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A Look at Bird Orders. part 1 Galliformes

Updated on July 9, 2015

Typical Galliform bird



Birds, as are all living things, placed in orders,families and species.Here we look at the order of birds known as the Galliformes formerly known as the Gallinidae. They are birds such as poultry and those that look like poultry.

It is a very numerous and well defined Order of birds consisting of numerous genera and was once probably in strict systematic arrangements of several distinct families. Formerly under Cuvier's system, the pigeons and doves were included as a section of the Order.

Before we deal with the Galliformes we shall commence with a look at the general characteristics of that order,and then enumerate the leading genera worthy of attention.

The general characteristics of the Galliformes.

The legs of all these birds are adapted and formed for walking and the upper parts accordingly,well supplied with muscles. However, the muscles in them are not so completely concentrated upon the legs as they are in the Ostrich family,and other birds that posses no power of flight. On the other hand , the Galliformes,though not in any case birds of long flight,are remarkable for the way in which they take to the wing and also descend.

The peculiar structure of their wings is adapted for those purposes. The front toes are mostly united at their base by a short membrane,and toothed along their margin. The upper mandible is arched,the nostrils pierced in a broad membranous space at the base of the bill and partly covered with a cartilaginous scale.

They have short wings,a heavy gait,a bony sternum,diminished by two notches,so deep and broad that they occupy nearly all its sides, its ridge obliquely truncated forwards,so that the sharp point of the fork is united to it only by a ligament,a circumstance which,by weakening the pectoral muscles,render their flight laborious. The general number of the tail feathers is fourteen but it varies from that to eighteen or twenty in some species.

From the structure of their larynx being simple, their note is seldom agreeable. Their crop is very wide and they have a very vigorous gizzard. Nearly the whole species lay and hatch their eggs on the ground,on bits of straw,or herbage carelessly put together. In many of the genera, but not in all, the males are polygamous ,each having a number of females in his harem,and as with many other birds, they all belong to the strongest victor.

The males in most species are furnished with spurs on their tarsi. They walk and strut very majestically and with a certain grace,they also run very nimbly. They fly with difficulty and produce a whirring sound when they do so.

Ringed necked Pheasant in flight.The flight is heavy and accompanied by a whirring sound.


Pigeon anatomy

Under Cuvier's system the pigeons were classed with Galliformes
Under Cuvier's system the pigeons were classed with Galliformes | Source

Galliformes-Feeding and Digestion

Though they chiefly subsist on grains and the seeds of plants,they will eat insects,grubs and worms which are macerated in their crops. the gastric juices ,it appears,will not dissolve entire grains. Those of Barley for example,enclosed in tubes are not affected by its action.However, should the grains by any means be broken,or ground,they dissolve very speedily.

The food undergoes previous trituration in the gizzard,a very strong muscular viscus,whose internal coat is hard and cartilaginous. But as this is not the sort of animal substance suited to the reception of glands,or to the secretion, the gastric juice in this family is not supplied by the stomach itself,but in the gullet,in which the feeding glands are placed,and from which it trickles down into the stomach.

When our domestic fowls are abundantly supplied with food,they speedily fill their crop, but its contents do not pass immediately into the gizzard,and at all times they enter in very small quantities in proportion to the progress of trituration.

Free range hens produce good eggs in such numbers as to help the human economy | Source

Galliformes and human economy

The principal part of the species belonging to this order are very quickly ,and without much trouble tamed,and on account of their flesh,their feathers and eggs are very useful to mankind. So valuable indeed, are they in all these respects that it is doubtful whether they were more prized domesticated and in the ornamental species or in their natural state.

Birds such as the Golden pheasant are very ornamental to mankind

uploaded to Commons via Fanghong
uploaded to Commons via Fanghong | Source

Ptarmigan are birds of mountain tops

Denali National Park
Denali National Park | Source

Capercaille {Wood grouse} is a bird of mountainous Pine forests


Red grouse makes its home on high moor-land wilderness


The Partridge makes its home at lower elevations on the first cultivated land.

Image taken at Renesse Netherlands
Image taken at Renesse Netherlands | Source

The range and habitat of the Galliformes

The range of these birds in their different genera is probably greater than in any other order of birds. We find them resident all the year round {with a very few exceptions},in the very extreme of latitudes,upon the wilds of Lapland,in the wilderness of North America and on the tops of the most lofty mountain tops here in the UK.

Here they abide habitually higher than any other living creature,and changing colour,so as to resemble the lichen-clad stone in summer and the unstained white of mountain snow in the winter. Then we come to the less elevated but more extended heath,which is still a wilderness,we find races that make this wilderness their home. Due to the many enemies these birds tend to breed in large numbers. The Black grouse ** is as loyal to the moorland/woodland home as the Ptarmigan is to the summit of the lofty mountain,or the Red grouse to the upland moor-land.

The Pine forests also plays host to this order of birds for in the vast assemblages of Pine trees and other trees of great growth which fills the dells and stand over the steeps of Scandinavian mountains,the Wood grouse, better known as the Capercaiile ** one of the most splendid birds of this order was once so numerous as to form a considerable article of export.

In the lower elevations and richer pastures,and just below the home of the Red grouse,the Partridge finds its home.on the first cultivated land,and it still occurs almost to the human habitations. Lower still the quail was once commonly found.

Most of the Galliformes of the northern hemisphere groups are similar and the species adapt themselves to circumstances to which they find themselves. In the southern continents,however, where the oceans divide the continents from each other,they tend to be very different. Of the species which are best known as migrant birds of Europe the greater number are from the south east of Asia, the common home of the domestic fowl,the peacock and at least all the more brightly plumaged pheasants.

In Africa we have the guinea fowl and in America the most characteristic bird which was once described as being 'Absurdly named the Turkey-as if it had come from quite another part of the world'

Galliformes seem to have been most abundant in the parts of the world which are also the chief haunts of the ruminating animals,the Galliformes,like those animals always feed on the ground.

** This species has been reviewed in detail in my series {Birds of Europe}

Ceylon Jungle fowl looks very like the domestic rooster.


A look at the domestic cock a very familiar Galliforme

The domestic poultry Gallus gallus, belongs to the genus from which this Order was named, and as such it must be assumed a typical genus.Because the domestic poultry are so well known a detailed description is not required. However, we will look at the main characteristics of the male bird. The fleshy crest on the crown of the head,which usually consists of a single pectinated lamella, or plate,which is referred to as the 'comb',but is sometimes double or even formed into a kind of rosette.

The skin on the base of the under mandible is furnished with a pendent lobe of the same appearance and texture as the crest and referred to as 'wattles'. When the bird is in fine health these are bright red but if the bird is moulting or in bad health they become very pale. The tail consists of fourteen feathers,seven on each side, which fold backwards against each other when the bird is on the ground or at rest. The tail coverts are well produced and hang over the tail feathers in very graceful arches,they are often richly glossed with metallic reflections of bronze,purple and/or green,

The feathers on the neck are also well produced and pointed.These feathers are referred to as the 'hackle'.When the bird is at rest they forma mantle on the neck and the upper part of the shoulder,but when the bird is excited they are erected,a defensive mode that reflects any blow by any other cock bird aimed at that part of the body.

All species varieties have a naked patch on the cheeks and around the eyes which is of the same texture as the comb and wattle and varies in colour the same way. This character also belongs to the females as well as the male,however, in the femles the crest and wattle are merely rudimental,excepting in some individuals which have become barren and they acquire a sort of nueter appearance,intermediate between that of the male and the fertile female.

The male is furnished with a horny spur on the tarsus,which is again an effective defensive tool. This is also only rudimental {if at all} visible in the fertile female,it sometimes occurs on those that have become barren. This however, is a sure sign that the female has ceased to useful from a domestic point of view.

It would take to much space trying to describe all the various species and varieties of domestic fowl. they are found living in almost every climate from the hottest heat to the most intense cold,and it appears they have accompanied man in all his migrations. Some have the tarsi bare while others are feathered down to the division of the toes.

In some varieties the crest on top of the head are replaced by a tuft of feathers,which is often very handsome but in some varieties,these feathers are so long as to hang down over the eyes and obstruct the vision of the bird. Some have the wattle and comb almost black.

Perhaps the most famouse of all is the cock's early morning call when the grey of the morning is only faintly broken in the east,the Cock-a-doodle-doo. Pliny, wrote " next to the peacock the birds which are most sensible to glory are these active sentinels which nature has produced to rouse us from our Matin slumbers,and send us to our daily occupations"

In part two of the Galliformes, we review two species of Pheasant and the Peacock

A male in fine health



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb you are so right. They are a very interesting group as you will be aware. This is the first of what will be at least four articles on this group of birds. best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      And such useful birds they are, as well as some very fine companion birds.


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