Recognizing a "True" Tit

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Science  25 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5619, pp. 551
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5619.551c

Even novice birdwatchers have little trouble distinguishing between members of the families Corvidae (jays and crows) and Paridae (tits and chickadees). The former are medium to large in size, have strong feet and stout bills, and have predominantly black or blue plumages. The latter are small, have short, conical bills, and usually have black or brown caps and throats or short crests. Although clearly not typical, Hume's ground jay (Pseudopodoces humilis), a drab bird of the rocky steppes of the Tibetan Plateau, has long been recognized as the smallest corvid.

Two previous anatomical studies have questioned this classification, and James et al. present phylogenetic analyses of comparative osteology, the nuclear c-myc gene, and the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Together, these data identify Pseudopodoces as a parid. Its taxonomic position has been obscured by adaptations to a treeless habitat (including pale, cryptic plumage, a long, decurved beak for probing in the ground, and long legs for hopping locomotion). This result confirms the continuing need for careful phylogenetic work even in such intensely studied taxa as birds.—ShJS

Ibis 145, 185 (2003).

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