BIRD FAMILIES OF THE WORLD
 
 
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BLUE-CAPPED IFRITA Ifrita kowaldi
  • 1 species in montane New Guinea
  • DR personal total: 1 species (100%), 0 photo'd

Blue-capped Ifrita is an unusual passerine of montane forests in New Guinea (left, a photo by Hideo Tani). It has traditionally been aligned with whipbirds, quail-thrushes, jewel-babblers (e.g., Sibley & Monroe 199), but these have since been shown to be in different families. At one point the Rail-babbler of southeast Asia was included in the melange, and the family called Eupetidae. Handbook of the Birds of the World was published in that era (Boles 2007) and put Ifrita there. When Rail-babbler proved to be an ancient offshoot in the Passeroidea — not remotely related to the corvoid birds with which it had been associated — Clements world checklist split it but mistakenly tagged Ifrita along (this error will be remedied in 2012). The IOC checklist currently places it in "Family Incertae Sedis" [=family uncertain].

 

This now all seems wrong. Norman et al. (2009) found Ifrita to be to a clade containing two monarch genera, Monarcha and Myiagra. Jønsson et al. (2011) sequenced DNA for a wide variety of corvoid birds. They found that Blue-capped Ifrita was a very early offshoot in the corvoid tree on the lineage that led to monarchs. Based upon this finding, it could be included as the basal member of the monarchs (family Monarchidae). However, it seems a bit too early to say whether this is where it belongs. Its ancient lineage could also support separate family status.

Whatever it is, Ifrita is very unlike the birds with which it has been aligned. It is a chunky brownish bird with a bright blue crown, a relatively short tail, and creeper-like habits; Coates (1990). It does not walk on the ground or act like anything in the quail-thrushes, jewel-babbler, whipbird, or rail-babbler families. Rather, Blue-capped Ifrita forages nuthatch-like on trunks and branches, in mossy cloud forest, and ranges from fallen logs or the upper canopy. It probes and digs in the moss for prey, and can forage on the undersides of limbs. It feeds mostly on insects, but small fruit is sometimes consumed. Its standard vocalization is a sharp three-note call jit-jit-jit. Two songs have been described, including a loud exuberant musical song with "squeeze toy" elements (Beehler et al. 1986).

Photos: Hideo Tani photographed the Blue-capped Ifrita Ifrita kowaldi at Ambua Lodge, Tari, Papua New Guinea, in January 2003. Photo © Hideo Tani, used with permission; all rights reserved.

Literature cited:

Beehler, B.M., T.K. Pratt, and D.A. Zimmerman. 1986. Bird of New Guinea. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.

Boles, W.E. 2007. Family Eupetidae (Jewel-Babblers et al.), pp. 348 –373 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A. Christie, eds). Vol. 12. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Coates, B.J. 1990. The Birds of Papua New Guinea. Part II. Dove Publ., Ltd., Alderley, Australia.

Dickinson, E.C., ed. 2003. The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. 3d ed. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.

Jønsson, K.A., F. Pierre-Herni, R.E. Ricklefs, and J. Fjeldså. 2011. Major global radiation of corvoid birds originated in the proto-Papuan archipelago. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 108: 2328-2333.

Norman, J.A., P.G.P. Ericson, K.A. Jønsson, J. Fjeldså, and L. Christidis. 2009. A multi-gene phylogeny reveals novel relationships for aberrant genera of Australo-Papuan core Corvoidea and polyphyly of the Pachycephalidae and Psophodidae (Aves: Passeriformes). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 52: 488-497.

Sibley, C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: a Study of Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.

 
 

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