Gallinacea: what characterizes this family of birds?


Gallinaceans include wild or domesticated. Of varying sizes, most have in common a massive body and short wings that do not facilitate flight and make them rather birds. terrestrial and sedentary. Portrait of six families.

Gallinaceae identity card

Encompassing many backyard birds, the gallinaceae (order Galliformes) group together six families:

  • Phasianidae (pheasants, hake, quail, partridge, peacocks, roosters, chickens…);
  • Megapodidae (megapods);
  • The Cracidae (hoccos, penelopes …);
  • Tetraonids (grouse, grouse, ptarmigan)
  • Numididae (guinea fowl);
  • The Méleageridae (turkeys).

Gallinacea: similarities

Of varying size, gallinaceae (order Galliformes) are birds omnivorous having in common characteristics a stocky body, a thick beak, short and rounded, sturdy legs. Sedentary for the most part, galliformes move using very rapid wing beats, interspersed with short glides. Their rare flights hardly exceed a few hundred meters. Good runners, these land birds seek their food – seeds and insects – on the ground. The majority of species present a dimorphism pronounced sexual with a male generally more colorful than the female.

Phasianidae, the most numerous

With 58 genera and 183 species, the Phasianidae constitute the most important family of gallinacea. These land birds related to pheasants include the hen, the rooster, the quail, the peacock, the partridge and the guinea fowl. We meet them on all continents, with the exception of certain oceanic islands and polar regions. It is in Southeast Asia and Africa that the Phasianidae display their greatest diversity. These birds – which frequent the fields and the open areas – are mostly sedentary and nest on the ground. Some species like francolins do not fly at all. Their plumage is dull or brightly colored and ornamented (pheasant).

Megapodidae, tropical gallinacea

Megapodidae are divided into 7 genera and 21 species. Close-up on the family and zoom on a species with manners particular:

  • Megapodidae are medium to large in size (28 to 70 cm). They meet in different parts of theAustralasia (Australia, Indonesia, Philippines and neighboring islands) where their natural habitat consists of subtropical forests wet. Most Megapodidae are brown or black, a paler head than the body, a pale gray crest, a yellow bill and tall yellowish legs.
  • In the Megapodidae family, we count the Megapod, a land bird of the Indo-Pacific tropics. This gallinacea has the particularity of brooding its eggs not with its body but by using solar heat or volcanic (he buries his eggs in the hot ashes). Another distinctive feature: once out of their shell, its chicks are autonomous : they see, are covered with feathers, have physical coordination and sufficient strength to run and hunt prey. The little ones can thus leave their parents as soon as they are born, a case unique among the birds.

Cracidae, arboreal gallinacea

Cracidae (11 genera and 55 species) live in America from the South and Central where they frequent forests, light woods and thickets, from sea level up to 3,500 m altitude. The Peru is the country which shelters the greatest variety with 15 species. Bringing together ortalides, penelopes, oreophases and hoccos, these birds rather arboreal are medium to large in size (42-92cm) with long tails. Cracidae are one of the species commonly hunted and very affected by deforestation.

Tetraonidae, fierce gallinaceae

Tetraonids are often distinguished by their large size and fierce temperament which makes them difficult to observe. In Europe, this family is notably represented by the great grouse, black grouse, grouse and ptarmigan. Sometimes integrated into the Phasianidae as a subfamily, the Tetraonidae are differentiated by their nostrils and tarsi feathered, the absence of ergot, a shorter tail, a more massive and less colored body. Their fingers withscales on the sides allow them to grab onto the branches and move on the snow. Male grouse have more contrasting plumage and are larger than females whose colors cryptic help them blend into the landscape during brooding. Most species live in forest (Capercaillie) but others (rock ptarmigan) look for the cold of the high mountain. Like gallinacea, Tetraonidae rarely fly long distances.

African Numididae, Gallinacea

Present in Africa, numididae are characterized by a length of 43 to 75 cm, a plumage dark evenly staked with a multitude of stains white. Almost entirely devoid of feathers, their heads are adorned with hoopoes that make them easily recognizable. Numididae have very developed legs particularly adapted to the race. Some species frequent open environments such as the savannah wooded when others only evolve in the most remote parts of the forest primitive. They all feed on plants (seeds) by scratching the ground and on insects such as worms, ants, spiders, ticks. Known as guinea fowl in Africa numididae were domesticated for their flesh and ornaments. Outside the breeding season, these land birds are gregarious.

Meleageridae or turkeys

Native to North America, the Meleageridae were introduced in the XVIe in Europe by the first settlers Spanish. This family of gallinaceae encompasses two species only:

  • Turkey ocellated (Agriocharis ocellata) is distinguished by its variegated colors, rectrices dotted with blue-green ocelli and shades of shimmering purple. Its distribution area is limited to a few thousand square kilometers on the Peninsula of Yucatan. Ocellated turkeys spend most of their time on the ground and prefer run in case of danger rather than stealing. It is omnivorous and consumes a wide variety of plants and organic matter;
  • Turkey wild (Meleagris gallopavo) sports a large caruncle (fleshy growth), red in the male, which hangs below the throat and another which falls on the beak. The plumage is largely tinged with a bronze greenish with gold and copper reflections. This heavy bird is reluctant to fly but willingly perches in a tree to spend the night. It lives in a forest environment or around areas agricultural where it scrapes the ground, turning over dead leaves to feed on berries, herbs, seeds, roots and tubers. The gallinacea completes its menu with a few insects. The wild turkey gave birth to the species domesticated now emblematic of our backyard.
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