Corvidae & Artamidae

Subject: Corvidae & Artamidae
From: "Frank Rheindt" <>
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2007 04:10:18 +0100
Dear Scot and others,

in response to the question about the taxonomic placement of Artamidae (press delete if not interested in taxonomy):

Sibley and Alhquist indeed placed all the woodswallows, currawongs, Australian magpies etc inside the subfamily Corvinae along with typical crows (=their tribe Corvini), cuckooshrikes, Old World orioles and birds-of-paradise. Conversely, the true magpies (Pica) have always been considered as belonging to the true crows (i.e. family Corvidae, which Sibley and Ahlquist relegated to the rank of a "tribe" Corvini), along with other "crow and jay" genera such as Corvus (real crows), Garrulus etc (jays), nutcrackers (Nucifraga) and others.

Since the days of traditional morphology-based taxonomy and Sibley and Ahlquist's DNA-DNA hybridization, however, we have come a long way! At this point, it is important to recognize the differences between Sibley and Ahlquist's DNA-DNA hybridization approach of the 80s and 90s, which few if any scientists continue to use, and modern DNA sequence based methods. Many field birders tend to accept (or refuse) the results of both these methodologies with equal readiness. However, it is important to be aware of the differences in resolving power and accuracy. Sibley and Ahlquist's hybridization approach is (better: was) a distance-based method, in which DNA double strands are degenerated (by heating) and re-married to the strands of the species to be compared. There is a whole body of literature about the pro's and con's of this method. However, some of the criticisms of this approach involve such things as: 1.) high error rate, 2.) the method does not compare characters of the species involved (as traditional taxonomy or modern DNA sequence based methods do), but distances (i.e. the time it takes for two DNA strands from different species to re-anneal = to re-marry), 3.) the fact that hybridization analyses (which are very time-intensive) must be pairwise (i.e. Sibley and Ahlquist only compared Artamidae to those families they most suspected to be closely related; modern results show that the true sister groups were never even taken into consideration by Sibley and Ahlquist).

Meanwhile, DNA sequences have been generated and compared for Artamidae by several study groups (e.g. two important publications by Keith Barker et al., plus a very recent paper by Jerome Fuchs et al., ask me for references off-list if interested), which all converge on the same results: Artamidae and Cracticidae actually sit in with a group of strictly African songbirds, encompassing the bush-shrikes (unrelated to true shrikes!), tchagras, helmet-shrikes, vangas (from Madagascar), batisses and wattle-eyes. This hitherto unrecognized bird clade also includes a fair sprinkle of Asian genera that have so far been of equivocal placement, such as ioras, philentomas and flycatcher-shrikes.

In contrast, traditional taxonomy, Sibely/Ahlquist and modern DNA studies all agree about the placement of Pica magpies with the true crows/ravens/jays.

This is one of the few cases where Eurocentric classification of the 19th century turned out to be correct (mostly it was wrong, considering that such concepts as "warbler", "oriole", "sparrow", "finch" etc have all lost part of their meaning in post-DNA times).

When I moved to Australia 3 years ago and was first confronted with currawongs and Australian Corvus species, I remember how my intuition also misled me into thinking that these must be closely related, especially since all Australian Corvus crows/ravens are so different from their American and Eurasian counterparts with respect to their light eyes and peculiar vocal behaviour. However, it turns out looks can be deceiving...

All the best

============Frank E. RHEINDT================

University of Melbourne

Museum Victoria - Sciences Department
GPO Box 666
Melbourne 3001

Telephone: 8341 7426
Fax: 8341 7442

LL: 4181 (Gra.pic.)


From: Scot Mcphee <>
To: birding-aus aus <>
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Corvidae & Artamidae
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2007 11:20:51 +1000

Can I ask a question?

Why are the Artamidae not regarded as Corvidae and yet Northern Hemisphere birds such as Jays, Jackdaws, European Magpies and the like are? If any one saw a line up from Australian Raven, Little Crow, Pied Currawong, Australian Magpie, Pied Butcherbird, Grey Butcherbird the relationship is easily determined to the eye. I understand DNA evidence may suggest otherwise but doesn't Sibley and Alhquist say they are related?

Are European Magpies really more closely related to crows than the Currawong? This has always seems preposterous me, just another hangover of hopelessly Euro-centric thinking in 18th century naturalists.

Autonomous Organisation


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