Are New World vultures really storks?
What’s the biggest bird of prey in the world? Andean Condor, right? Well, if you’ve had that question come up in a bird club quiz in recent years, it might have provoked a bit of argument about the result. Somebody, I guarantee, will have argued that the five species of New World vulture (King, Black, Turkey, Lesser Yellow-headed and Greater Yellow-headed) and two species of Condor (Andean and California) are actually not related to the Accipitriformes, which includes Old World Vultures, at all, but are in fact related to storks and herons. For a time, that was accepted as fact, but it was based on erroneous data in an early DNA study. More recent studies show that they’re closely related to, but still distinct from the Accipitriformes. So, our humble Grey Heron and Little Egret can’t claim super-sized raptors as their more illustrious relatives. They do, though, share an order (Pelecaniformes) with the ibises and spoonbills (no surprise there), as well as the Shoebill and Hamerkop – two of Africa’s most bizarre-looking birds, it turns out, are each other’s closest relatives.
SHOEBILL They’re among the world’s most instantly recognisable birds ANDEAN CONDOR This huge raptor is found in South America GREY HERON Most of us see them close to home, sometimes even on garden ponds! HAMERKOP This African bird is related to the Shoebill GRIFFON VULTURE Widespread in southern Europe, where it feeds on carrion