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AVIAN RAPTORS..



> Better to keep the established usage of raptor=bird-of-prey
> (by the way, is this group monophyletic, anyone? - I'm not too up-to-date on
> my avian taxonomy) and dromaeosaur=dromaeosaur.
> But that's just me :o)

'Raptor' monophyly is a real interesting, and historically complex, issue: to
review it 'properly' would require a fair bit of research. Anyway, Falconiformes
is presently restricted to accipitrids (Old World vultures, eagles, hawks,
harriers etc), pandionids (osprey, possibly not disparate enough for own family
- a very debatable matter), falconids (falcons.. BOR) and sagittarids 
(_Secretarius_). Some would prefer the bunch be called Accipitriformes,
particularly those who want falconids out of the order.. 

It's been known for decades that New world vultures (incl. condors) are not
close to these birds, but instead to the ciconiids (storks), so they don't
deserve a place in the Falconiformes. Sibley & Alquist's (sp?) DNA hybridisation
work places falconiforms (amongst numerous other bird orders) as a lower-level
group within their Ciconiiformes, which is a little confusing when ciconiiforms
is traditionally restricted to storks and allies. They are, according to S&A,
somewhere between waders and gulls (charadriiforms) and storks et al
(ciconiiforms). Other stuff has shown that falconiforms can't be close to
Galliformes (pheasants etc) (their traditional phylogenetic position), which are
an archaic out-group to the Neoaves.

Among numerous attacks on falconiform monophyly are that falconids are close to
owls (strigiforms) - a theory not supported by DNA or cladistic resolution -
and that _Secretarius_ is a relative of the seriemas. Again, not backed up by
cladistic or DNA evidence, despite the morphology. (Plus, an extinct groups of
accipitrids were close _Secretarius_ parallels.) That Falconiformes, minus the
New World vultures, have proved to be monophyletic has surprised many of us.
But loads more work on the taxonomy and phylogeny of birds is needed before real
concrete statements can be made. So things can be just as bad even when the
animals are alive!

"This bottomless pit is your friend?"
(yup, saw it..)

DARREN NAISH
dwn194@soton.ac.uk