Overview

Comprehensive Description

Diversity

Galliformes is a large and diverse group comprising about 70 genera and more than 250 species. Taxa within Galliformes are commonly referred to as 'gallinaceous birds' (meaning chicken-like) or game birds (as many species are hunted). There is much ongoing discussion about the number of recognized families within Galliformes. Howard and Moore’s Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World (2003) lists: Megapodiidae (scrub fowl, brush-turkeys, mallee fowl), Cracidae (guans, chachalacas, curassows), Numididae (Guineafowl), Odontophoridae (New World quails) and Phasianidae (grouse, turkeys, pheasants and partridges). Gallinaceous birds are chicken-like in appearance, with small to large bodies and blunt-wings. Plumage coloration ranges from cryptic to dark to brightly colorful. Some gallinaceous birds have elaborate head and neck ornamentation including wattles and casques. Some are primarily arboreal and others are terrestrial. Social groups may range from solitary dwellers to mated pairs to gregarious flocks. Mating systems range from monogamy to polygyny to polygynandry. Megapodes, also known as mound builders, bury their eggs, which are incubated by heat from decaying vegetation, sun-warmed sand, or geothermal sources. Cracids may play an important role in the forest ecosystem as seed predators and dispersers. Some phasianoid galliforms have been domesticated and are kept as ornamentals or are bred and raised for human consumption.

  • Madge, S., P. McGowan. 2002. Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse: A Guide to the Pheasants, Partridges, Quails, Grouse, Guineafowl, Buttonquails and Sandgrouse of the World. London: Christopher Helm.
  • Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion: Buteo Books.
  • Sibley, C., J. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds, A study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Dyke, G., B. Gulas, T. Crowe. 2003. Suprageneric relationships of galliform birds (Aves, Galliformes): a cladistic analysis of morphological characters. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 137: 227-244.
  • Dickinson, E. 2003. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. London: Christopher Helm.
  • Johnsgard, P. 1999. The Pheasants of the World Biology and Natural History. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

As a group, Galliformes has a nearly worldwide distribution.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Gallinaceous birds are chicken-like in appearance, with small to large bodies and blunt-wings. Plumage coloration ranges from cryptic to dark to brightly colorful. Some gallinaceous birds have elaborate head and neck ornamentation including feathers, wattles and casques. Gallinaceous birds range broadly in weight from roughly 275 g to 9.5 kg. Tail length is variable by species, from appearing almost tailless to long (1 m) with colorful and elaborate patterns. The legs are usually strong and one or more spurs may be present on the tarsus. Some species are sexually monomorphic in size and plumage coloration, while others are sexually dimorphic.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful; sexes shaped differently; ornamentation

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Ecology

Habitat

Galliform taxa inhabit a diversity of habits including primary forests, deserts, scrub forests, cultivated lands, bamboo thickets and alpine meadows.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

  • Delacour, J., D. Amadon. 1973. Curassows and Related Birds. New York: American Museum of Natural History.
  • Stiles, G., A. Skutch. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Johnsgard, P. 1983. The Grouse of the World. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Jones, D., R. Dekker, C. Roselaar. 1995. The Megapodes. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Gallinaceous birds eat a variety of plant and animal material. Plant material includes: fruits, seeds, leaves, shoots, flowers, tubers and roots. Animal material includes: arthropods, snails, worms, lizards, snakes, small rodents, avian nestlings and eggs.

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods); herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore , Granivore ); omnivore

  • Santamaria, M., A. Franco. 2000. Frugivory of Salvin's curassow in a rainforest of the Columbian Amazon. Wilson Bulletin, 112(4): 473-481.
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Associations

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
imago of Ornithomya avicularia ectoparasitises Galliformes

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
imago of Ornithomya chloropus ectoparasitises Galliformes

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Ecosystem Roles

Gallinaceous birds may play important ecosystem roles as seed dispersers and seed predators. Cracids may be biological indicators of habitat quality.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat; biodegradation

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Predation

Predators of gallinaceous birds include: snakes (suborder Serpentes), foxes (family Canidae), feral cats (Felis silvestris), feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), raptors (order Falconiformes), rodents (order Rodentia), raccoons (Procyon lotor), civet cats (family Viverridae) and corvids (family Corvidae).

Known Predators:

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Gallinaceous birds appear to communicate through behavioral posturing, morphological features, vocalizations and other auditory signals. Identifiable threat posturing entails an upright body positioning, whereas submission involves a lowering of the body to the substrate. Gallinaceous birds may have brightly colored skin on the head and neck, wattles or casques, or brightly colored plumage. These features may be elaborately displayed during courtship and intra-sexual competition. The types of vocalizations used by gallinaceous birds are numerous and play an important role in communication. For example, characteristic vocalizations have been observed in conjunction with: courtship, agonistic interactions, submissive posturing, territoriality, and brooding. Other acoustic signaling takes place through the rattling or vibration of feathers of the wing or tail. Some species produce drumming or whirring sounds while in flight.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: choruses ; vibrations

Perception Channels: vibrations

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Some gallinaceous birds may live for five to eight years (grouse) in the wild and others may survive up to 30 years in captivity (great argus (Argusianus argus)).

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Reproduction

Gallinaceous birds exhibit a diversity of mating systems including monogamy, polygyny and polygynandry. Pair bonds, if evident, may last only through copulation or may persist over multiple breeding seasons. Courtship behaviors may entail elaborate displays of brightly colored skin and plumage. In some species dominance hierarchies exist, and high-ranking males often have greater mating success than lower ranking males.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Galliform taxa may be sedentary or migratory. Most species breed seasonally in relation to local climactic conditions. Gallinaceous birds may nest on the ground or in trees. In some species nests are shallow, and lined with grass or leaves. Megapodes construct incubation mounds in which eggs are incubated environmentally, through the heat generated by decomposing vegetation, sun-warmed sand or geothermal sources. Courtship in some species entails elaborate visual displays in which males may strut about displaying brightly colored plumage or wattles. Females may lay from 2 to 35 eggs over the course of the breeding season. Egg dumping may occur in some species. Egg coloration varies, from white or creamy to brown or spotted. Chicks are precocial, able to walk, forage and fly shortly after hatching.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization (Internal )

In gallinaceous birds parental care may include female incubation or environmental incubation (incubation mounds of megapodes). Brooding may be absent, or conducted primarily by the female. Males may guard nest sites, brooding females, or chicks.

In some gallinaceous birds, parents do not feed their young while in others the female provisions chicks with food offered from her bill. Family groups may join flocks at the end of the breeding season.

Parental Investment: precocial ; male parental care ; female parental care

  • Madge, S., P. McGowan. 2002. Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse: A Guide to the Pheasants, Partridges, Quails, Grouse, Guineafowl, Buttonquails and Sandgrouse of the World. London: Christopher Helm.
  • Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion: Buteo Books.
  • Delacour, J., D. Amadon. 1973. Curassows and Related Birds. New York: American Museum of Natural History.
  • Stiles, G., A. Skutch. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Dickson, J. 1992. The Wild Turkey: biology and management. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books.
  • Johnsgard, P. 1999. The Pheasants of the World Biology and Natural History. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Johnsgard, P. 1983. The Grouse of the World. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Jones, D., R. Dekker, C. Roselaar. 1995. The Megapodes. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
                                        
Specimen Records:1,215Public Records:833
Specimens with Sequences:1,101Public Species:123
Specimens with Barcodes:1,061Public BINs:108
Species:151         
Species With Barcodes:137         
          
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Barcode data

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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Galliformes

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Conservation

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species includes 107 species of gallinaceous birds. Two species are listed as extinct (double-banded argus (Argusianus bipunctatus), New Zealand quail (Coturnix novaezelandiae)). Alagoas curassow (Mita mita) is listed as extinct in the wild. Habitat loss and hunting are identified as major threats for this group.

  • Collar, N., M. Crosby, A. Stattersfield. 1994. Birds to Watch 2, The World List of Threatened Birds. D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • 2003 IUCN, 2003. "2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed March 09, 2004 at http://www.redlist.org.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Some gallinaceous birds, while foraging for seeds and shoots on cultivated lands, may damage agricultural crops.

Negative Impacts: crop pest; household pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Many gallinaceous birds are economically important to humans. Some species have been domesticated and are reared for human consumption of meat and eggs. Most notable in this regard, common fowl ('chickens') derive from domestication of Gallus gallus (red jungle fowl). Grouse, quail, partridges, pheasants and turkeys are important game birds that are hunted regularly in all parts of the world. Many gallinaceous species are hunted primarily for food, although feathers of some species have been collected for ornamentation and clothing manufacture. Some species are becoming important to the ecotourism industry.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism

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