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David P. Mindell, Joseph W. Brown, and John Harshman
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White-faced Owl, Ptilopsis leucotisGreat Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
taxon links [up-->]Pteroclidiformes [up-->]Mesitornithidae [up-->]Aegothelidae [up-->]Phaethontidae [up-->]Columbiformes [up-->]Opisthocomiformes [up-->]Musophagiformes [up-->]Eurypygidae [up-->]Rhynochetidae [up-->]Otididae [up-->]Cuculiformes [up-->]Charadriiformes [up-->]Apodiformes [up-->]Caprimulgiformes [up-->]'Water Birds' [up-->]Gruiformes [up-->]Phoenicopteriformes [up-->]Podicipediformes [up-->]'Land Birds' Monophyly Uncertain[down<--]Neornithes Interpreting the tree
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This tree diagram shows the relationships between several groups of organisms.

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.

example of a tree diagram

You can click on the root to travel down the Tree of Life all the way to the root of all Life, and you can click on the names of descendent subgroups to travel up the Tree of Life all the way to individual species.

For more information on ToL tree formatting, please see Interpreting the Tree or Classification. To learn more about phylogenetic trees, please visit our Phylogenetic Biology pages.

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

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

This tree represents a considerable reorganization of avian relationships on the basis of two extensive genetic studies (Hackett et al. 2008, Ericson et al. 2006). Several traditional orders have been rearranged, and relationships among orders have been greatly altered. Orders may not have their traditional contents. Families and genera listed independently here have been removed from their traditional orders.

Some recent studies of morphology (e.g. Livezey and Zusi 2007) have strongly contradicted this arrangement and have supported traditional relationships.

"Land Birds" and "Water Birds" are informal names for two large clades within Neoaves, each encompassing several traditional orders.

Gruiformes, previously a very diverse order, has been considerably reduced: Eurypygidae (sunbittern), Rhynochetidae (kagu), Otididae (bustards), and Mesitornithidae (mesites) are traditionally considered gruiforms but do not belong there, nor do Cariamidae (seriemas), which are placed within "Land Birds", or Turnicidae (buttonquails), which are placed within Charadriiformes. Phaethontidae (tropicbirds) likewise are traditionally considered to belong to Pelecaniformes, within "Water Birds", but do not belong there.

Caprimulgiformes traditionally includes Aegothelidae (owlet-nightjars), but this familly is more closely related to Apodiformes. Relationships among the remaining families of Caprimulgiformes are currently not well resolved, and we don't yet know whether Caprimulgiformes (with owlet-nightjars removed) is monophyletic or paraphyletic.

Fain and Houde (2004) have suggested that Neoaves is divided into two clades, Coronaves (taxa from "Land Birds" through Musophagiformes on this tree) and Metaves (Opisthocomiformes through Phoenicopteriformes). However, support for this hypothesis is so far restricted to a single gene, and confirmation is needed.

The relationship between Podicipediformes (grebes) and Phoenicopteriformes (flamingos), odd as it seems, was first hypothesized by van Tuinen et al. (2001), and has been confirmed by nearly every subsequent molecular analysis.

Other Names for Neoaves


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Brown, J. W., R. B. Payne, and D. P. Mindell. 2007. Nuclear DNA does not reconcile ‘rocks’ and ‘clocks’ in Neoaves: a comment on Ericson et al. Biol. Lett. 3:257-259.

Christidis, L. and W. Boles. 2008. Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.

Cooper, A. and D. Penny. 1997. Mass survival of birds across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary: Molecular evidence. Science 275:1109-1113.

Cracraft, J. 1981. Toward a phylogenetic classification of birds of the world (class Aves). Auk 98: 681-714.

Cracraft, J. 1988. The major clades of birds. In The Phylogeny and Classification of the Tetrapods. (M. J. Benton, ed.), Systematics Assoc. Special Vol. No. 35A, pp. 333-355. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Cracraft, J. 2001. Avian evolution, Gondwana biogeography and the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. 268B:459-469.

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Cracraft, J., F. K. Barker, M. J. Braun, J. Harshman, G. Dyke, J. Feinstein, S. Stanley, A. Cibois, P. Schikler, P. Beresford, J. García-Moreno, M. D. Sorenson, T. Yuri, and D. P. Mindell. 2004. Phylogenetic Relationships Among Modern Birds (Neornithes): Toward an Avian Tree of Life. Pp 468-489 in Cracraft, J. and M. J. Donoghue (eds.), Assembling the Tree of Life. Oxford University Press, New York.

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García-Moreno, J. and D. P. Mindell. 2000. Using homologous genes on opposite sex chromosomes (gametologs) in phylogenetic analysis: a case study with avian CHD. Molecular Biology and Evolution 17:1826-1832.

García-Moreno, J., M. D. Sorenson and D. P. Mindell. 2003. Congruent avian phylogenies inferred from mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences. Journal of Molecular Evolution 57:27-37.

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Hedges, S. B., Simmons, M. D., van Dijk, M. A. M., Caspers, G.-J., de Jong, W. W., and Sibley, C. G. 1995. Phylogenetic relationships of the hoatzin, an enigmatic South American bird. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 92: 11662-11665.

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Hughes, J. M. and A. J. Baker. 1999. Phylogenetic relationships of the enigmatic hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) resolved using mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences. Mol. Biol. Evol. 16:1300-1307.

Johansson, U. S., T. J. Parsons, M. Irestedt, and P. G. P. Ericson. 2001. Clades within the "higher land birds", evaluated by nuclear DNA sequences. J. Zool. Syst. Evol. Res. 39:37-51.

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Livezey, B. C., and R. L. Zusi. 2007. Higher-order phylogeny of modern birds (Theropoda, Aves: Neornithes) based on comparative anatomy. II. Analysis and discussion. Zool. J. Linn. Soc. 149:1-95.

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Information on the Internet

For bird links, see Neornithes Information on the Internet
Title Illustrations
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
White-faced Owl, Ptilopsis leucotis
Scientific Name Ptilopsis leucotis
Location Botswana (Okavango Delta), Southern Africa
Comments White-faced Owl
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Copyright © 1997 Greg and Marybeth Dimijian
Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
Scientific Name Ardea herodias
Location Texas coast
Comments Great Blue Heron
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Behavior flying
Copyright © 1997 Greg and Marybeth Dimijian
Scientific Name Cinnyris venustus
Location Mount Kenya, Kenya, East Africa
Comments Variable Sunbird
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Behavior feeding
Sex Male
Copyright © 1997 Greg and Marybeth Dimijian
About This Page

David P. Mindell
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California, USA

Joseph W. Brown
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to John Harshman at

Page: Tree of Life Neoaves. Authored by David P. Mindell, Joseph W. Brown, and 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:

Mindell, David P., Joseph W. Brown, and John Harshman. 2008. Neoaves. Version 27 June 2008 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Neoaves/26305/2008.06.27 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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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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