How to find your way among all those bird species?
Just imagine you see this cute bird on a beach in French Guiana, and are -like me- largely unfamiliar with the fauna over there. If you have a camera equipped with a telephoto lens, you can take a picture and check later the bird’s identity, a real chance for birdwatchers nowadays (my own equipment is quite light, about 1.5 kg, a big advantage when traveling abroad). You can then rely on internet searches, looking for images of birds with relevant keywords. But recall that there are some 10,000 bird species worldwide, some of which have been rarely photographed. Or you can use a field guide. For French Guiana, all we have is a list of the 713 bird species identified to date [edit: 729]. Fortunately, most birds from French Guiana can be seen in Venezuela, and there is a nice field guide to the birds of Venezuela, which I could borrow from a friend. Nearly 1,300 species are illustrated in this book, grouped according to birds’ taxonomy. The bird here definitely looks like a ‘perching bird’, that is a passerine, a group that includes over half of all the bird species. They are generally quite small and their feet have three toes directed forward and one toe directed backward. Their leg arrangement includes a tendon which is automatically pulled when the leg bends, causing the foot to curl and become stiff when the bird lands on a branch. Two major groups of passerines exist. The ‘songbirds’ (Passeri) include about 4,000 species and are worldwide in distribution. They have a complex voice box (syrinx) and song learning capacity. In contrast, the other group (Tyranni) are thought to sing ‘innate’ songs and is largely neotropical, with about 1,000 species. This bird belongs to this second group, and more precisely to the Tyrant flycatchers, the largest extant bird family, with 436 species described, all insectivorous and all from the New World. They are very diverse, looking like tits, warblers, shrikes, jays, wagtails, or thrushes, for instance. Here it is the pied water-tyrant (Fluvicola pica, ‘moucherolle pie’ in French), reminiscent of but unrelated to our old world pied flycatcher.