Charadriiformes is a diverse order of small to medium-large birds. It includes about 350 species and has members in all parts of the world. Most Charadriiformes live near water and eat invertebrates or other small animals; however, some are pelagic (sea birds), some occupy deserts and a few are found in thick forest. They are very small, most of the time, but can be quite large.
The order was formerly divided into three suborders:
- The waders (or "Charadrii"): typical shorebirds, most of which feed by probing in the mud or picking items off the surface in both coastal and freshwater environments.
- The gulls and their allies (or "Lari"): these are generally larger species which take fish from the sea. Several gulls and skuas will also take food items from beaches, or rob smaller species, and some have become adapted to inland environments.
- The auks (or "Alcae") are coastal species which nest on sea cliffs and "fly" underwater to catch fish.
The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, which has been widely accepted in America, lumps all the Charadriiformes together with the seabirds and birds of prey into a greatly enlarged order Ciconiiformes. However, the resolution of the DNA-DNA hybridization technique used by Sibley & Ahlquist was not sufficient to properly resolve the relationships in this group, and indeed it appears as if the Charadriiformes consititute a single large and very distinctive lineage of modern birds of their own.
The auks, usually considered distinct because of their peculiar morphology, are more likely related to gulls, the "distinctness" being a result of adaptation for diving. Following recent research, a better arrangement may be as follows:
Families in taxonomic order
This is a list of the charadriiform families, presented in taxonomic order.
- Suborder Scolopaci: snipe-like waders
- Family Scolopacidae: snipe, sandpipers, phalaropes, and allies
- Suborder Thinocori: aberrant charadriforms
- Suborder Lari: gulls and allies
- Suborder Turnici: buttonquails
- Suborder Chionidi: thick-knees and allies
- Suborder Charadrii: plover-like waders
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