Minimal Number of Birding Sites Needed to Record Every Order?

Imagine a birding trip that would allow you to record at least one species from every taxonomic order – and that the trip included the least number of sites and required the least amount of time to complete. Clearly, certain countries will have to be in the itinerary (e.g., New Zealand, Madagascar) and the timing and accounting for seasonal factors would be important.

So what might be an optimal itinerary to get at least one species per order, with a good likelihood of success?

Before we can answer this, we need to consider the question of taxonomy, as schemes differ as to just how many orders there are and how they are defined. To simplify this, I started by downloading and parsing the most recent checklist spreadsheets available, namely for the Clements (41 orders), IOC (40), and the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) (36) taxonomies. Another useful checklist that I considered is from the Taxonomy in Flux (TiF) site. This approach includes 46 orders, but does not include the Galbuliformes (puffbirds and jacamars) which are in the Clements list. So, the the most challenging approach would be to use the TiF list, plus the Galbuliformes, to give 47 orders. The differences between the taxonomies are summarized in the table below:

Order TiF Clements IOC HBW
Struthioniformes (Ostriches) x x x x
Rheiformes (Rheas) x x x  
Casuariiformes (Cassowaries, Emu) x x x  
Apterygiformes (Kiwi) x x x  
Tinamiformes (Tinamous) x x x  
Anseriformes (Ducks, Geese, Swans) x x x x
Galliformes (Fowls) x x x x
Gaviiformes (Loons) x x x x
Sphenisciformes (Penguins) x x x x
Procellariiformes (Tubenoses) x x x x
Podicipediformes (Grebes) x x x x
Phoenicopteriformes (Flamingos) x x x x
Phaethontiformes (Tropicbirds) x x x x
Ciconiiformes (Storks) x x x x
Pelecaniformes (Hammerkop, Shoebill, Pelicans) x x x x
Ardeiformes (Herons) x   x  
Plataleiformes (Ibises & Spoonbillls) x      
Suliformes (Frigatebirds, Boobies, Cormorants, Anhinga) x x   x
Accipitriformes (Hawks) x x x x
Cathartiformes (New World Vultures) x x   x
Otidiiformes (Bustards) x x x x
Mesitornithiformes (Mesites) x x x x
Cariamiformes (Seriemas) x x x x
Eurypygiformes (Kagu & Sunbittern) x x x x
Gruiformes (Cranes, Rails, and allies) x x x x
Charadriiformes (Shorebirds, Gulls, Alcids, and allies) x x x x
Pterocliformes (Sandgrouse) x x x x
Columbiformes (Pigeons & Doves) x x x x
Opisthocomiformes (Hoatzin) x x x x
Musophagiformes (Turacos) x x x x
Cuculiformes (Cuckoos) x x x x
Strigiformes (Owls) x x x x
Caprimulgiformes (Nightjars) x x x x
Steatornithiformes (Oilbird) x      
Nyctibiiformes (Potoos) x      
Podargiformes (Frogmouths) x      
Apodiformes (Swifts, Hummers) x   x  
Coliiformes (Mousebirds) x x x x
Trogoniformes (Trogons) x x x x
Leptosomiformes (Cuckoo Roller) x x x x
Coraciiformes (Bee Eaters, Kingfishers, Rollers, Motmots, Todies) x x x x
Bucerotiformes (Hoopoes, Hornbills) x x x x
Piciformes (Toucans, Woodpeckers) x x x x
Galbuliformes (Puffbirds, Jacamars)   x    
Falconiformes (Falcons) x x x x
Psittaciformes (Parrots) x x x x
Passeriformes (Songbirds) x x x x

Below is my proposed trip.

(A note on what is meant by birding “site” – how big can a site be? For simplicity, if you can bird an area in one day by car, I’m calling that entire spot a “site.”)

Start in mid-January.

1. South Florida, USA: A good place to start is Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne.  Here we must find a Common Loon (Gaviiformes), as no loons will be at any of the other destinations. At this site or nearby, one is certainly going to find songbirds (Passeriformes), doves (Columbiformes), ducks, (Anseriformes), herons (Ardeiformes), grebes (Podicipediformes), storks, (Ciconiiformes), vultures, (Cathartiformes), ibis (Plataleiformes), pelicans (Pelecaniformes), and gulls and shorebirds (Charadriiformes) without breaking a sweat. Moreover, all of these orders occur in many places that follow, so we won’t consider them any further. So that is 11 orders, doable in a day by car – other sites around Miami could be visited if not all 11 turn up on Key Biscayne.

2. Puerto Rico, USA: specifically, El Merendero de Guajataca on the northwest coast, where White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethontiformes) can consistently be found. Between this and the previous site, we will certainly have seen at least one cormorant or booby by now (Suliformes).  13 orders to date.

3. Colombia: Go birding at Cañon de Rio Claro (between Medellin and Bogota), and the nearby Cueval de Condor, where Oilbird (Steatornithiformes) can be located. The area will also be a good place to pick up hummingbirds (Apodiformes), woodpeckers (Piciformes), trogons (Trogoniformes), tinamous (Tinamiformes), a puffbird or jacamar (Galbuliformes), and a parrot or two (Psittaciformes). 20 orders at this point are accounted for, at a minimum.

4. Colombia: Now by car move on to the southeast of Bogota to the Villavicencio region. This is a bit of a hike, so it constitutes a different site. Here we can get Sunbittern (Eurypygiformes) and Hoatzin (Opisthocomiformes). If they have not already been seen, this area should yield nightjars (Caprimulgiformes), potoos (Nyctibiiformes), cuckoos (Cuculiformes), hawks (Accipitriformes), and falcons (Falconiformes). 27 orders and a total of four sites so far.

5. Brazil: Head north of Porto Alegre to the São Francisco de Paula area, where there are regular sightings of Red-legged Seriema (Cariamiformes). By now we should have also ticked at least one owl (Strigiformes) and some kind of fowl (Galliformes), so let’s mark these off here. Less than four hours south from here is PN Lagoa do Peixe, where Greater Rhea (Rheiformes) can turn up.  By now we should have come across at least one rail (Gruiformes ) and kingfisher or motmot (Coraciiformes) as well. 33 orders down, we need to make a big jump th the next continent.

6. Kenya: Start early at Nairobi National Park and find Common Ostrich (Struthioniformes), Speckled Mousebird (Coliiformes), von der Decken’s or African Gray Hornbill (Bucerotiformes), White-bellied Go-Away Bird (Musophagiformes),  and a Kori Bustard (Otidiiformes).  Then a five hour drive to the southeast to Amboseli National Park for Lesser or Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopteriformes) and then over to Tsavo East National Park for Black-faced Sandgrouse (Pterocliformes). 40 orders, six sites.

7. Madagscar : Head north to Ankarafantsika Nature Reserve, which can produce both White-breasted Mesite (Mesitornithiformes) and Cuckoo-Roller (Leptosomiformes). 42 orders and in the home stretch.

8. Australia: Grampians National Park west of Melbourne can yield both Emu (Casuariiformes) and Tawny Frogmouth (Podargiformes) 44.

9. New Zealand: Stewart Island; specifically, Rakiura National Park / Ulva Island affords a good chance to see Southern Brown Kiwi (Apterygiformes), various albatross, petrels, or shearwaters (Procellariiformes), and several penguins (Sphenisciformes).

That’s it. All possible 47 orders, nine sites. Maybe just eight if a Tropicbird shows up in South Florida.

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