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Intention Movements of Flight in Certain Passerines, and Their Use in Systematics

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Unritualised, and certain ritualised intention movements of flight express the tendency to fly, but are only given intensely when an incompatible tendency is simultaneously present. The incomplete take-offs, wing-flicks and tail-flicks of Emberiza spp. are described. A study was made of the tail-flicks of about 100 passerines (chiefly Emberizines, Richmondenines, Carduelines and Ploceids), in which the lateral displacement, the spread and the vertical amplitude of the tail-flicks were roughly quantified. The flicks were also divided into four types according to their vertical form. One of these types ("wagtail" flicking) has been developed several times by insectivores feeding on the ground, perhaps because of an effect from the pattern of running or rapid hopping. Tail-flicks are useful in systematics ; they help to define the Emberizinae, and suggest that Fringilla is most closely related to the Carduelinae, and that the Estrildinae are a natural and somewhat isolated group. Different species of Buntings differ in the frequency with which they tail-flick in a standard environment: this depends largely on differences in the amount to which they use flight in locomotion, but partly on differences in the emancipation of the flicks. In general, those species which tail-flick most often in normal locomotion have the most exaggerated flick. The main function of tail-flicks is probably to make a bird conspicuous to its fellows or mate, especially before take-off, and so keep it in touch with them.

Affiliations: 1: (Ornithological Field Station, Madingley, Dept. of Zoology, Cambridge


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