Bird Species of the World's Boreal Forests


Order - Pterocliformes

Sandgrouse are a unique set of birds found only in Africa and Eurasia. The relationship of these birds to other groups has been one of the most hotly debated issues over a period of centuries. They are primarily ground-feeding birds of deserts, scrub, and grasslands, which may explain the name "grouse". Linnaeus originally assigned them to the same genus as European grouse.

Sandgrouse share several trits with pigeons, including their long wings and the practice of making long flights daily between breeding or feeding grounds, and pools of water at which they drink. Some of their plumage and musculature is pigeon-like, but in 1867 Thomas Huxley reviewed their skeletons and came to the conclusion they were neither a grouse or pigeon, but balanced somewhere between, and assigned them to their own order, the Pteroclomorphae. Over time, however, the idea they were related to grouse at all was slowly dropped and by the mid-20th century many placed them as a suborder among the pigeons.

In 1967, G. L. Maclean proposed a relationship between sandgrouse and shorebirds, based primarily on field observations. The fact they do not drink like pigeons, they don't give cooing sounds, they don't build stick nests, their eggs were pigmented (not white) and the young can immediately fend for themselves are all reasons they aren't that close to pigeons. More recently, DNA and other biochemical evidence confirms a closer relationship to waders in the Charadriformes. But the birds are still quite unusual, and are now placed in their own order, the Pterocliformes, between the waders and the pigeons.

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