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Grey-breasted spurfowl in Serengeti National Park.
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Tribe: Coturnicini
Genus: Pternistis
Wagler, 1832
Type species
Tetrao capensis[1] = Tetrao afer
Gmelin, 1788

See text



Pternistis is a genus of galliform birds formerly classified in the spurfowl group of the partridge subfamily of the pheasant family. They are described as "partridge-francolins" in literature establishing their phylogenetic placement outside the monophyletic assemblage of true spurfowls. All species are endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa, excepted the double-spurred spurfowl (also present in Morocco). They are commonly known as spurfowls or francolins, but are closely related to jungle bush quail, Alectoris rock partridges, and Coturnix quail. The species are strictly monogamous, remaining mated indefinitely. They procure most of their food by digging. Spurfowls subsist almost entirely on roots, beans of leguminous shrubs and trees, tubers, and seeds, and feasting opportunistically on termites, ants, locusts, flowers, and fruit. Important predators are jackals, caracals, servals, and birds of prey, as well as herons and marabou storks.

Harsh, grating calls typical of Pternistis species: P. swainsonii and P. adspersus


The genus Pternistis was introduced by the German naturalist Johann Georg Wagler in 1832.[2] The name is from the Ancient Greek pternistēs meaning "one who strikes with the heel".[3] The type species was designated by the English zoologist George Robert Gray in 1841 as the Cape spurfowl (Pternistis capensis).[4][5]

Most of the species within the genus formerly included "francolin" in their common name.[6] Beginning in 2004 various ornithologists have recommended that it would be clearer to restrict the use of "francolin" to members of the genus Francolinus and closely related genera (Peliperdix, Ortygornis, Campocolinus, Scleroptila) and to use "spurfowl" for all members of the genus Pternistis.[7][8] Both are in different tribes within the subfamily Pavoninae: Pternistis is placed with the Old World quails in the tribe Coturnicini, while the true francolins are placed with the junglefowl in the tribe Gallini.[9] This recommendation was adopted in 2020 by Frank Gill and colleagues in the online list of world birds that they maintain on behalf of the International Ornithological Committee (IOC).[6] The common name "spurfowl" is also used for the three Asian species that are placed in the genus Galloperdix.[6]


Depiction of Scaly spurfowl (Pternistis squamatus).
Phylogenetic tree based on a study published in 2019.[8][6]

The genus contains 23 species:[6]


  1. ^ Mandiwana-Neudani et al (2019) did not sample DNA from the black-fronted spurfowl (Pternistis atrifrons) but suggested the taxon should be considered as a subspecies of the chestnut-naped spurfowl (Pternistis castaneicollis).[8] In contrast, Töpfer et al (2015) sampled mitochondrial DNA from the black-fronted spurfowl and concluded the taxon should be treated as a distinct species.[10]
  2. ^ Mandiwana-Neudani et al. (2019) split the scaly spurfowl and elevate Schuett's spurfowl (Pternistis squamatus schuetti) to a full species.[8]
  3. ^ Mandiwana-Neudani et al. (2019) split the red-necked spurfowl and elevate Cranch’s spurfowl (Pternistis afer cranchii) to a full species.[8]


  1. ^ "Phasianidae". The Trust for Avian Systematics. Retrieved 2023-08-05.
  2. ^ Wagler, Johann Georg (1832). "Neue Sippen und Gattungen der Säugthiere und Vögel". Isis von Oken (in German and Latin). 1832. cols 1218–1235 [1229].
  3. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 322. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  4. ^ Gray, George Robert (1841). A List of the Genera of Birds : with their Synonyma and an Indication of the Typical Species of Each Genus (2nd ed.). London: R. and J.E. Taylor. p. 79.
  5. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 84.
  6. ^ a b c d e Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2020). "Pheasants, partridges, francolins". IOC World Bird List Version 10.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  7. ^ Crowe, T.M.; Little, R.M. (2004). "Francolins, partridges and spurfowls: what's in a name". Ostrich. 75 (4): 199–203. Bibcode:2004Ostri..75..199C. doi:10.2989/00306520409485445. S2CID 83631933.
  8. ^ a b c d e Mandiwana-Neudani, T.G.; Little, R.M.; Crowe, T.M.; Bowie, R.C.K. (2019). "Taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of African spurfowls Galliformes, Phasianidae, Phasianinae, Coturnicini: Pternistis spp" (PDF). Ostrich. 90 (2): 145–172. Bibcode:2019Ostri..90..145M. doi:10.2989/00306525.2019.1584925. S2CID 195417777.
  9. ^ "Galliformes". bird-phylogeny (in German). Retrieved 2021-08-02.
  10. ^ Töpfer, T.; Podsiadlowski, L.; Gedeon, K. (2014). "Rediscovery of the black-fronted francolin Pternistis (castaneicollis) atrifrons (Conover, 1930) (Aves: Galliformes: Phasianidae) with notes on biology, taxonomy and conservation" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 64 (2): 261–271. doi:10.3897/vz.64.e31494. S2CID 111377664.

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