Temporal range: Oligocene-Recent, 30–0 Ma
The Phasianidae are a family of heavy, groundliving birds which includes pheasants, partridges, junglefowl, chickens, Old World quail, and peafowl. The family includes many of the most popular gamebirds. The family is a large one, and is occasionally broken up into two subfamilies, the Phasianinae, and the Perdicinae. Sometimes, additional families and birds are treated as part of this family. For example, the American Ornithologists' Union includes Tetraonidae (grouse), Numididae (guineafowl), and Meleagrididae (turkeys) as subfamilies in Phasianidae.
Systematics and evolution
The clade Phasianidae is the largest of the branch Galliformes, comprising more than 150 species. This group includes the pheasants and partridges, junglefowl chickens, quail and peafowl. Turkeys and grouse have also been recognized as having their origins in the pheasant- and partridge-like birds.
Until the early 1990s, this family was broken up into two subfamilies: the Phasianinae, including pheasants, tragopans, junglefowls, and peafowls; and the Perdicinae, including partridges, Old World quails, and francolins. Molecular phylogenies have shown that these two subfamilies are not each monophyletic but actually constitute only one lineage with one common ancestor. For example, some partridges (genus Perdix) are more closely affiliated to pheasants, whereas Old World quails and partridges from the genus Alectoris are closer to junglefowls.
The earliest fossil records of phasianids date to the late Oligocene epoch, about 30 million years ago.
- †Alectoris” pliocaena Tugarinov 1940b
- †Bantamyx Kuročkin 1982
- †Diangallus Hou 1985
- †“Gallus” beremendensis Jánossy 1976b
- †“Gallus” europaeus Harrison 1978
- †Lophogallus Zelenkov & Kuročkin 2010
- †Megalocoturnix Sánchez Marco 2009
- †Miophasianus Brodkorb 1952 [Miophasianus Lambrecht 1933 nomen nudum ; Miogallus Lambrecht 1933]
- †Palaeocryptonyx Depéret 1892 [Chauvireria Boev 1997; Pliogallus Tugarinov 1940b non Gaillard 1939; Lambrechtia Janossy 1974 ]
- †Palaeortyx Milne-Edwards 1869 [Palaeoperdix Milne-Edwards 1869]
- †Plioperdix Kretzoi 1955 [Pliogallus Tugarinov 1940 non Gaillard 1939]
- †Rustaviornis Burchak-Abramovich & Meladze 1972
- †Schaubortyx Brodkorb 1964
- †Shandongornis Yeh 1997
- †Shanxiornis Wang et al. 2006
- †Tologuica Zelenkov & Kuročkin 2009
- Tropicoperdix Blyth 1859 [Phoenicoperdix Hartlaub 1860; Peloperdix Jerdon 1864]
- Subfamily Rollulinae Bonaparte 1850 (Arborophilinae) – (jungle- and wood-partridges, Asiatic partridges)
- Subfamily Pavoninae Rafinesque 1815 (peafowl and ocellated pheasants)
- Genus Tropicoperdix Blyth 1859
- Tribe Tetraogallini Bonaparte 1854 [Coturnicinae; Coturpternistinae] (Old World quail, scrub-partridges and spurfowls)
- Ammoperdix Gould 1851 (see-see & sand partridge)
- Synoicus Bosc 1792
- Excalfactoria Bonaparte 1856
- Anurophasis van Oort 1910
- Margaroperdix Reichenbach 1853
- Coturnix Garsault 1764 (Mouse pheasants)
- Tetraogallus Gray 1832 (Snowcocks)
- Alectoris Kaup 1829 (Rock partridges)
- Pternistis Wagler 1832 (partridge-francolins; African spurfowls)
- †Ophrysia Bonaparte 1856
- Perdicula Hodgson 1837 (Bush quails)
- Tribe Gallinini (francolins and junglefowls, including chickens)
- Tribe Pavonini [Argusianini; Afropavonini] (peafowl and ocellated pheasants)
- Tribe Polyplectronini Blyth 1852 (Peacock-Pheasants)
- Subfamily Phasianinae [Perdicinae] (true pheasants)
- Tribe Ithaginini Wolters 1976
- Ithaginis Wagler 1832
- Tribe Lophophorini Gray 1841 [Tragopaninae] (Monals & tragopans)
- Tribe Phasianini Horsfield 1821 (true pheasants)
- Tribe Tetraonini (grouses & turkeys)
- †Cynchramus Zelenkov Bonaparte 1828
- †Palaealectoris Zelenkov Wetmore 1930
- †Proagriocharis Zelenkov Martin & Tate 1970
- †Rhegminornis Zelenkov Wetmore 1943
- Pucrasia Gray 1841
- Meleagris Linnaeus 1758 (Turkeys)
- Bonasa Stephens 1819
- Tetrastes Keyserling & Blasius 1840
- Centrocercus Swainson 1832 (Sage-grouses)
- Dendragapus Elliot 1864
- Tympanuchus Gloger 1841 (Prairie-chickens)
- Lagopus Brisson 1760 (Ptarmigans)
- Falcipennis Elliot 1864
- Canachites Stejneger 1885 (Spruce grouses)
- Tetrao Linnaeus 1758 (Capercaillies & Black grouses)
- Tribe Ithaginini Wolters 1976
Living Galliformes based on the work by John Boyd.
Phasianids are terrestrial. They range in weight from 43 g (1.5 oz) in the case of the king quail to 6 kg (13 lb) in the case of the Indian peafowl. If turkeys are included, rather than classified as a separate family, then the considerably heavier wild turkey reaches a maximum weight of more than 17 kg (37 lb). Length in this taxonomic family can vary from 12.5 cm (4.9 in) in the king quail up to 300 cm (120 in) (including elongated tail streamers) in green peafowl, thus they beat even the true parrots in length diversity within a family of birds. There is generally sexual dimorphism in size, with males tending to be larger than females. They are generally plump, with broad relatively short wings and strong legs. Many have a spur on their legs, a feature shared only with guineafowl and turkeys. The bill is short and generally strong, particularly in species that dig for food. Males of the larger species often have brightly coloured plumage as well as facial ornaments such as wattles or crests.
Distribution and habitat
Phasianidae is mostly an Old World family, with a distribution that includes most of Europe and Asia (except the far north), all of Africa except the driest deserts and down into much of eastern Australia and (formerly) New Zealand. Meleagridinae (turkeys) are native to the New World, while Tetraoninae (grouse) are circumpolar. The greatest diversity of species is in Southeast Asia and Africa. The Congo peacock is specific to the African Congo. The subfamily Perdicinae has a much more widespread distribution. Within their range they occupy almost every available habitat except for the boreal forests and tundra.
The family is generally sedentary and resident, although some quails undertake long migrations. Several species in the family have been widely introduced around the world, particularly pheasants which have been introduced to Europe, Australia and the Americas, specifically for hunting purposes. Captive populations of peacocks and chickens have also escaped (or been released) and become feral.
Behaviour and ecology
The pheasants and partridges have a varied diet, with foods taken ranging from purely vegetarian diets of seeds, leaves, fruits, tubers and roots, to small animals including insects, insect grubs and even small reptiles. Most species either specialise in feeding on plant matter or are predatory, although the chicks of most species are insectivorous.
In addition to the variation in diet there is a considerable amount of variation in breeding strategies among the Phasianidae. Compared to birds in general there is a large number of species that do not engage in monogamy (the typical breeding system of most birds). The francolins of Africa and some partridges are reportedly monogamous, but polygamy has been reported in the pheasants and junglefowl, some quail, and the breeding displays of peacocks have been compared to those of a lek. Nesting usually occurs on the ground; only the tragopans nest higher up in stumps of bushes. Nests can vary from mounds of vegetation to slight scrapes in the ground. As many as 18 eggs can be laid in the nest, although 7-12 is the more usual number, with smaller numbers in tropical species. Incubation is almost always performed by the female only, and lasts from 14–30 days depending on the species.
Relationship with humans
Several species of pheasant and partridge are extremely important to humans. The red junglefowl of Southeast Asia is the wild ancestor of the domesticated chicken, the most important bird in agriculture. Ring-necked pheasants, several partridge and quail species and some francolins have been widely introduced and managed as game birds for hunting. Several species are threatened by human activities.
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- Harper, D. 1986. Pet Birds for Home and Garden. London: Salamander Books Ltd.
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