If you’re like most people – I mean literally most, as in >99% of the people who have ever lived – then this one you will file under TIL (today I learned).
My Ornithology students are currently exploring the diversity of orders and families of birds of the world. They’re simultaneously amazed and terrified because they’re discovering new things every day (or at least once a week when they walk into lab) and each one comes with new Latin names to remember and spell, plus distribution, anatomy, life history etc. Lab Practical 2 is two weeks away.
The incredible part is that 30 years ago I did what they’re doing, plus I’m a lifelong birder, plus I’m a professional ornithologist, plus this is the 5th time I’ve taught Ornithology . . . and I’m still discovering new things!
Case in point, I was doing a bit of research on the critically endangered Night Parrot of Australia over the weekend, and my perusal of the Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive blew me away with a reminder that there are 375 species of parrots in just the Psittacidae. I lost a good half hour just scrolling and discovering species new to me from all over the world. So I made a Facebook post about that and lots of people got excited. It’s so much fun to introduce people to new things.
The popularity of that post led me to consider another, and perhaps to begin a series of these to help students remember our most speciose groups, which might further help them understand the significance of our monotypic families and orders. Where to begin? Chickeny things, of course! HBW’s taxonomy includes 187 species in the Phasianidae, so that’s pretty impressive. Scrolling through for a poster child to feature I hit upon a new one I’d like to share with you. I did something like this way back in 2014 when I found a photo of Schlegel’s Asity that changed my life. But now I think it’ll be fun to formalize this into a new feature here at The Waterthrush Blog: Welcome to the first installment of
You Share the Planet With!
You Share the Planet With (#1) the Malay Peacock-pheasant!
Check out the Depeche Mode crest on this guy!
Endemic to lowland forests of the Malay Peninsula, Thailand, and perhaps Myanmar, the species is today known only from about 20 places on the Malay Peninsula. It seems to have been wiped out of its range in Thailand from overhunting; it faces loss and fragmentation of forest in Malaysia with a total wild population of just 1500–7000.
Little is known about these birds – evidently only four nests have been described. Curiously, this appears to be the only member of the Phasianidae to lay a single-egg clutch. Fascinating . . .
Despite the fact that I did not know this species until today, the other cool thing about it is the constantly changing colors of the iridescent ocelli of the male’s plumage. Deep purple to royal blue to turquoise to lime green – these screencaps of John Corder videos don’t do justice to how these bird look different with every step. You’ll definitely want to see him in action in videos posted to the Internet Bird Collection.
So there you have it. You Share the Planet With (#1) the Malay Peacock-pheasant. Let’s keep it that way.