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A songbird is a bird belonging to the suborder Passeri of the perching birds (order Passeriformes). Another name that is sometimes seen as scientific or vernacular name is Oscines from Latin oscen, a songbird. This group contains some 4000 species, in which the vocal organ typically is developed in such a way as to produce a diverse and elaborate bird song.
There is evidence to suggest that songbirds evolved about 50 million years ago in the part of Gondwana that later became Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Antarctica, before spreading around the world.
This 'bird song' is essentially territorial in that it communicates the identity and whereabouts of an individual to other birds and also signals sexual intentions. It is not to be confused with bird calls, which are used for alarms and contact, and are especially important in birds that feed or migrate in flocks. While almost all living birds give calls of some sort, well-developed songs are only given by a few lineages outside the songbirds.
Other birds have songs to attract mates or hold territory, but these are usually simple and repetitive, lacking the variety of many oscine songs. The monotonous repetition of the Common Cuckoo or Little Crake can be contrasted with the variety of a Nightingale or Marsh Warbler.
Although many songbirds have songs which are pleasant to the human ear, this is not invariably the case. Many members of the crow family make croaks or screeches which sound harsh to humans.
Under the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy this suborder is divided into two "parvorders", Corvida and Passerida (standard taxonomic practice would rank these as infraorders). However, more recent research is casting doubt on the existence of Corvida as a single clade, but given the present lack of any generally accepted redivision of Corvida into two or more groupings at the parvorderial level, the families of suborder Passeri are listed below as being in either Corvida or Passerida.
- Menuridae: lyrebirds
- Atrichornithidae: scrub birds
- Climacteridae: Australian treecreepers
- Maluridae: fairy-wrens, emu-wrens and grasswrens
- Meliphagidae: honeyeaters and chats
- Pardalotidae: pardalotes, scrubwrens, thornbills, and gerygones
- Petroicidae: Australian robins
- Orthonychidae: logrunners
- Pomatostomidae: Australasian babblers
- Cinclosomatidae: whipbirds and allies
- Neosittidae: sittellas
- Pachycephalidae: whistlers, shrike-thrushes, pitohuis and allies
- Dicruridae: monarch flycatchers and allies
- Campephagidae: cuckoo shrikes and trillers
- Oriolidae: orioles and figbirds
- Artamidae: woodswallows, butcherbirds, currawongs and Australian Magpie
- Paradisaeidae: birds of paradise
- Corvidae: crows, magpies, and jays
- Corcoracidae: White-winged Chough and Apostlebird
- Irenidae: fairy-bluebirds
- Laniidae: shrikes
- Vireonidae: vireos
- Ptilonorhynchidae: bowerbirds
- Turnagridae: Piopio
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