Letter | Published:

The whalebill is a stork

Naturevolume 266pages719720 (1977) | Download Citation



THE avian order Ciconiiformes contains a heterogeneous assemblage of long legged, long necked birds which have traditionally been classified together because of superficial resemblance. The order usually contains the storks, ibises, herons and two rather aberrant birds, the whalebill (Balaeniceps rex) and the hammerkop (Scopus umbretta), which are placed in monotypic families, the Balaencipitidae and Scopidae, respectively. The evolutionary relationships among the members of the Ciconiiformes and between this order and other living birds are little understood. Using an analysis of the morphology of the stapes (the single avian ear ossicle)1,2, I have obtained evidence for the evolutionary affinity of the whalebill with the storks, which now seem to form a monophyletic assemblage.

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  1. 1

    Feduccia, A. Univ. Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist., Misc. Publ. 63 (1975).

  2. 2

    Feduccia, A. Syst. Zool. 26, 19–31 (1977).

  3. 3

    Cottam, P. Br. Mus. (Nat. Hist.) Zool. Bull. 5, 5–72 (1957).

  4. 4

    Ligon, J. D. Univ. Michigan Mus. Zool. Occas. Pap. 651 (1967).

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  1. Department of Zoology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 27514



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