organisms featured in this tree to their containing group and the rest of the Tree of Life. The basal branching point in the tree represents the ancestor of the other groups in the tree. This ancestor diversified over time into several descendent subgroups, which are represented as internal nodes and terminal taxa to the right.

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Summary phylogenetic hypothesis for avian orders based on Hackett et al. (2008) and Ericson et al. (2006).

Containing group: Neoaves

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

"Land Birds" is an informal name for a large and diverse group supported only by molecular characters (Hackett et al. 2008, Ericson et al. 2006). It encompasses most — though by no means all — of the familiar groups of land birds, including the largest order, Passeriformes, which comprises over half of all bird species. This group and relationships within it are a considerable departure from previous phylogenetic hypotheses and classifications, and some explanation is necessary.

Two traditional orders, Falconiformes and Coraciiformes, have been split. The family Falconidae (falcons) is not a close relative of the remaining falconiforms, and thus Falconiformes is limited to a single family (the falcons). The remaining birds of prey traditionally included within Falconiformes have been given their own order, Accipitriformes. Accipitriformes includes Cathartidae (New World vultures), which have often been supposed to be more closely related to Ciconiidae (storks).

Coraciiformes as traditionally defined includes both Bucerotiformes and Leptosomatidae. But if these groups were retained in the order, two additional orders, Piciformes and Trogoniformes, would also have to be submerged within it to maintain monophyly. 

"Land Birds" holds other surprises. There has long been controversy about which group should be considered the closest relatives of Passeriformes. Traditional candidates have included Coraciiformes, Piciformes, Coliiformes, and Columbiformes (doves, which do not in fact belong to "Land Birds"). Psittaciformes and Falconiformes had not previously been suggested, and while further confirmation is needed, current molecular data show strong support for this grouping. Cariamidae (seriemas), traditionally considered to belong to Gruiformes, may also be closer to Passeriformes than to most other "Land Birds", though the support for this is not strong.


Ericson, P. G. P., C. L. Anderson, T. Britton, A. Elzanowski, U. S. Johansson, M. Kallersjo, J. I. Ohlson, T. J. Parsons, D. Zuccon, G. Mayr. 2006. Diversification of Neoaves: integration of molecular sequence data and fossils. Biology Letters 2(4):543-547.

Hackett, S. J., Kimball, R. T., Reddy, S., Bowie, R. C. K., Braun, E. L., Braun, M. J., Chojnowski, J. L., Cox, W. A., Han, K.-L., Harshman, J., Huddleston, C. J., Marks, B. D., Miglia, K. J., Moore, W. A., Sheldon, F. H., Steadman, D. W., Witt, C. C., and Yuri, T. 2008. A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science 320(5884):1763-1768.

Information on the Internet

Title Illustrations
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Scientific Name Trogon personatus
Location Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, Tandayapa Valley, Ecuador
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Source Masked Trogon at Bellavista Cloud Forest
Source Collection Flickr
Image Use creative commons This media file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License - Version 2.0.
Copyright © 2006 RK & Tina
Scientific Name Rhipidura leucophrys
Location Campbell park, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Source Joyful innocent tuneful happiness...
Source Collection Flickr
Image Use creative commons This media file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License - Version 2.0.
Copyright © 2006 Julian Robinson
Scientific Name Trigonoceps occipitalis
Location between Satara and Lethaba, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Source This is a tiring exercise 10/12
Source Collection Flickr
Copyright © 2006 Callie de Wet
About This Page

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to John Harshman at

Page: Tree of Life 'Land Birds'. Authored by John Harshman. The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

Citing this page:

Harshman, John. 2008. 'Land Birds'. Version 27 June 2008 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/%27Land_Birds%27/26410/2008.06.27 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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This page is a Tree of Life Branch Page.

Each ToL branch page provides a synopsis of the characteristics of a group of organisms representing a branch of the Tree of Life. The major distinction between a branch and a leaf of the Tree of Life is that each branch can be further subdivided into descendent branches, that is, subgroups representing distinct genetic lineages.

For a more detailed explanation of the different ToL page types, have a look at the Structure of the Tree of Life page.

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