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Promoting Sparrers and Geese

House Sparrow

I’m still getting my head round the sequence of birds under the IOC taxonomy. Or any taxonomy. Something called cladistics determines evolutionary branching points and places the more “straight-line” species first, as far as the fossil record can show.

For instance, near the end of my Collins Bird Guide the house sparrow, that most familiar of British birds, occupies a slot just before the finches. Now, the accentors, wagtails and pipits move down-sequence to squeeze between the two families. Suddenly the Cockney sparrer becomes more venerable.

The reneighbouring of the accentors is partial vindication for those who still call the dunnock, or hedge accentor, a hedge sparrow. It’s strange that these thin-billed birds interrupt the chunkier species. I guess that bills adapt quickly to environments and have been overrated in the past as indicators of relatedness.

Entering my sightings for this morning’s walk round Arrow Valley Park in Redditch, I had to stutter backwards to tick Canada goose before mute swan. The order of the Anatidae now runs: geese, swans, ducks. Mind you, the whole family has stormed up the charts so that in this country only the partridge family beats it, coming right in at number one from nowhere. Remember those good old days? Actually this side of the Pond, that’s better than David Cassidy’s bunch did, with number three being their best for Breaking up Is Hard to Do.

Doubtless some people’s sentiments about the breaking up of old bird families. But there’s more radical to come. Watch this space.

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