The Speculative Dinosaur Project: Enantiornithes
In our home timeline, of all dinosaurs only a few species of Neornithes survived the end of the Cretaceous. Those few species all seem to have lived in Antarctica or perhaps its surrounding landmasses of South America, Madagascar-India and Aotearoa. Therefore it is no wonder that Home-Earth’s birds are all so similar – all our birds have descended from one small handful of species that has survived the end-Cretaceous apocalypse.
In Spec, where the Earth ticked through the Cretaceous-Cenozoic boundary with only the mildest of hiccups, most of the other bird clades still exist. Most notable among these are the Enantiornithes, which have enjoyed a global distribution more or less since the age of their oldest fossil representative, some 135 million years ago. These “opposite-birds”, so called for some skeletal features which are built the opposite way compared to Euornithes, make up most of Spec’s landbird diversity, with a few water-loving forms thrown in just to disturb the picture.
Both internally and externally, Enantiornithes truly deserve their moniker of “opposite birds”, as they approached “avianhood” much differently than Euornithes. The articulation of the scapula/coracoid is inverse to that of Neornithes, with the facet of the scapula being concave and disc shaped and the coracoid’s a convex knob, while the opposite happens in Neornithes. The metatarsals are also differently fused, being fused from the ankle to the toes instead of the other way around. Enantiornithes also have a different flight musculature from that of Euornithes: they have a V shaped furcula with a long backward prominence that serves as a flight keel, being attached to an unique set of flight muscles, and they also have well developed deltoid crests as pterosaurs and flying mammals. This rendered their sternum much shallower than in Euornithes, with a small keel, though it also posses strange antler-like structures that support wing musculature as well as air sacs.
Externally, although several opposite-birds have converged closely with Neornithes, from HE or Spec, they still have traits that betray their nature. For instance, most lack the familiar tail feathers that Euornithes have. When not simply lacking tail feathers beyond down or contour feathers, Enantiornithes have strange, ribbon-like tail feathers similar to those of the long gone confuciusornithids and scansoriopterygids, which in several species form fans similar to those of the retrices in Euornithes, forming an airfoil surface just as efficient or even more so, as they require less maintenance and are more repairable. Like all flying dinosaurs, opposite-birds have allulas/bastard wings, which help them to steer in the air. Many species still retain formidable wing claws, used in climbing – particularly so for tailess species, in which the forelimbs are used to aid in landing – as well as defense and prey capture, though more derived forms have very reduced wing claws just like more familiar birds. Many species retain toothed jaws, often even completly covered in feathers, forming fuzzy muzzles, though most modern taxa have toothless, beaked jaws, though opposite-bird rhamphothecae are generally less mineralised and more plastic than “true bird” ones.
All opposite-birds (with the exception of pseudoraptorids) are extremely precocial, meaning they can fly and leave the nest just a few days or even hours after hatching. At first sight a serious drawback against the much faster-breeding “true” birds, these traits have allowed opposite-birds to evolve some features that “true” birds could hardly afford. Most conspicuous among those is the poison of the tweety-birds and the gondwanaviformes. Less spectacularly, large opposite-birds like flankers go through several different ecological niches in their life cycle. By strongly reducing intraspecific competition, this allows those species to have higher population densities than those that comparable species in our timeline can sustain. It is almost certainly the reason for the small number of species in all opposite-bird clades.
All modern Enantiornithes are divided in five clades whose individual origins stretch well into the Cretaceous. Other forms were appearently already rare or absent by the Eocene, either outcompeted or having died in the PETM. Combined all together, Enantiornithes make up for over a third of all living avian taxa.
Gondwanaviformes seem to be closely related to the Late Cretaceous †Enantiornis, a big enantiornithe from Argentina. This pretty much reflects the gondwannan ancestry of this clade: the earliest recognisable fossils of a member of this clade are known from the earlimost Paleocene of Patagonia, and for the best part of the Eocene most fossils occur in South America and Africa. However, while perhaps conservative in terms of external appearence, they changed a lot in dietary habits, which in turn led to interesting internal adaptations.
Gondwanaviformes are herbivorous. Therefore, like the aoteroan megaducks and HE’s hoatzins, they evolved proportionally huge guts, which make their body more rotund in shape. The feet are (as usual among birds) anisodactyl, with the first toe opposing the other three to provide a strong grip used by these animals when climbing. Like all ornithothoraces, while their third digit is small and “glued” to the second, all species have large wing claws on both the thumb and the second digit, used for climbing. Like the probably closely related Twitiaviformes, Gondwanaviformes are poisonous: chicks produce a noxious skin irritant, while the adults of some species deliver lethal, pain delivering ichor. While tweety poison glands are simply modified preening glands, Gondwanaviformes also have poison glands in the hands, usually next to the claws, sometimes attached to dagger-like spurs. Juvenile birds, usually precocious and insectivorous, have small teeth, but loose them in perhaps on of the most impressively quick rhamphotheca formations in nature, with the already naked, hard skin of the snout being covered with harder keratin edges as the teeth fall off.
Currently the number of gondwanaviformes species is uncertain. At least 17 known species are recognised, and the number might increase in the near future.
The HE birds that pseudophasianids resemble most are hoatzins: like them, they are tree dwelling birds that feed on leaves, specialising in the rarely contested niche of the arboreal browser. But unlike hoatzins, they enjoy a much wider distribuition: there are species spread across the tropics, from the mangroves of the Caribbean to the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea. The secret behind their success probably lies in the enantiornithe life cycle – like most opposite-birds, the chicks of the skitkins and ballbirds are highly precocial, and as such they are totally independent as soon as they hatch from their eggs. In fact, much like HE’s own megapodes, as well as several other Spec birds, some can even fly in the same day as they are born. Adults are fairly weak flyers, sometimes even outrightly flightless, but the chicks, while not very agile in the air, are quite resistent, and can in fact fly for hours, spreading the natural ranges of these birds well into the oceanic islands of the three major oceans.
Known as ballbirds, these pseudophasianids are mostly known from the Americas, and seemingly diverged from other gondwanavids quite early in the Cenozoic. Of all pseudophasianids, they are the ones that most live up to the hoatzin comparision, being mostly riverine forest dwellers. Four species so far have been recognised.
Magestic Ballbird (Pseudophasianus opisthocomus)
Spec’s answer to HE’s hoatzin, this ballbird’s range extends across the amazonian wet forests, from inland swamps to coastoal mangroves. Externally it strongly resembles its HE analogue, except the generic opposite-bird differences like the lack of tail feathers. In the mating season males produce a loud KALINKWA!!! call across the forest, across day and night. Disharmonic events are usually avoided, but if inevitable fights are quite impressive, frequently resulting in the death of a weaker combatant. Females, slightly smaller than males, and less “regal”, without the eye patches and with dark body plumage, are responsible for the incubation of the eggs, usually on a broad nest platform. Chicks leave after a few days, feeding first on insects, before switching to a fully herbivorous diet in the span of an year.
Jack-Sparrow (Pseudophasianus maiaparasitica)
A smaller cousin to the Magestic Ballbird, the Jack-Sparrow is blessed with darker feathers, and red naked patches of skin in the throat and around the eyes, like a bizarro guan. It inhabits the Caribbean, and its range extends from the Bahamas to Yucatan and Trinidad, with small populations occuring in Florida, its favoured habitats being mangrove forests, being among the few animals to specialise in the salty leaves of these trees, having developed quite large salt glands to cope with this. It’s mostly noted as a nest parasite, usually targetting waterfowl nests, such as those belonging to screamers. It’s eggs specicially resemble those of their victims, white with occasional patterns. However, few waterfowl seem to mind the presence of Jack-Sparrow eggs, as the chicks leave imediately after birth.
Cloud Ballbird (Pseudophasianus katharmos)
Endemic to the south american Atlantic Forest, this ballbird has a mostly silvery plumage, and bright blue eye patches. It ranges across the forest ecosystems of its range, favouring specifically montane temperate forests, where their main competitors, the treeguanas and the pseudosauropods, are least common. Like it’s relatives, it too is a specialised browser, though it has an unique prefference for granivory. It’s favoured morsels are the seeds of the local auracaurias, ripping the cones open with their more hooked beaks. In return, some of the conifers have developed thornier cones, to little avail from the persistent birds. All ballbirds have potent poison resistance, born of an unique set of bacteria flora that specifically decomposes most plant toxins. In most species, it is passed through faeces ingestion, though Cloud Ballbirds directly feed their young for a week or so after birth, regurgitating in their mouths. Their chicks begin full blown herbivory earlier than other ballbirds, first focusing in granivory and flower consumption before moving on to leaves.
Giant Ballbird (Pseudophasianus atlantotitan)
From the forests of Ascension hails perhaps the most unique of the ballbirds. Having diverged from their closest relatives in the early Pleistocene, the ancestors of these birds found an island devoid of both predators and large herbivorous competitors. As such, evolution took it’s course, and now 1.9 m tall flightless birds roam the island, taking the place of it’s largest native browser. With shaggy brown feathers and simple yellow eye pacthes, the Giant Ballbird has little vibrancy compared to it’s smaller cousins, and it also lost the useful poison glands, now of little utility in an island with few predators. With longer legs and neck, it is an indiscriminate feeder, eating pretty much any native plant it can grab, though it is for the most part a frugivore, dispersing the seeds of the many native plants. Females, which are larger than males, gather a small harem, individual males mating with her across the year, producing a one-egg clutch, incubated by one of the males. The resulting chick is as always supreprecocial, having a longer, slender snout, almost similar to that of the long gone longiperygids, used to probe for invertebrates in the undergrowth. It’s transition to herbivory only takes place two years latter, living it’s early life as a competitor to the local flightless railtites.
Having diverged from their ballbird relatives back in the Oligocene, skitkins have diversified in the Old World, the absence of competing arboreal browsers in the tropical and subtropical canopies allowing these birds to go wild. The bulk of gondwanaviforme diversity is composed of skitkins, 11 species being known, nearly all of them quite diverse in terms of overall range. The birds known as skitkins are distinct from their ballbird cousins for their visage, compensating their lack of colourful naked skin patches for more genuinely vibrant feathers. Most importantly, they are heavier, to the point of flightlessness in the adults of some species, and they are more specialised in mastication like HE cuckoos, their beaks having unique grove-like edges to prevent the bolus from sliding off. Like all Gondwanaviformes, skitkins are poisonous, and in fact they have specialised further: skitkins have sharp spurs on their wings, to which the venom glands are attached, serving to deliver the most potent toxins among all dinosaurs.
Skitkins are recognised mostly in the genus Bovornis, though considering the diverse adaptative radiations across the Cenozoic it is perhaps more accurate to branch them further off.
West African Skitkin (Bovornis senegalensis)
The archetypical skitkin, this bird occurs in the lowlaying rainforests of the Congo. Growing to be as big as an HE Anser goose, the West African Skitin is nowhere as great a flyer, the adults being at most capable of frantic wing strokes occasionally acompanying fairly elegant and long glides, though young birds can fly for miles uninterrupted. All but waddling while moving in the canopy, assisted by their hook-like wing claws, this corpolent bird has a bright yellow head, dark brown body plumage, black feet and beak and orange wing feathers, which acquire bright green and blue eyespots in the males during the breeding season. Such a vibrant creature would likely be the target of many predators, but few creatures dare attack an adult, healthy skitkin, lest they die from a venom dosage capable of bringing down a gihugrongo. Like in most skitkins, these birds are polygamous, the male breeding with several females during the monsoons. Competitions are generally peaceful, males simply exhibiting their wing feathers, often within the company of other males. After mating, the females gather in large flocks, and bury their eggs in an apropriate location, like a large clearing, staying nearby to discourage opportunists from stealing the eggs. After several months, the young emerge, and lead an insectivorous life for several months, before gradually shifting to herbivory.
Several populations occur in offshore islands like São Tomé and Príncipe. While some do have some regional variation like decreased toxicity and slightly coluration variation, they seem largely uniform in regards to mainland birds, presumably due to constant interbreeding as juveniles from the mainland frequently end up there.
Seychelles Skitkin (Bovornis lemuriensis)
Occuring in most western Indian Ocean islands, and occasionally in East Africa proper, the Seychelles Skitkin is quite well adapted to its often ephemeral and limited habitat. The adult having a grey body with a beige underside – the distinction quite blurred in several individuals -, with a bright green head with red stripes. More terrestrial than most skitkins, it is all but flightless, with the volant, maroon-coloured juveniles travelling from island to island both frequently and very easily, almost to the point that individual island populations are not very distinct genetically. Adult birds make the most of their insular environment, foraging both on the ground and on the canopy, often storing reserves for the hardships of the dry season. The potency of it’s poison varies within individuals, with birds subjected to more stress having more potent venom, thus resulting in a quite flexible level of toxicity, corresponding to the amount of insular predators.
Humaya (Bovornis hierovolans)
This quite large bird occurs in open scrub and temperate forest environments in western Asia, from the Turkey Peninsula to India. It is a better flyer as an adult than it’s relatives, having larger wings to soar across open fields, a necessity for an arboreal browser in such an environment. With a long, crabing neck, this bird spends most of it’s time feeding, picking even the smallest leaves in the midst of thorny trees like acacias. It is also an important seed disperser in these dry forest flora, eating just about any fruit it comes across. It has a mostly white body with dark wings, younger birds being mostly brown-grey in colour. Both parents incubate the eggs like megapodes, tending to a large pile of leaves until the supreprecocial young leave.
Bigger than the ballbirds and the skitkins, these birds are among the few Enantiornithes that have become fully flightless, appearently already so since soon after their appearence. They seem to have diverged from the pseudophasianids soonly after the clade appeared, somewhere in the Palaeocene; as the first pseudoraptorid fossils are known from the Eocene of eastern Asia, it is thought that these birds are probably of indian ancestry. Never much speciose, the invasion of suinavoid oviraptors from Africa in the Miocene completly reduced them to a few genera, and by the Pliocene only two remained, Pseudoraptor and Scythornis. In the mid-Pleistocene, the latter vanished from mainland Eurasia/Africa, perhaps due to the decline of the mainland laurassilvan florests.
Pseudoraptorids are unusual, even for opposite-bird standards. Instead of highly precocial chicks, those of the false-panhas and frangos are quite dependent on their parents for protection. They also grow much quicker than those of other enantiornithes, reaching maturity in the span of an year. Like their flying pseudophasianid relatives, they have poisonous glands, although only males produce venom.
False-Panha (Pseudoraptor apates)
The false panha is an opposite-bird trying very hard to be a carpo. Flightless false panhas clamber nimbly through the stalks, nipping off new shoots where they sprout from the main stem. A false panha’s stubby beak is quite sharp and gravel stored in the crop quickly grinds even high-silicate bamboo into something digestible. False panhas dine almost exclusively on bamboo (though young specimens have been seen on the ground digging for invertebrates) and consequently possess pot-bellies which hold large stomachs and endless guts. False panhas live in closely-knit troupes of females and juveniles led by a single dominant male. Young males leave the troupe upon reaching puberty and form “bachelor troupes” that attempt to usurp the territory and females of older males. Only during dominance battles do these normally placid herbivores become violent, slashing at each other with powerful beaks and poison-tipped quills. Challengers are usually defeated by the males already in place (these males having grown quite large during their reigns), but if an old male is defeated, the young one systematically kills all of his predecessor’s chicks and mates with the females, assuring the transmission of his own genes rather than those of another. Once in control of a troupe, male false panhas grow enormously until they weigh half again as much as the females. They also develop prominent blue wattles around the face and neck.
Frango (Scythornis caninsularis)
Larger than the false-panha, and possessing a darker, less vibrant plumage, this bird differs from it in its geographical range: it occurs in the laurassilvan forests of the Canary Islands. It seems to be the direct descendent of the Miocenic †*Scythornis giganteus*, which lived in western Eurasia and North Africa. How it ended in the Canary islands is a mystery, presumably by rafting during the lower sea levels of the Pleistocene. Drabber than false-panhas, it is monogamous, raising it’s single chick in a couple. Unlike the insular Giant Ballbird, it still retains poison, using it to defend itself from the local predators like rocs and terrestrial crocodillians.
Home-Earth has an impressive diversity of terrestrial carnivorous flying birds – owls at night, falcons, hawks, buzzards, eagles, ospreys, and so on during the day. All these predators, with the exception of a few megalomaniac songbirds (Passeriformes), kingfishers (Alcedinidae) and frogmouths (Podargidae), belong either to the Falconiformes (falcons), to the Strigiformes (owls), or to the Accipitriformes (anything else), three groups of Neornithes that arose in the Eocene or perhaps Palaeocene. Spec’s birds of prey, the avisaurs, are different.
Most immediately noticeable, avisauriformes possess teeth and lack a beak (hooked or otherwise), which gives their heads a somewhat surreal deinonychosaur-like appearance. Also like their deinonychosaur cousins, most species retain large wingclaws, useful in grasping prey in a similar manner. As opposite-birds, they also have a shallower breast and hindwings in lieu of tail feathers, making them uniquely agile in the air. Avisauriformes reach back to the Early Cretaceous (with forms like †Cuspirostrisornis), which makes them 1½ times as old as HE birds of prey.
Like most opposite-birds, avisauriformes grow very slowly, reaching adult size after several years. This is a source of several profound differences to any birds that survive in our timeline. Avisaurid chicks are highly precocial, they leave the nest as soon as they can fly, just a few days after hatching. Because it then takes them up to 5 years to grow to full size (though they reach sexual maturity way earlier), every avisaurid fills several ecological niches in its life, allowing for low intraspecific competition despite the relatively high numbers of individuals and the rather weak sexual size dimorphism (females commonly being a bit larger than males). As an extreme, an adult (5-year-old) Papuan Flanker (Veraquila victor) is capable of killing a ratite-sized alvarezsaurid, but when it leaves the nest, at a wingspan of 20 cm, its main food are big insects and the occasional small lizard or marsupial mouse. Consequently, avisauriformes are much less diverse than the birds of prey in our timeline; there are only an estimated 170 avisaurid species, compared to some 480 falconiforme, accipitriforme and strigiforme species in Home-Earth. Another consequence of their slow growth is that avisaurs breed every year and lay several eggs, all of which are bred, while among Home-Earth’s birds of prey it is common that only one of two chicks survives. On the converse, that lone chick then usually survives to adulthood; young avisaurs are at a greater risk, mostly because they stay young for such a long time, during which they are vulnerable to all sorts of predators, last but not least bigger avisaurs.
Besides terrestrial predatory niches, some species have also branched as marine soarers, hunting prey from the air like otherworld frigatebirds or tropicbirds, some extinct forms even rivalling pseudodontorns in size. This trend goes as far back as the Cretaceous with birds like †Halimornis.
Pentagon Chickenhawk (Acioripiter pentagonus)
The Pentagon Chickenhawk, so called after the vaguely pentagonal white spot on the neck of adult males, is just about the only avisaurid species in the forests of eastern North America. Hatching in a nest of up to 5 eggs, the young stay in the tree crowns and hunt first insects, then nonpoisonous birds like jaubs, pickpeckers and otherworld finches like painted pfiffles, then multis and sometimes not-coons, and when sexual maturity approaches around the age of 2 years (and a wingspan of about 1 m), they start to fly fast very close to the ground, pursuing mainly henchicks and bantams, as well as nearcrows and the occasional djad. Full grown Pentagon Chickenhawks reach a wingspan of 1.6 meters and have even been reported to attack young spelks. Otherworld doves are never safe, but during the nut-glut, chestnut doves form the main part of the diet of over 2-year-old Pentagon Chickenhawks. Adult pentagon chickenhawks are very territorial. And if something comes within 10 m of their nest, they become totally furious. It is not advisable to study their nesting behaviour without one of those knife- and bulletproof vests and a good helmet.
Pied SnakeHawk (Acioripiter mexicanus)
A smaller relative of the Pentagon Chickenhawk, the Pied Snakehawk, is common in the skies of southern North America and Central America. It bears scale-like markings on it’s face feathers, hence it’s vernacular name. A migratory bird, every year large concentrations of these raptors fly south of the Panama Isthmus, wintering in the Llanos. More opportunistic than it’s relative, it occurs in both forests and plains, preffering oak savannahs and gallery forests. It hunts a wide variety of small tetrapods, having a particular fondness for the chicks, precocial or not, of other bird species.
Checked Mig (Acioripitriscus vittatus)
Also migratory, Checked Migs fly from eastern Asia to Australia each northern autumn and back each southern autumn, engaging in one of the longest migrations among terrestrial predatory birds. With mostly brown and black feathers, females have distinct white snouts and foreheads, for so far poorly discernible reasons. Migs in general (Acioripitriscus) occur mostly in wetland habitats all across Eurasia and Oceania, hunting nesting birds of all kinds as well as frogs, small mammals and the occasional fish. Most tend to nest among the reeds in platforms of rotting vegetation, often floating in the water.
Imperial Flanker (Haleuaetus euleucocephalus)
Closely related to migs, sea-flankers (Haleuaetus) are a fairly new lineage of piscivorous avisaurs, the earliest forms dating to the Oligocene of Japan. Unlike older piscivorous avisaurs, sea-flankers hunt using their talons rather than their jaws, grabbing quickly from the surface or plunging feet first into the water; to do this they lost their hindwings. Their wings are longer and thinner than those of their terrestrial relatives, having the apropriate shape for a seabird, and while they lost their hindwings they are still quite acrobatic, engaging in stunning aerial displays for courtship or attack.
The Pacific coast of northern North America is home to the Imperial Flanker, which, when adult, has a bright white head and neck. However, because of their way of hunting, juveniles could be mistaken for beakless kingfishers (were it not for their drab colours). Fish (dead or alive) form the largest part of the diet of this species throughout its life cycle, but an imperial flanker will not refuse other prey of fitting sizes or carrion, and will gladly attack flying birds or pterosaurs.
Kulanjan (Afroimperatornis nemorensis)
A large avisaur is found across sub-saharan africa. Its +2.3m wings are broad and manuverable, allowing pursuit of arboreal prey in open to dense woodlands. Carpos and primates live in fear of this drak of the skies, cowering at the passage of it’s shadow. Arbrosaurs trend their territories carefully, more than one arbro has been sent plummeting to the ground by a well placed knock from fisted talons. A slight crest on the forehead runs into two huge brow fans that are normally flat against the upper eye orbits. During interspecies threat displays, these brow fans erect into a tapestry of reds and golds with a centered black “eyespot”, often with an iridescent blue. Dipping the head slightly gives the illusion of a huge menacing stare aimed directly at whatever disturbance the kulanjan must quell. The adult plumage is mainly a speckled pattern of brown and slate grey. The chicks are heavily mottled black and rusty red, with a white chest, shedding it for the adult coat at 4 to 5 years of age. For the first 6 months of their lives, they form flocks for protection and to gang on larger prey, leaving when they’re roughly one third of the adult size.
Papuan Flanker (Veraquila victor)
Another large predator, the Papuan Flanker is the undisputed king of New Guinea’s forests, no other predator roaming the montane forests. Hatching in a nest of 3 – 4 eggs on top of the rainforest, the little anti-eagles (originally described as a wholly separate species, Antifalco minimus… to our eternal shame) with their small, straight, conical teeth soon start hunting big beetles and other large insects. One-year-olds have similarly small teeth, but lots more of them, so they can easily pluck the feathers and even the fur off their prey. At this age, cutting edges appear on the teeth. Around the age of 3 years (and a wingspan of about 2 m), tooth shape and number changes again, and the eagles can now cut meat off killed dendrosaurs by means of strongly recurved, finely serrated teeth that are flattened side to side. Fully adult Papuan Flankers sometimes hunt terrestrial prey like hypsies or, in rare cases, even Papuan Muppets, which they stab from above through the hip bones into the kidneys with claws like a croctiger’s.
Golden Flanker (Veraquila chrysaetos)
Closely related to the Papuan Flanker, from which it diverged in the Pliocene, the Golden Flanker rules the skies above all open landscapes of the Holarctic (provided that there is some high place in the vicinity). Thus it avoids competition with the forest-living chickenhawks, some of which reaching a third of it’s size. The young begin with hunting grasshoppers and big beetles, then for a short period they turn to snails, then to Specworld mice, zams, small lizards and snakes, and then, when the first teeth with serrations grow, to djads, dogbunnies and various bantam species. The largest individuals (with a wingspan of over 2.6 m) have been seen to attack juvenile segnosaurs, although this behaviour is really rare.
Tiger-necked Flanker (Veraquila australis)
Reaching up to a 2 m wingspan, the Tiger-necked Flanker is the largest Australian avisaurid and the ruler of the Ozzie woodlands. Also part of the Veraquila radiation, it closer to it’s holartic cousin than it’s more geographically close, and indeed the Pleistocene †Veraquila yhi might represent their last common ancestor. Adult (5-year-old or so) Tiger-necked Flankers live mainly off tingamarroids, beakguanas and hypsies, ambushing them from the air, occasionally daring to strike at small hadrosaurs. Unlike HE’s Wedge-Tailed Eagle, it’s not a dedicated scavenger, especially in the presence of several terrestrial crocodilians, sphenodontians and carnocursorids, always carrying it’s prey to be eaten on the trees. It also preffers more densely forested environments, though it occurs in the dry australian outback as long as there are trees or other elevated areas.
Sharp-winged Riff (Antifalco abramsi)
Not all avisaurids grow so large, however. The Sharp-winged Riff, for example, hardly ever reaches more than a 80 cm wingspan, despite its long, narrow wings that characterize it as a fast flier in open country. In northern summer, sharp-winged riffs live and breed on the fringes of the prairies of North America, in winter the over one-year-old individuals migrate to the South American pampas, following much of their prey – small birds that these quick-witted predators catch in mid-air. Even swoops and mistriders are not safe, but the usual prey, especially of young individuals, are jaubs and otherworld finches, followed by the smaller species of nearcrows and otherworld pigeons.
Riffs, never grow teeth with serrations. They capture their prey almost exclusively with their jaws, the hindlimbs being mostly used for steering, having large wingswings comparable to those of microraptorids. The wing claws are more reduced in these avisaurs, as they’re rarely used to capture prey or climb.
Like all avisauriformes, riffs do not care for their chicks past the first few days after hatching. Unlike other avisaur species, however, in which the adults and young have very little contact, young riffs (those too young to migrate, still lacking cutting edges on the teeth) will sometimes congregate and fly around the adults in sizable swarms. The functions of this “chick-magnet” behavior is unclear, though many researchers hypothesize that the young are feeding off of flying insects flushes up by the adults’ hunting.
Riffs can most often be seen in dawn or dusk, generally alone. They rarely vocalize, and when they do so, their call is a muted, cough-like “ugh”.
Not all avisaurs are daylight predators. The scowls have adapted to night-hunting, evolving sensitive night vision, dish-shaped, sound-focusing faces, asymmetrical ears, and silent, silky wing feathers. These birds have, in essence, taken the place of Home Earth owls, and might have started doing so back in the Cretaceous.
Striped Scowl (Allostrix rowlingae)
The Striped Scowl of northern Eurasia is, from a distance, almost indistinguishable from an owl. On a closer inspection, however, an observer would notice the scowl’s un-owl-like feet, the lack of a tail, the wing claws, and its lack of a beak in favour of a distinctly dinosaurian tooth-filled snout. It occurs over most of temperate North America, hunting at night while chickenhawks rule the day. Like most avisaurs, Striped Scowls mate in the winter and lay up to 10 eggs that hatch into precocial young in the spring. These baby scowls soon fly away from their parents’ nest and begin to hunt for themselves, progressing through different size-niches as they age, in typical avisaur fashion, until they achieve their adult height of about 60 centimeters after some 3 years. Throughout their lives, striped scowls feed upon a variety of small and medium-sized mammals, and occasionally birds and other small dinosaurs.
Willow Scowl (Allostrix diurna)
Somewhat more diurnal than other scowls, Willow Scowls occur in the laurassilvan forests of the Madeira archipelago. They’re in a quite interesting situation, as the islands lack typical diurnal avisaurs other than vagrants, and as such this scowl has been able to reclaim hunting periods otherwise inaccessible in the mainland. Most of it’s diet is composed of the endemic railtite and otherworld dove species, hunting them on the ground like an avian cat, with juveniles feeding mostly on the numerous species of land snails endemic to the islands. Although well capable of flight, the Willow Scowl spends most of it’s time on the ground, nesting and foraging in an environment with virtually no other terrestrial predators aside from azhdarchids.
Bob (Pseudobubo atrotugurius)
With a wingspan of over 150 cm, the Bob is one of the largest scowls in the world. Even hellrats and young baskervilles are not safe from the adults, though their most common prey are dogbunnies, pigshrews, pseudorats and multis. Especially 2-year-old bobs participate in the nut-glut by stalking sleeping chestnut doves. Bobs don’t refuse carrion either, far less so than other scowls. Living in the forests of North America, the Bob is known for its blood-curdling call, which in the correct circumstances can sound like laughter played backwards.
A close relative, the Eurasian Big-eared Scowl (Pseudobubo pseudobubo), lives in the temperate and cold forests and scrubs of Eurasia. Unlike HE eagle owls, Bob phylogeny is not as clear, and both birds might very well be subspecies. At any rate, the eurasian form is larger and tends to favour a more crepuscular lifestyle, and hunt larger prey, mostly dogbunnies, elahrairahs and bantams.
Spotted Scowl (Odontuto maculata)
Found on practically all landmasses except Antarctica and most Pacific islands, Spotted Scowls are among the most generalistic of all scowls, being cathemeral stalkers that glide over fields and marshes with their long wings. With its maximum 110 cm adult wingspan, the Spotted Scowl has proportionally quite long wings compared to it’s relatives, optimal for hoovering like a kestrel. Juveniles eat mostly insects, snails and earthworms, rapidly shifting to a diet primarily composed of small mammals and birds on the course of a few months. Due to it’s cosmopolitian distribution, different populations have different dietary prefferences: in Eurasia, most birds are primarily xenothere hunters, while in North America there is a distinct prefference for resting birds.
Eupelagornithids seemingly diverged from other avisaurs back in the Cretaceous, their ancestor being a critter like †*Halimornis*. Across the Cenozoic, these birds were quite diverse, ranging from pole to pole and producing both flightless marine forms and giants with wingspans of over 5 meters, but competition with Ichthyornithes, pseudodontorns and tube-nosed birds seem to have beat these birds to about 6 species of tropical and subtropical soarers.
Unlike other avisaurs, eupelagornithids have naked faces, allowing their long rostrums to dive in the water with minimal resistance, from the surface or from the air. Their jaws are slender and their teeth are conical, superficially resembling the maws of unenlagiines like †*Buitreraptor*, apt for grasping fish. With webbed and naked feet, most species have developed long, ribbon-like tail feathers, used in social displays as well as steering.
Ascension Jarilo (Kirke falco)
Wrongly named, the Ascension Jarilo occurs over the tropical and subtropical seas of the entirity of the Atlantic Ocean. A bird with a 1.2 meter wingspan, the Ascension Jarilo is distinguishable from it’s close relatives by it’s black wings, the rest of the body plumage being otherwise white. Spending most of it’s life in the open ocean, jarilos are more solitary than other seabirds, rarely forming large feeding groups. They hunt primarily from the surface, using mostly their long jaws to capture prey but occasionally also diving underwater, up to depths of 10 meters. The Ascension Jarilo’s diet is composed mostly of cephalopods and crustaceans, being one of the least piscivorous species in the tropical Atlantic, though it will not refuse fish or even smaller seabirds and pterosaur flaplings if they’re availiable. On rare occasions, they may also steal prey from other seabirds, overwhelming them and pressing the crop with it’s toothed jaws.
Every two years, Ascension Jarilos gather in large flocks around remote islands. Birds of both genders display in their air, their red, ribbon-like tail feathers being especially long, twice the size of their wingspan. After mating, females lay bury their eggs on beach sand, usually on places further from the sea. These eggs are especially large by opposite-bird standards, sometimes up to more than one quarter of the female’s body. They hatch in a span of four months, the chicks running to the sea almost imediately, before they can even fly.
Fustabird (Kirke magnificens)
The largest of the Jarilos is a black coloured bird with a 3 meter wingspan that soars over most of the tropical ocean line of the globe. Fustabirds are almost exclusively aerial hunters, even having redeveloped hindwings, catching most of their prey from the air and even resting while gliding. It is more raptorial than it’s relatives, often eating other jarilos in addition to other oceanic flyers, but most of it’s diet is composed of surface dwelling fish. Hunting from the air requires a lot of agility and stealth, circling the prey and ensuring it is caught with a quick snout-dip, making Fustabirds cunning calculators. Their excelling soaring abilities also ensure they reach feeding events faster than other seabirds, and rare are the schools of fish drawn to the surface by mosarks that don’t have at least one Fustabird taking advantage of the situation long in a matter of minutes.
Like other Jarilos, Fustabirds also select islands to breed on, though they frequently “nest” in less remote locations. During the breeding season, males exhibit a fan of bright tail feathers, still ribbon like but wider than in their relatives. Unlike other jarilos, females lack these tail feathers, and as such the breeding behaviour is lek based. In spite of the aberrant traits of this species, it is nested well within the jarilos, having diverged from them in the mid-Pleistocene, appearently in response to the extinct of the highly similar †Netjerornis.
Ebergs can be found on almost every body of freshwater in Spec that isn’t too small. Even though only some 5 or 6 species of these foot-propelled diving birds exist, most species have very wide distributions, for example two species range all over the Old World, Madagascar and Australia, with one of them extending to Aotearoa as well.
Like snakeneck-birds (and the grebes of HE), ebergs have long toes with lobes that work as a webbing during the backstroke but let water pass through during the recovery stroke. Unlike them, their teeth are restricted to the tip of the jaws; they are very useful for holding slippery fish or tadpoles, piercing crustacean armour or snail shells, or pulling freshwater clams off the mud.
The ancestry of the ebergs is shrouded in mystery. It is obvious that ebergs are opposite-birds like flankers, riffs and scowls, otherworld finches, tweety-birds and the skitkins and ballbirds; their slow growth – the largest species reach maturity at 3 years – suggests the same. Within that large group, however, things become murky. Molecular data suggest, tentatively, that the closest living relatives of the ebergs are Spec’s predatory birds, which would mean that the fossil history of ebergs reaches back into the Early Cretaceous. (Currently the oldest known eberg comes from the Eocene site of Messel.) Consequently, there are reasonably plausible attempts in the literature to tie the ebergs to either †Yungavolucris, a Late Cretaceous foot bone (tarsometatarsus) from Argentina that looks much like that of an eberg, or to †Longirostravis, an Early Cretaceous shorebird from China, which sports teeth only at the tip of its beak like an eberg, or to both. But due to the paucity of known fossils, the low signal/noise ratio of the few molecular data that have been compared so far, and of course the absence of molecular data from fossils like †Yungavolucris and †Longirostravis, most workers prefer to withhold judgement.
Hooded eberg (Enantibaptus cucullatus)
The Hooded Eberg is among the largest (adult length being about half a meter) and most common eberg species, and the most widely distributed one, occurring on all vaguely continental landmasses sans most of North America, Australia and southern Africa. It can easily be recognised by its long, narrow black “beak”, the distinctive feather “hood” of adults, white dots on the back, and an range underside. Males develop weird keratin protusions on the jaws, sometimes only for the mating season, sometimes year-round. Hatching in a drifting nest with 10 or more eggs, the tiny hatchlings jump into the water almost immediately and begin hunting for water insects. As they grow over four years, their diet gradually shifts over crustaceans, small snails and tadpoles to freshwater clams, frogs and fish.
Collared Eberg (Enantibaptus americanus)
A close relative of the Hooded Eberg, this american species is about the same size, but has a very distinct colouration, with a black head and wings and a mostly white torso sans for black dorsal stripes, as well as a black and white “colar” in it’s neck. Collared Ebergs are migratory, breeding as far north as Bear Lake and migrating to warm shorelines in the winter, as far south as Trinidad. A population of these birds also exists on the Azores, frequently supplied by north american birds blown by the Gulf currents into the islands.
Black-Necked Eberg (Podicipoides nigricollis)
Occuring through most of the Old World, Madagascar and Australia, the Black Necked-Eberg is the main member of the genus Podicipoides. It specialised in feeding on clams and freshwater crustaceans, having a shorter, deeper “beak” than other ebergs with teeth distributed along instead of being restricted to the jaw tips. These teeth are broader and shorter, perfectly adapted to smash hard shells. Occuring frequently in the vicinity of other species, adults rarely compete with their relatives, but the young feed on the same prey. To avoid competition, Black-Necked Eberg chicks specialise mostly on aquatic insects and crustaceans: like the adults, their teeth line the whole of the jaw, but they are long and slender, used basically in rudimentary filter feeding.
There are no passerines in Spec. Unlike our world, where a single bird clade (the songbirds, Passeriformes) excercises near-total dominance over the small-bodied insectivorous and seed-eating guilds, similar niches in Specworld are divided between two bird groups (Twitiaviformes and Allospiziformes), neither of which is present (anymore?) on Home-Earth. The former taxon, also called the tweety-birds, fill habitats around the world with their twittering cacophony.
Externally, tweeties are very “normal” looking birds: having developed well formed tail fans (albeit made of ribbon-like feathers, as with other Enantiornithes), having small or no wingclaws and having lost their teeth in favour of beaks, they are downright passerine-like externally. The majority of are insectivores, although some eat seeds, fruit and nectar. About half of the twitiaviforme species, including all the seed and nectar feeders, have clusters of bristles on their tongues to assist in feeding. The clade has entered niches not occupied by the passerines, including large hornbill- and toucan-like forms. Their palatal configuration is unique in possessing large pterygoids with dual mobile joints to both the palatine and the large basipterygoid process. The vomers have been reduced, though not to the same extent as in most neognaths. This configuration allows for far greater palatal mobility than in most other birds, but it is still smaller in extent than that seen in neognaths. Probably this is the reason why this clade has produced few finch-like seed-crackers – that niche being filled by the allospiziformes.
The evolutionary relationships of the tweeties has been one of the most incompetently studied subjects on Spec. Before the existence of Enantiornithes on Spec was established, it was long assumed that they represented an unusual lineage of Neornithes. It was proposed that they may be highly derived palaeognaths that had convergently evolved neognath-like features of the palate, or perhaps very basal neognaths that still retained old-style ankles (in which the ascending process originates on the astragalus as usual among dinosaurs, not on the calcaneum as in neognaths). It was only once the shoulders, musculature and sternae were checked that their true place in the avian cladogram was figured out; previously, even their embryology, growth rates and ankles were ignored in favour of neornithe-like superficial traits.
Within living opposite-bird taxa, they seem to be closely related to Allospiziformes and Gondwanaviformes, although “close” is a relative term, because these clades must have been separate since at least the early Late Cretaceous. Some have even tried to interpret the highly fragmentary †Alexornis from the Late Cretaceous of Mexico as the earliest known tweety-bird. Other authors have also considered tweeties to be closely related or even descended from the longipterygids, which they closely resemble on several aspects. The oldest definite tweety-birds so far come from Messel. Some seem to be related to wagtail tweety-birds and mistriders, while others resemble scytherbills and sturdybills.
Recently a remarkable aspect of twitiaviforme biology has come to light which may hold the key to their success – the majority of twitiaviformes are poisonous for at least part of their life-cycle. In Home-Earth’s avifauna, the presence of poison in birds is restricted to a handful of passerines from New Guinea whose feathers and skin are laced with batrachotoxins – and even here the toxins are apparently not produced by the bird but rather sequestered from its food.
On Spec, the use of secreted chemical toxins has become a common defence amongs the tweeties. Special glands on the back secrete a mild haemotoxin that makes the act of biting into a live bird both distasteful and, should the poison make contact with an abrasion in the mouth or gut, very painful. The birds appear to be totally immune to the effects of their secretions, and those which retain this feature in adulthood are often seen laboriously applying over their body with their beaks.
In the majority of species, the toxins are present from about half-way through the incubation period and soon permeate most of the egg. The poison is retained in hatchlings and young birds, providing vital protection during this precarious stage of life. After the bird gets its adult plumage – and tweety-birds can afford to grow slowly, therefore they have retained the basal bird feature of very slow growth –, the secretions usually stop. In a minority of species, the poison retained in adulthood; these are usually very small, spectacularly coloured rainforest denizens. In others, particularly insular forms, the ability to generate poison has been lost altogether.
Thus most tweety-birds possess a potent defence against any nest-raiding predator that does not possess specific physiological or behavioural adaptations. To a lesser extent, the poison may also provide some protection against parasites. As a result of their toxic offspring, twitiaviforme parents generally have a much easier and stress-free life than a comparable brooding passerine couple. They tend to produce small clutches, some species investing in only one or two large eggs per season. As the eggs are usually toxic in the days prior to hatching, less effort is put into concealing and protecting the brood from predators. In fact, the eggs of some twitiavians are the most beautiful in the animal kingdom being adorned with bold, colourful warning patterns (as can be expected, some birds with non-toxic eggs practice egg mimicry). Expectant tweety-parents are often quite lazy when it comes to nest protection, some seem to actively goad potential nest-predators into sampling their distasteful clutch (on the other hand, this behaviour tends to open them up to brood parasitism, like what some of Home Earth’s cuckoos do).
The hatchlings are large and become fully mobile within a day or two, capable of hopping amongst the branches or foraging on the ground. They still stay close to the nest for some weeks with the parents bringing food to their young to supplement their diet. However, this activity is noticeably less hectic than with other birds. Then the young leave to lead their own lives – full growth in most species comes at the age of 2 to 3 years!
The Twitiaviformes are distributed worldwide with about 2000 living species in 16 large groups. The tweeties are much more diverse in the Australasian and Neotropical regions than in the northern continents; probably the rigors of the ice ages and the lack of natural barriers in the north have led to a poorer degree of speciation.
These archetypical tweety-birds form an almost cosmopolitan clade of small-medium sized ground-dwelling birds with slender bills and legs. They are mainly brown in colour, although they may be boldly marked. The walk has a pronounced swagger that jerks their long ribbon-tails in a manner similar to our world’s passerine wagtails. They run after insects, leaping to pursue them in flight, but also take seeds and vegetable matter.
Black-Faced Tweety-Bird (Twitiavis superciliosus)
The Black-Faced Tweety-Bird was the first twitiaviforme to be described in detail, which is not surprising as they are absolutely everywhere in the open environments of mainland Australia and southern Papua. Vast, nomadic swarms, accompanied by their chattering twitters, fill the skies of inland Australia (although the birds are just as at home in woodlands and heath near the coast).
Songs of individual birds are quite melodious but quickly degenerate into earsplitting noise-pollution when competing with hundreds of their comrades. They are quite fearless and will accompany large animals, chasing insects disturbed by their footfalls.
African Toothpick (Dentistavis impavida)
The African Toothpick lives in a symbiosis with the priscataurs. The giant theropods have completely lost their forelimbs, and as a result have no way of cleaning the flesh and assorted material that gets stuck between their teeth and in their numerous cranial horns when they feed. Instead, after feeding, they attract toothpicks by extra-scary, deep bellows and let the birds swarm around their mouths, picking up whatever scraps they can find, and often also cleaning the dinosaur of parasites (such as the dinomite, Sauracarus philopriscataurus, which can often be found in the ears of priscataurs). This also distracts the birds from open wounds, as they otherwise drink blood from animals they land on.
The other three toothpick species are for the most part insectivores, but also have a tendency to eat tetrapod meat, either scavenging or attacking other animals like small mammals, bashing their skulls with rocks while they’re asleep in order to eat their brains.
The treegems and the treeclutchers are small trunk- and branch-foraging twitiaviforms restricted to Australia, Tasmania and Papua, though similar birds have been found in Messel. They cling to tree trunks with strong, robust legs and use their long, slightly upcurved bills to lever off bark in search of prey – usually insects, their larvae, and spiders. Unlike other tweety-birds, they redeveloped the large wing claws, used in climbing.
Golden Treeclutcher (Yerao aureus)
Golden Treeclutchers are abundant in the temperate forests and woodlands of Southern Australia. Males develop bright yellow feathers during the breeding season which attain an intense metallic sheen in the Tasmanian subspecies (Y. a. splendidus). Strangely enough, it’s the less colourful female that’s territorial, depending her hunting grounds from competitors rather viciously, males being more nomadic animals. In spite of this, Golden Treeclutchers are serially polygamous animals; even if parental care is minimal, both parents stay together for the breeding season, before the male departs.
The mistriders are distributed worldwide. Their rather dull and non-descript appearance is more than made up for by their breathtaking flying skills – they are the only twitiaviforms that engage in soaring flight. The name “mistrider” was inspired by accounts of these birds in the highlands of Australia and Papua, darting in and out of the morning mist. Mistriders have well developed brush-tipped tongues which they use to glean nectar when it is available, and while specialised to hunt aerial insects, most species are at least seasonally nectarivorous, avoiding competition with other specialised aerial hunters like riffs.
Black-Collared Mistrider (Pseudoartamus collaris)
The Black-Collared Mistrider occurs throughout mainland Australia, tending to move south during the spring. The main polinator of several australian trees, it frequently hoovers like a hummingbird to acquire the sweet ichor. Most of it’s diet is otherwise composed of aerial insects, especially during winter months, and it is one of the few mistriders that occasionally gleans insects from the ground.
Therizinorhynchids include the giants of the Australo-Asiatic twitiaviformes with many large and colourful forest forms, although the family also harbours a number of midgets. Their most distinctive feature is their enormous, lightweight bill, superficially similar to those of our world’s toucans and hornbills. With a few exceptions, therizinorhynchids are denizens of rainforests and tropical woodlands where they feed mainly on fruit and some small animals. They consume hard fruits by mashing them within their beaks whereupon the pulp is collected with their brush-like tongue. Like hornbills and toucans, they nest in excavated holes in tree trunks. The group reaches its greatest diversity in Melanesia, Papua and the Philippines, with five endemic species on Australasia.
Superb Scytherbill (Therizinorhynchus superbus)
One of the largest therizinorhynchids, the superb scytherbill is found throughout Southern Papua, the Aru islands and eastern Australia in moist lowland forest habitats. The majority of the Australian birds are migratory, crossing the Torres Strait to winter in Papua. Females are similar to the males but have smaller, duller throat-wattles and lack the male’s head crest.
Celestial Long-Fung (Phoenix mirabilis)
The long-fung, Phoenix spp., are the smallest scytherbills, never more than 20 centimeters in length (not including the tail feathers). They possess short, sharply curved bills and long, bristle-tipped tongues with which the lap nectar out of flowers. The symbiotic work these the long-fung do for their flowers is actually of a rather dubious nature. While the birds do function as pollen-transport for flowers, they have a definite taste for the pollen, itself, nibbling on flower stamens to obtain valuable protein. As a result, many of the flowers of Southeast Asia (even those of totally unrelated species) possess the distinctive “pleated skirt” shape, which allows the birds to extend their beaks into the nectar resevoirs, while the pollen is deposited safely on their heads. Long-fung are widespread across tropical Asia and Melanesia where vast long-fung flocks blanket trees and blot out the sun when in flight. The Celestial Long-Fung, is the most common species of mainland Southeast Asia, and possesses the short wings and luxurious tail feathers that characterize the clade.
Cackler (Gracillarus gracillare)
Cacklers are ubiquitous across Spec’s Indochina; their distinctive, laughter-like call rings from almost every treetop. Drably-colored for a scyther, the cackler is an omnivore with definite carnivorous tendencies. While these birds will eat fruit, and juveniles will occasionally drink nectar, the bulk of a cackler’s diet is made up of small vertebrates, such as lizards, snakes, and mammals. Cacklers do not flock together as do their cousins, the long-fung, but travel as mated pairs or small families. Like all scythers, cacklers nest in hollow tree-trunks, the female brooding over eggs or newly-hatched chicks (which leave in a week or so after birth), while the male forages for food.
Red-Faced Sturdybill (Robustirhynchus rubicundis)
The Red-Faced Sturdybill s a common denizen of the lowland forests of Papua, where it subsists primarily upon fruit. These birds habitually make their homes in the large, tower-like nest of the architect ant, a common insect across Australasia. Normally, these ants are fiercely protective of their nests, ripping any intruder apart with powerful mandibles. However, the sturdybills may come and go from the nest’s upper chambers completely unmolested. Analysis of the sturdybills’ twitiaviforme secretions (which the birds produce throughout their life) has proven that the toxins mimic the pheromone signals of the ants, making their secretors “invisible” to the insect colony. The sturdybills, in return for the scraps of fruit and leaves they pile within the nest, receive the protection of a virtually impenetrable fortress. The relationship between these two species, therefore, is rather one-sided, with the birds receiving most of the benefits, but the ants do not seem perturbed by their giant neighbours. Sometimes, Immaculate Sturdybills (Robustirhynchus immaculatus) are found in abandoned nests of Red-Faced Sturdybills. This rare, enigmatic species is similar to the red-faced sturdybill, but slightly larger and uniformly pale orange in colour.
This huge group includes some of the most bizarre and beautiful members of the clade. Many members of this group possess a wrinkled sheath of thick leathery skin that covers up to two thirds of the beak which, when combined with the bare faces of some species, creates the illusion that the bird is wearing a balaclava helmet. This sheath reaches its greatest development in Australian and Melanesian representatives and is often reduced or absent in outlying forms such as on Hawaii. Balaclava birds are found throughout Australasia, Melanesia, Polynesia and the warmer parts of Asia. A few species have reached as far as Hawaii and Japan. All have a club of bristles at the end of their long, extensile tongues. The majority are nectar feeders, collecting the fluid with their brush-like tongues (although some take insects, berries, and sap). The purpose of the “balaclava” varies between different species. In some forms, the bare sheath is brightly coloured and plays a prominent role in courtship. With the abundance of spines and toxic secretions produced by much of Spec’s Australian flora, it has been suggested that the sheath prevents injury to the inside of the bird’s mouth while feeding. Similarly, insectivorous balaclava birds find the structure a useful shield against bee and wasp stings.
Blue-Faced Balaclava (Worgan robusta)
The Blue-Faced Balaclava is a rather large and unusually robust member of the family. It is an inhabitant of lowland rainforest and moist woodland along the east coast of Australia where it forages on a variety of blossoms as well as taking large insects.
Green-faced balaclava (Spelaeornis waitomensis)
Most of the Waitomo’s organic detritus comes from the Green-Masked Balaclava, a fairly typical balaclava-bird that roosts in the aoteroan caves at night, covering the rocky floor with nutritious guano. This excrement, rich in nitrates, supports a thriving community of fungus and insect life, which in turn are eaten by larger organisms. Like many other sub-terranian environments, the ecology caves of Waitomo are based upon guano. Unlike the specbats with whom the balaclavas live, Green-Masks do not echolocate. The balaclava-birds do have a keen sense of hearing, however, and can follow the cries of the specbats to find their way through the caves’ chambers. The birds are further aided in their search by the many small quill-like feathers on their head and faces. These feathers work like a cat’s whiskers, allowing the green-mask to feel the air around them and sense disturbances before the birds crash into them. Living on an island with few terrestrial predators, these balaclava-birds build their nests (made of mud, spit, and glowworm fibers) either on the ground or very close to it.
Specimens of some of the most spectacular birds ever seen have recently come to light after expeditions to the hitherto poorly sampled rainforests of the Indonesian Archipelago. Among the most striking are the so-called glitterbirds, a highly speciose clade of colourful little balaclavids called Kalimantornis. Over 25 species of glitterbirds dwell in tropical rainforest habitats from Borneo in the west to the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago in the east, with the highest diversity being on Sulawesi and the Moluccas. The majority of these twitiaviforms are only known from photographs and have yet to be scientifically described. Glitterbirds are highly sexually dimorphic, with the females being fairly nondescript brown or black birds. The males, on the other hand, are phenomenally ornamental, with brilliantly coloured feathers. The most spectacular feature is the large balaclava-wattle that in some species covers the greater part of the head. It has variable shapes in different species and may sport a number of projections that can be reconfigured by inflating or deflating air cavities in the wattle. The outermost membrane of the wattle consists of a thin transparent layer of skin beneath which lie clusters of guanine crystals. Sunlight reflecting off these crystals produces a dazzling display of iridescent colour that gives these birds their common name. Most males also have especially colourful ribbon-like tail feathers.
As far as is known, all species are polygynous breeders. Males may try to entice mates throughout the year, except when in moult, although the most intense display period usually occurs from August to January. Males display from a fixed perch by calling loudly and inflating their wattles to their fullest extent, shaking it to produce a scintillating effect. Mating is very brief and the females depart to raise the young on their own. The day-to-day habits of these birds are poorly documented, but they appear to be sedentary birds that feed primarily on fruit and insects. Unlike most other balaclavas, they take little nectar, a diet that usually warrants a more nomadic lifestyle. This sedentary habit probably accounts for their very high degree of speciation in such a small area, with whole species or subspecies restricted to individual islands.
All glitterbirds retain the ability to secrete poison into adulthood.
Azure-Faced Glitterbird (Kalimantornis chrysaeus)
The azure-faced glitterbird is one of the largest members of the clade, reaching a length of 24 cm. It is found in lowland and hill forest throughout the island of Borneo. The male is immediately recogniseable by its brilliant blue balaclava that possesses four finger-like projections. These can be puffed up and extended during display. This species does not possess long tail plumes.
Gold-Shouldered Glitterbird (Kalimantornis solstitialis)
This tiny gem of a bird is restricted to a small area of montane rainforest in southeastern Sulawesi. Its name-giving golden “shoulders” are in reality the covert feathers on its hands.
Burmese Bluemasque (Personavis vespaphaga)
The Burmese Bluemasque is a plump ground-dweller from the Phillipines that feeds mostly upon fallen fruit and insects, particularly ants and wasps. Bluemasques prey upon these social insects by ramming their heads through the nest’s wall and extending their unusually long, horn-covered, bristle-tipped tongues into the nest cavity, lapping up the ants or wasps as they rush to defend their home. Any assaults of stings, jaws, or burning acids have no effect on the Bluemasques, protected as they are by the leathery balaclavas that cover their faces.
Green Skoshi (Kamifilius nipponensis)
The mountain forests of Japan are the home of many birds, one of the most common being the Green Skoshi, a tiny balaclavid that feeds upon insects and nectar. In the summers, all skoshis (Kamifilius) subsist mostly on a diet of nectar, which they steal from flowers by puncturing the plant near the ovaries with their slender, needle-like beaks. The birds are also fond of insects, and often eat the bees and butterflies attracted to the flowers they pillage. Unusually among balaclava-birds, skoshis are not only poisonous as chicks, but retain their toxic flesh into adulthood. Their characteristic green plumage warns predatory birds and other dinosaurs to stay away, but Japan’s native pokemurids, the pikachillas, are adept at “curing” skoshis and other poisonous birds, leaving their corpses to hang on thorn-bushes while the toxins age to impotency. As a result of this predation, skoshis are extremely skiddish and keep themselves to the very tip of the forest canopy when not feeding. Often, the only evidence of the birds’ presence is their song, which usually consists of three notes rapidly voiced, followed by a fourth note, sustained longer and of lower pitch. Some transliterate the song as “tabemashOU” while others write “Dee-dee-dee DUM” and liken it to the first few notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony.
Kikirin (Jimentoria vulgaris)
The jimentori (Jimentoria or “ground birds”), restricted to southern Korea and the islands of the Pacific rim, are unusual for balaclavids in being almost entirely insectivorous. Jimentori occupy a generalized insectivore niche, and spend much of their time on the ground, probing the leaf-litter for grubs. Named for its rattling call, the kikirin is the most common of the jimentori, and ranges across the islands of Japan and Sakhalin, with infrequent accidentals in Korea and mainland China. These birds are quite social, gathering into groups of roughly half a dozen to comb the forest floor for insects and millipedes. Like other jimentori, kikirin are rampant nest parasites, laying their own eggs in the unguarded nests of other tweety-birds (often balaclava birds). These eggs, which are actually nontoxic and completely edible, benefit by their association with other, truly poisonous eggs until the time of their hatching. At this time, the kikirin chick throws the other eggs, which have not yet hatched, out, and monopolizes the attention of its cuckolded parents.
Otherworld finches, cityfinches, crackers, and outlaws are the dominant small-bodied seed-eating birds of Specworld. Together with the odd parrothawks and the Specworld parrots, they comprise an estimated 2,300 species worldwide in 19 major groups. Their anatomy shows many similarities to that of the finches, parrots, and cuckoos of our timeline (with some odd details resembling pigeons), and their palate is largely similar to those of neognathous birds in general, so it is no wonder that that the true affinities of this group were long overlooked. Closely related to the skitkins and the tweety-birds, Allospiziformes is nowadays thought to reach back at least to Late Cretaceous forms like †Gobipteryx, which already had a strong, toothless beak.
Otherworld finches and their kin can be found on every continent (one species makes an incredible annual migration from South America to the Antarctic island of South Georgia) and most oceanic islands. The majority of species feed on seeds, nuts and fruits, with a few insects thrown into the mix (especially the young eat lots of insects and spiders). Modern allospiziformes are tiny to medium-sized birds with zygodactylous feet. The beak is usually stout and triangular and, as in parrots, the upper beak has a hinge-like articulation with the rest of the skull, allowing it to be lifted independently to a greater degree than usual among birds. Unlike parrots, they possess a well-developed caecum and a small cartilaginous tongue – which is greatly enlarged in the parrothawks and Specworld parrots – and have only 12 to 13 neck vertebrae.
Flying Humbug (Avidascyllus bicolor)
When searching for fresh food-supplies, vast nomadic clouds of these tiny allospiziforms darken the skies over the African plains, being such a common species that they compose as much as a third of the total avian biomass in some areas. When threatened by aerial predators on the wing they form a dense, globular structure. Flying Humbugs generally feed on tall, seeding grasses as well as flying insects. Unlike the poisonous twitiavids, that afford simple nests, otherworld finches take more drastic measures to protect their non-toxic eggs. The Flying Humbug in particular builds a complex nest with many “many nests” on top, with a central chamber where the eggs are generally safe.
Painted Pfiffle (Falleravis splendens)
The Painted Pfiffle is one of the most beautiful allospizian species to dwell in North America. Males sport vivid black, orange, and red plumage to attract mates, and are easily recognized from a distance. Subadult and adult painted pfiffles feed exclusively on large seeds, which they crack open with their powerful bills; juveniles prefer small seeds and insects.
Like all pfiffles, this species is migratory, flying to and from its winter feeding grounds in South America every year to nest in the deciduous forests of eastern North America. Females migrate a few weeks ahead of the males, giving them time to construct or renovate their future homes. These bag-shaped nests, made of grass and sticks covered with a mud-and-saliva mixture, are nearly indestructible, and a female will come back to her nest year after year, making repairs as her abode wears out. This method of home-making is common among the allospiziforms, and is taken to extreme by the African cityfinches (see below). Unlike their distant cousins, however, pfiffles do not enlarge their nests past their original size, and a nest is usually abandoned after its maker dies.
Ancient Parrothawk (Psittacoraptor priscus)
The parrothawks (Psittacoraptor spp.) are heavily built allospiziformes with large, hooked beaks. Their name is a bit of a misnomer as these birds are generalist omnivores rather than dedicated predators, feeding upon fruit, nuts, eggs and small animals. This African group contains about a dozen species, occuring in both tropical rainforests and savannahs. In spite of their appearence and niche, they’re not particularly related to true specworld parrots, being a different radiation of alospiziformes more closely related to the diminute Flying Humbug, though they obviously occupy a similar ecological niche.
So named because of its crest of “grey hair”, the Ancient Parrothawk lives in mangroves and dense lowland rainforest, usually amongst the lower branches and stilt/buttress roots. Its screeching cry usually gives away its position long before the bird can be seen. A mostly solitary bird, it has a prefference for figs, occasionally also attacking the nests of other birds, eating their eggs and chicks. It’s notoriously resistent to tweety poison, and a major source of worry for the otherwise quite relaxed parents. Birds have also been caught feeding on crabs, breaking their carapaces with their strong beaks.
The most remarkable of the allospiziforms, the cityfinches are the only birds to have evolved eusociality, on par with wasps, ants, bees, termites, and, in our timeline, naked moles. The clade contains about 50 species and is restricted to Africa and Madagascar. Cityfinches eat primarily grass seeds and other grains, and most species dwell in permanent colonies or cities, many rivalling human settlements in their population density and relative size. Many forms exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism, the result of the different sexes performing differing functions in cityfinch society.
Although the basic allospizian form has come down through the ages with very little modification, and the more basal cityfinch species are little different from their ancestors of 20 million years ago, the city-building behavior seems to be a very new phenomenon. Based upon fossil evidence, cityfinches as social birds evolved in the Pliocene, the earliest undisputed city remains coming from 5 million year old strata in Ethiopia, and many paleontologists theorize that, like our own ancestors, these birds were driven to explore new modes of life as the African forests shrank and disappeared. The question as to why such birds never evolved in our own time-line is more difficult to answer. Perhaps neornithian birds are somehow unsuited for the social life-style, or perhaps the presence of hominids on our Africa’s grasslands precluded other species from evolving into the grain-eating niche. The most likely explanation, however, is that the finches of our home timeline never stumbled upon the cityfinches’ primary mutation, the crucial piece of genetic machinery necessary for their social lifestyle. The birds of our Earth never made use of haplodiploidy.
Like the social insects, cityfinches are haplodiploid, with male body cells containing half the chromosomes of female cells. For this reason, potentially destructive recessive genes may lurk unexpressed in the genomes of the females, but the males with their unpaired alleles are ‘cleaner’ genetically. Female cityfinches may thus safely mate with close kin, confident that this inbreeding will not result in the expression of detrimental recessive alleles, as their mates have none. Haplodiploidy has evolved a few times among birds and many times among arthropods in both timelines, and may be an adaptive strategy for keeping a population genetically stable in an unchanging environment. Some species, however, also use the closely inbred families allowed by haplodiploid breeding for another purpose, kin selection. Because evolution is based upon the selection and proliferation through breeding of specific genes, organisms are, by and large, selfish. Natural selection favors those individuals that take all the resources they can and use them to breed profusely, regardless of the cost to other members of the same species. Lions of our own timeline and false-panhas of Spec kill offspring of other males to increase their own relative success in the gene pool, and there are many more examples of such selfishness among organisms of all kinds in both universes. How then, can altruistic behavior, behavior that favors another individual at the expense of the altruist, ever evolve? The key to this problem is kin selection, where the altruist and the recipient of the favor are kin and so both share a large number of genes. If an individual helps a sibling to collect food, for example, the individual will be aiding its own genes. Siblings share at least half of their genes, so even if an altruist cannot breed itself, if its siblings breed twice as much as they would have without help, the altruist’s genes are transmitted just as they would have been had the altruist itself bred normally. For the city-finches, these bonds of kin selection form the essential glue that hold a colony together.
A cityfinch colony begins when a group of brother and sister cityfinches leave their old home and stake out a new nest site. The exact construction and placement of these cities changes depending on species, but most cityfinches take the same factors into account as human engineers, placing their homes in areas of high grain productivity to feed their populous, near running water to carry away waste, and in an area far from the territorial patrols of other cities. The birds construct their nests out of a mixture of woven grass-stems, mud, and saliva, and many species make use of trees for structural support. The exact composition, size, and general shape of these cities is highly variable, dependant both upon species, local conditions, and the lineage of its builders, allowing naturalists to accurately map cityfinch lines of descent by comparative architecture. Once the city begins to take shape, the females lay their eggs. The eggs hatch quickly and soon the social hierarchy of a typical cityfinch colony beings to manifest itself. At birth, the chicks come in the normal vertebrate compliment of two sexes, male and female, but as the chicks age, they being to specialize upon purely cityfinch reproductive lines. From very early, the individuals bully their weaker siblings, pecking them mercilessly and almost ceaselessly. This pecking may result in bald patches around the head and tail, but almost never causes permanent physical harm. Those birds most often bullied, however, grow more slowly than their siblings, and most of them fail to go through puberty, maturing as small, sexless ‘serfs’. With very few exceptions, serfs do not exhibit any mature adult specialisations, and seem to be completely infertile. Rather than furthering the transmission of their genes through breeding, serfs help their siblings to thrive, collecting food, performing domestic chores including egg and chick-rearing, cleaning and structural maintenance. The serfs and young males of very large cities may also act as “air conditioners”, beating their wings at the entrance of special “ventilation tunnels” to maintain air circulation in the deeper parts of the colony. The childhood tormenters of the serfs, those chicks that were slightly larger and stronger than their sisters, mature normally, and a few months have fledged as mature, fertile castemembers. The colony generally maintains roughly equal proportions of adult serfs, females, and males, and while this mechanism remains poorly understood, the frequent bullying and pecks that the other castes inflict on the serfbirds may keep them in this undifferentiated, non-reproductive state. When the “bullying” falls below a certain level due to the reduction the number of mature adults, this inhibitor is removed and the strongest, most aggressive serfs change into mature castemembers.
Conversely, when the number of serfs reaches over one half of the total adult population, the sexual adults turn on these birds and either kill or drive away some fraction of their number. In most cases, these ‘proletariat flocks’ die, but in some cases enough of the serfs metamorphose into sexual adults that they are able to form a new colony, usually with the cooperation of other exiled serfs. Proletariat colonies are usually smaller than their equivalents, and their members, which are of mixed genetic stock are less eager to cooperate than the citizens of a normal cityfinch colony. These colonies often fail in times of strife, but one persists long enough to build up a kin-bound population, then it may last for hundreds of generation. Naturalists believe that several of the oldest and most successful hitchcock cites in the Rift Valley are the fruits of several long-ago proletariat colonies.
Serfs make up a third of the population of a healthy colony and do much of the day-to-day work, but the key task of reproduction they must leave to their siblings. Spared from the bullying that stunted the serfs, female chicks grow enormously in their first few weeks of life, and after three moults have matured as adult, fertile ‘warbirds’. Warbirds are the colony’s defence force and are larger and more robustly built than other cityfinch castes. They can be fanatical in the defence of their homes; even sauropods are not immune from their ferocious pecking beaks and sharp claws. In basal cityfinch species like the hitchcock, warbirds are only slightly larger, sharper-beaked versions of the serfs, but the warbirds of some species grow bizarre hornlike structures from their beaks which act as weapons and display structures. Except in certain circumstances, warbirds mate with their brothers, depositing their singleegg into a communal nestchamber. The eggs are tended to by serfs and “off-duty” warbirds who bring food from storage chambers replenished by the male scouts. Mature male cityfinches, or ‘scouts’ are the food-gatherers and early-warning sentries of the colony. These birds tend to have large crops for storing seeds and longer wing feathers than their siblings, in order to help them fly long distances. Parties of scouts will often travel for days on foraging missions, but these males almost always return home to their mates and children. Unmated males, however, with fewer of their genes invested in the colony, are less reliable as scouts, and sometimes wander off into the grassland to fend for themselves. These wanderers, called ‘ronin’, can feed themselves adequately on the savanna, but when they try to extend their genetic line, they run into problems. Warbirds attack ronin and scouts with untempered ferocity when the males are foolish enough to enter their territory. A ronin is more likely to be killed than mate successfully with an alien warbird, and so most ronin die without having passed their genes to the next generation.
One would think that, given the abysmally low incidence of mating among ronin, such behavior would soon be weeded out of the cityfinch gene pool. The selective pressures usually in operation on cityfinches, would favor the scouts, who mate with their sisters to produce colonies of kin-bound workers. Indeed, such seems to be the general way of life for cityfinches, but behaviors that are usefull in one season might kill a colony in another, and the cityfinch behavior must allow for accommodation to change. During seasons of dearth, when the grasslands are especially unproductive, roninism increases until half or more of every colony’s young male population is gone. This increased wanderlust is accompanied by a shift in warbird behavior, as these females begin to mate with any foreign males they can find. The resultant increase in genetic diversity in the cityfinch colony increases the spread of possibly beneficial mutations in a time of stress, but it also completely destroys the intricate kinship-altruism bonds that hold the colony together. In the generation after such free-mating, roninism spreads to nearly all nest-members and most of the colony’s population departs, driven out by the strongest and most aggressive of the warbirds, who then mate with their brothers to being the rebuilding of the colony. Of the birds that leave the colony, few survive to mate, but a few band together into kinship groups and work together to build a new nest. Of these new nests, a few will survive the harsh savanna climate and become true cityfinch cities.
Alfred Hitchcock’s thebirds (Theornis alfredhitchcocki)
The least derived of the cityfinches, Alfred Hitchcock’s thebirds display a less pronounced degree of dimorphism between the two sexes. However, this species creates the largest cities and displays the highest degree of aggression in their defence. A thebird city begins as a globular structure with a single entryway built of mud, twigs, droppings and saliva in the branches of a tree in the savanna. As the colony grows, additional chambers and entrances are built, and the city soon fills most of the lower branches, eventually extending down the trunk towards the ground. Fully-grown cities completely obscure the shape of their long-dead host tree and resemble great clay skyscrapers growing out of the ground. Such a colony may be over two centuries old and may contain over a thousand birds. Each large city is a maze of tunnels, nest chambers, nurseries and storage facilities. Some chambers act as gardens where the birds harvest fungi grown from refuse. Actively utilised chambers are generally restricted to the outer 2 metres of the colony.
The fanaticism with which thebirds defend their cities is nothing short of terrifying. Unlike other species, scouts and serfs will also engage enemies in combat. Normally intruders are seen off with swooping displays. However, the high-pitched distress calls emitted by injured or dying birds seems to send the entire colony into a state of bloodlust, with birds murderously attacking any non-thebird within 100 m of the city. The warbirds secrete a toxin in their saliva which produces painful sores on the skin when pecked. If provoked by a large animal, the birds swarm upon the unfortunate beast in a frenzied, uncoordinated attack with little regards for their individual safety. There is one documented case of an old, crippled molok which stumbled into a large thebird city, staving in one side of the colony and immediately incurring a warbird attack. Panicked and confused, the theropod blundered into the colony again, tripped, fell and was immediately consumed in a cloud of furious birds, its agonised cries audible above the din of screeches. The attack petered out in about 20 minutes, and the molok’s carcass was examined while keeping a watchful eye (and flamethrower) on the blood-drenched warbirds which glared down at the researchers while serfs began to repair the damaged colony. Both the theropod’s eyes had been pecked out and it’s orbits were filled with dead thebirds as were its nostrils, ears and colon.
Pincerbeak (Civilispiza ceratias)
A common cityfinch species in woodlands and open forest throughout Southern Africa, the Pincerbeak lives in colonies of 20 – 60 birds. The colonial structure is built in the branches of a tree or shrub and consists of a series of interconnected open cup/bowl-shaped mud structures covered in “roofs” of thatching. The sharp extensions on the warbirds’ beak are formidable weapons. However, they are also used as “tongs” when moving eggs.
Comoros Stahorn-Bird (Molochavis comorensis)
One of the largest cityfinches, the Comoros Staghorn-Bird s restricted to the Comoros islands where it is one of the most common non-seabirds in residence. The species is unique in building colonies directly on the ground and even digging subterranean chambers. Staghorn cities are built at the bases of large trees and consist of a series of domed mud/clay structures above ground connected by a series of underground tunnels amongst the roots of the tree. Such colonies generally contain about 10 – 30 adult birds. The quail-like warbirds spend most of their time on the ground, their extraordinary beaks imposing a hefty aerodynamic penalty. They are incapable of feeding themselves and must be tended to by serfs and returning scouts. Their natural enemies on the islands include large lizards, tenrecs and predatory seabirds. When threatened, the warbirds retreat “hindfirst” into the entrances, leaving their formidable beaks protruding.
Warm areas all over the globe but particularly Oceania harbour birds that, despite the weirdness of some representatives, look like parrots, climb like parrots, fly like parrots, and behave like parrots (their intelligence is even comparable). If it were not for the internal enantiornithian traits, as well as ribbon-like tail feathers, they’d easily be mistaken for psittaciformes. Some wonder if a peculiar lower jaw from the Late Cretaceous of Home-Earth’s Montana, originally identified as belonging to a parrot (a lory, to be precise) well over 40 millions of years ahead of its time, might belong to a Specworld parrot instead. In this case Specworld parrot would have existed in both worlds before the K-T boundary. However, more recent genetic studies seem to suggest that they diverged from their relatives as recently as the early Miocene.
Ground-Macaw (Geobates pachyrhynchus)
Unlike HE ground parrots, the Ground-Macaw is a very conspicuous animal, and lives in Madagascar. Females bear garish red, blue and yellow feathers, with iridescent violet patches on the head and neck, and it seemingly has many other iridescent patches seen only in UV, while males are of a more mute dark brown. Foraging on the ground during the day time, the Ground-Macaw is even quite sonorous, emiting a series of loud, obnoxius calls. It preffers forest clearings, where females exhibit their bright feathers, defending territories that may span over 1 square mile. A very polyandrous bird, females may mate with a group of up to 10 males, which stay in her territory to incubate her eggs.
Porcuparrot (Echinopsitta longicaudata)
Two clades of flightless Specworld parrots are endemic to Aotearoa. But unlike the succulent and vulnerable kakapo of Home-Earth, in the presence of ground predators in the form of gobblers and fells, these parrots have evolved a powerfully effective defence by turning their feather quills into defensive armament. Strangely enough, the two bird taxa are not closely related, meaning that this occured twice in the history of Spec.
The Porcuparrot has turned most of the larger feathers into long, sharp quills, especially on the wings and tail, while downy feathers underneath still provide insulation. An opportunistic omnivore in the absence of competing mammals, it feeds on a variety of morsels in the woodlands that are it’s home, from buds, leaves and nuts to small animals or even carrion. The Porcuparrot is still good at climbing, but obviously doesn’t compete with it’s volant relatives.
Pinecone Parrots (Hoplopsitta spp.)
Pinecone Parrots range in adult size from about the home-earth Kakapo (Common Pinecone Parrot, Hoplopsitta vulgaris) to a small sheep (Arctotitan Pinecone Parrot, Hoplopsitta grandis). All these birds are ground-dwelling mixed grazer/browsers, large species found mostly in open country, the smaller ones in woodland. Each of their feathers is fused into a thick, hardened scute, making the bird nearly immune to attacks from predatory birds. Wing feathers remain, but are large hollow shafts that are beaten or rasped against the feather scales to create noises used in intraspecific communication. As usual among opposite-birds, pinecone parrots have a long, lone childhood. It is therefore not uncommon to see specimens no larger than a pinecone (which were originally described as a separate species, Hoplopsitta nana) – when the well camouflaged birdies move. They have the dubious honour of being the least intelligent specworld parrots, though it still engages in very complex social behaviours.
Palgerigar (Apatopsittaca undulatus)
Due to the prevalence of other allospizians, small specworld parrots are rare. The Palgerigar is one of the smallest, about the size of the Psittacula parakeets. Coloured in various shades of yellow and green, the Palgerigar occurs in the dry savannahs of Australia, gathering in large flocks in search of food and water. An advantage it has over HE parrots is it’s precociality, not being constrained by needing to provide food and water to the chicks. However, as intelligent birds, they tend to have strong social bonds, and in effect the young are basically raised by the flock, protected by older birds and learning tricks necessary for life in the desert.