4 January 2013:
If you were looking for the flamingo’s closest living relative it’s unlikely that you’d ever pick a grebe, but it’s true.
As DNA testing became perfected in the late 20th century, scientists naturally turned their attention to birds. What does bird DNA show about their relationships? The studies told us more than we bargained for.
Pictured above are a pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) and an American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). Based on DNA research (van Tuinen, et al, 2001) the families of grebes (Podicipediformes) and flamingoes (Phoenicopteriformes) are each other’s closest living relatives. Studies indicate they have a common ancient ancestor which is now extinct.
This finding was only the tip of the iceberg. In many cases DNA testing confirmed previous taxa but in some cases unrelated birds were shown to be related, previously related birds were pulled asunder, taxonomic order had to be revised and scientific names were changed.
This makes for an ever-changing array of new field guides with new names and new orders. The black-bellied whistling duck is now the first bird on the ABA Checklist. Years ago the common loon came first.
I love all this new information but renaming the warblers was more than I could bear. I wish they had tossed out the name Setophaga and called them Dendroica.
(Inspiration for this Tenth Page is from page 70-73 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill. Pied-billed grebe photo by Chuck Tague. Flamingo photo by Aaron Logan on Wikimedia Commons)