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Nine-primaried oscine

Male Evening grosbeak

The nine-primaried oscines is a group of bird families in the suborder Passeri (oscines) of the Passeriformes. The composition of the group has changed since the term was introduced but is now considered to consist of seven major families—Fringillidae, Emberizidae, Cardinalidae, Thraupidae, Passerellidae, Parulidae and Icteridae—plus some small families. When Fringillidae is omitted the remaining six families are referred to as the "New World" nine-primaried oscines.

The name of this group arises from the fact that all species within it have only nine easily visible primary feathers on each wing (in reality most, if not all, also have a tenth primary, but it is greatly reduced and largely concealed).[1]

Wallace's classification

In 1874 the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace classified the passerines by the number of primary feathers and placed ten families in his nine-primaried group, the Tanagroid Passeres:[2]

  • Motacillidae – wagtails and pipits
  • Mniotiltidae – New World warblers, now in Parulidae
  • Coerebidae – honeycreepers, now in Thraupidae
  • Drepanidae – Hawaiian honeycreepers, later Drepanididae, now in Fringillidae
  • Dicaeidae – flowerpeckers
  • Ampelidae – waxwings, now in Bombycillidae
  • Hirundinidae – swallows and martins
  • Tanagridae – tanagers, now in Thraupidae, and euphonias, now in Fringillidae
  • Fringillidae – finches, plus buntings, now in Emberizidae, and American sparrows, now in Passerellidae
  • Icteridae – grackles, New World blackbirds and orioles

Modern grouping

Six of Wallace's families are now included in the nine-primaried oscines: Mniotiltidae, Coerebidae, Drepanidae, Tanagridae, Fringillidae and Icteridae. The other four families are now known to be less closely related.[1]

Although the New World nine-primaried oscines are most diverse in northern South America, they are widespread throughout the New World including the Greater and Lesser Antilles. They have also colonised the Galápagos (Darwin's finches) and the Tristan da Cunha group in the South Atlantic (Nesospiza and Rowettia in Thraupidae). Two families, the Emberizidae (buntings) and the Calcariidae (longspurs and snow buntings), have colonised the Old World.[3]

The group without the Fringillidae, the New World nine-primaried oscines, is the superfamily Emberizoidea.[4] The superfamily comprises some 870 species or 8% of all birds. It is divided into 16 families:[5][6]

Phylogenetic relationships between the families of the nine-primaried oscines based on the analysis of Carl Oliveros and colleagues published in 2019.[5][a]


  1. ^ A 2020 study by Heiner Kuhl and colleagues omitted Rhodinocichlidae, Calyptophilidae and Phaenicophilidae but obtained a similar phylogeny for the remaining families.[7] Earlier studies using more limited DNA sequence data obtained different relationships between the families.[8][3]
  2. ^ The family Teretistridae (Cuban warblers) is tentatively placed here. The family was not included in the analysis published by Oliveros et al (2019).[5] Barker et al (2013) found that Teretistridae is closely related to Zeledoniidae.[4]


  1. ^ a b Hall, K.S.S. (2005). "Do nine-primaried passerines have nine or ten primary feathers? The evolution of a concept". Journal of Ornithology. 146 (2): 121–126. doi:10.1007/s10336-004-0070-5.
  2. ^ Wallace, Alfred R. (1874). "On the arrangement of the families constituting the Order Passeres". Ibis. 4: 406–416 [410].
  3. ^ a b Barker, F.K.; Burns, K.J.; Klicka, J.; Lanyon, S.M.; Lovette, I.J. (2015). "New insights into New World biogeography: An integrated view from the phylogeny of blackbirds, cardinals, sparrows, tanagers, warblers, and allies". The Auk. 132 (2): 333–348. doi:10.1642/AUK-14-110.1.
  4. ^ a b Barker, F.K.; Burns, K.J.; Klicka, J.; Lanyon, S.M.; Lovette, I.J. (2013). "Going to extremes: contrasting rates of diversification in a recent radiation of New World passerine birds". Systematic Biology. 62 (2): 298–320. doi:10.1093/sysbio/sys094. PMID 23229025.
  5. ^ a b c Oliveros, C.H.; et al. (2019). "Earth history and the passerine superradiation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 116 (16): 7916–7925. doi:10.1073/pnas.1813206116. PMC 6475423. PMID 30936315.
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2020). "IOC World Bird List Version 10.2". International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  7. ^ Kuhl, H.; Frankl-Vilches, C.; Bakker, A.; Mayr, G.; Nikolaus, G.; Boerno, S.T.; Klages, S.; Timmermann, B.; Gahr, M. (2020). "An unbiased molecular approach using 3′-UTRs resolves the avian family-level tree of life". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 38: 108–127. doi:10.1093/molbev/msaa191. PMC 7783168. PMID 32781465.
  8. ^ Klicka, J.; Johnson, K.P.; Lanyon, S.M. (2000). "New World nine-primaried oscine relationships: constructing a mitochondrial DNA framework". The Auk. 117 (2): 321–336. doi:10.1093/auk/117.2.321.

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Nine-primaried oscine
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