|Order:||Mesitornithiformes (but see article)|
|Respective ranges: Brown Mesite in orange, White-breasted Mesite in green and Subdesert Mesite in blue|
The mesites (Mesitornithidae) are a family of birds of uncertain affinities. They are smallish, near flightless birds endemic to Madagascar. Generally brownish with paler undersides, they are of somewhat pheasant-like appearance and were initially placed with the Galliformes. Most commonly, they are placed in the Gruiformes (cranes, rails and allies), but this has been disputed in more recent times. They are the only family with more than two species in which every species is threatened; all three are listed as vulnerable.
They are forest and scrubland birds which feed on insects and seeds. The Brown and White-breasted Mesites forage on the ground, gleaning insects from the leaves and under them, as well as low vegetation. The Subdesert Mesite uses its long bill to probe in the soil. Other birds, such as drongos and flycatchers, will follow mesites to catch any insects they flush and miss. Mesites are vocal birds, with calls similar to passerine song, used for territorial defence. Two or three white eggs are laid in a stick-nest located in a bush or low branch. The Mesitornis species are monogamous; Monias benschi is polygamous and unlike the other two shows significant sexual dichromatism.
Systematics and Taxonomy
There are two genera, Mesitornis (2 species) and Monias (Subdesert Mesite).
- White-breasted Mesite, Mesitornis variegata
- Brown Mesite, Mesitornis unicolor
- Subdesert Mesite Monias benschi
Historically, mesites have been allied with the doves and the dippers. While the latter is certainly incorrect, there is some indication that they might indeed be closer (though not very close) to the Columbiformes. The purported gruiforms Kagu and Sunbittern (and possibly the extinct adzebills too) might also be not-too-distant relatives. These latter taxa, remarkably, were all only tentatively placed in the Gruiformes, and are apparently all of Gondwanan origin; like the mesites, the Kagu and Sunbittern are among the rather few birds possessing powder down. Still, the data hinting at a possible relationship between the "odd gruiforms" (and possibly pigeons) is by no means robust enough to draw a firm conclusion. (Fain & Houde 2004) Arguably, they might be considered an order of their own (Mesitornithiformes) as has on occasion been done in the past, but unlike with the Hoatzin, little phylogenetic research has yet been conducted on mesites.
The DNA study of Hackett et al. suggested that the Mesites are a sister group of the doves, somewhat more distantly related to the sandgrouse, tropicbirds, grebes, and flamingos, within the proposed "Metaves" clade. Other researchers have been unable to confirm the "Metaves".
- Archibald, George W. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 100–101. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
- A Phylogenomic Study of Birds Reveals Their Evolutionary History, Shannon J. Hackett et al., SCIENCE VOL 320 27 JUNE 2008
- Fain, M.G. & Houde, P. (2004) Parallel radiations in the primary clades of birds. Evolution. 58(11):2558-73.
- Subdesert Mesite (Ifaty, Madagascar) — a photo by Luke W. Cole
- Mesite videos on the Internet Bird Collection