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New bird papers



The latest edition of Historical Biology is a special assortment of
bird papers, mostly fossil birds (in memory of C. J. O. Harrison).
Among highlights:

Hume, J. P. 2006. The history of the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the
penguin of Mauritius. Historical Biology 18 (2): 65-89.

"More has been written about the dodo Raphus cucullatus of Mauritius
than any other bird. However, much of the information has been
derived from few genuine but inadequate contemporary accounts and
illustrations, yet a wealth of assumptions and over zealous
mis-interpretation about dodos' ecology and morphology has taken
place. Here all aspects of the dodo's ecological history,
contemporary accounts and illustrations, importation of specimens and
fossil record are examined, and evidence is provided to suggest that
many conclusions based on the available data are problematic."

    Should be read with a bit of caution, I suspect - Hume goes over
things very quickly, and I've got a suspicion his presentation is a
bit biased towards his own sympathies. Still, nice pictures.

Mayr, G. 2006. A new raptorial bird from the Middle Eocene of Messel,
Germany. historical Biology 18 (2): 95-102.

"Raptorial birds (?Falconiformes?) are very rare in the Middle Eocene
fossil site Messel in Germany. In this study, a new taxon,
Masillaraptor parvunguis gen. et sp. nov., is described that, as
indicated by its long legs, appears to have been a fairly terrestrial
bird, with rather weak claws and a beak without a strongly hooked
tip. Phylogenetic assignment of M. parvunguis is, however, aggravated
by the uncertainty concerning monophyly of, and relationships within,
extant ?Falconiformes?. Therefore, three different published
phylogenies of the extant taxa are used as ?backbone? phylogenies to
determine the relationships of the new taxon by minimising the amount
of homoplasy in the phylogenetically informative characters visible
in the two known specimens. Abbreviation of the middle phalanges of
the fourth toe suggests that M. parvunguis is more closely related to
a clade including Sagittariidae (secretary bird) and Accipitridae
(hawks) than to the Cathartidae (New World vultures). As in
Accipitridae and Falconidae, the first phalanx of the second toe is
further shortened, but the exact position of M. parvunguis is
dependent on the still controversial relationships between the extant
taxa."

   Be warned - there's a few lowlights in the issue too. In the
interest of politeness, I'll let people decide for themselves which
ones those are.

    Cheers,

        Christopher Taylor