AskDefine | Define wildfowl

Word Net

wildfowl n : flesh of any of a number of wild game birds suitable for food



wild + fowl


  • waɪldfaʊl


  1. Any wild bird such as ducks, geese or swans
  2. waterfowl


  1. to hunt a wildfowl.
    • 2005, Plato, Sophist. Translation by Lesley Brown. 220b.
      The hunting of the kind of winged creatures, taken as a whole, is called wildfowling
Waterbird redirects here. See also shorebirds and seabirds.
Anatidae is the biological family that includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl, such as geese and swans. These are birds that are evolutionarily adapted for swimming, floating on the water surface, and in some cases diving in at least shallow water. (The Magpie-goose is no longer considered to be part of the Anatidae, but is placed in its own family Anseranatidae.)
Extant species range in size from the Cotton Pygmy Goose, at as little as 26.5 cm (10.5 inches) and 164 grams (5.8 oz), to the Trumpeter Swan, at as much as 183 cm (6 ft) and 17.2 kg (38 lb). They have webbed feet and bills which are flattened to a greater or lesser extent. Their feathers are excellent at shedding water due to special oils. Anatidae are remarkable for being one of the few families of birds that possess a penis; they are adapted for copulation on the water only. Duck, eider, and goose feathers and down have long been popular for bedspreads, pillows, sleeping bags and coats. The members of this family also have long been used for food.
Humans have had a long relationship with ducks, geese and swans; they are important economically and culturally to humans, and several duck species have benefited from an association with people. On the flip side some anatids are damaging agricultural pests, and have acted as vectors for zoonosis such as avian influenza. Numerous ducks and geese have become extinct due to the activities of humans, and many more are currently considered threatened species.
While the status of the Anatidae as a family is straightforward, and there is little debate about which species properly belong to it, the relationships of the different tribes and subfamilies within it are poorly understood. The listing in the box at right should be regarded as simply one of several possible ways of organising the many species within the Anatidae; see discussion in the next section.


Currently, the systematics of the Anatinae is in a state of flux. Previously divided into six subfamilies, a study of anatomical characters by Livezey suggest that the Anatidae are better treated in nine subfamilies. This classification was popular in the late 1980s to 1990s. But mtDNA sequence analyses indicate that for example the dabbling and diving ducks do not belong in the same subfamily. While there are certainly shortcomings in Livezey's analysis, mtDNA is an unreliable source for phylogenetic information in many waterfowl (especially dabbling ducks) due to their ability to produce fertile hybrids, in rare cases possibly even beyond the level of genus (see for example the "Barbary Duck"). Due to the small sample size of many molecular studies available to date, mtDNA results must be considered with caution.
But while a comprehensive review of the Anatidae which unites all evidence into a robust phylogeny is still lacking, the reasons for the confusing data are at least clear: As demonstrated by the Late Cretaceous fossil Vegavis iaai — an early modern waterbird which belonged to an extinct lineage — the Anatidae are an ancient group among the modern birds. Their earliest direct ancestors, though not documented by fossils yet, likewise can be assumed to have been contemporaries with the dinosaurs. The long period of evolution and shifts from one kind of waterbird lifestyle to another have obscured many plesiomorphies, while apomorphies apparently are quite often the result of parallel evolution, for example the "non-diving duck" type displayed by such unrelated genera as Dendrocygna, Amazonetta, and Cairina. For the fossil record, see below.
Alternatively, the Anatidae may be considered to consist of 3 subfamilies (ducks, geese, and swans, essentially) which contain the groups as presented here as tribes, with the swans separated as subfamily Cygninae, the goose subfamily Anserinae also containing the whistling ducks, and the Anatinae containing all other clades.

Dendrocygninae: whistling ducks

One pantropical genus, of distinctive long-legged goose-like birds:

Thalassorninae: White-backed Duck

One genus in Africa, most closely related to the subfamily Dendrocygninae, though also showing convergent similarities to the subfamily Oxyurinae:

Anserinae: swans and geese

Three to seven extant genera with 25-30 living species, mainly cool temperate Northern Hemisphere but also some Southern Hemisphere species, with the swans in one genus (two genera in some treatments), and the geese in three genera (two genera in some treatments). Some other species are sometimes placed herein, but seem somewhat more distinct (see below):
  • Cygnus: true swans (7 species, 4 sometimes separated in Olor)
  • Anser: grey geese (7 species)
  • Chen: white geese (3 species, sometimes included in Anser)
  • Branta: black geese (8 living species)

Stictonettinae: Freckled Duck

One genus in Australia, formerly included in the Oxyurinae, but with anatomy suggesting a distinct ancient lineage perhaps closest to the Anserinae, especially the Cape Barren Goose:

Plectropterinae: Spur-winged Goose

One genus in Africa, formerly included in the "perching ducks", but closer to the Tadorninae:

Tadorninae: shelducks and sheldgeese

This group of larger, often semi-terrestrial waterfowl can be seen as intermediate between Anserinae and Anatinae. The 1986 revision and the group in the traditional lineup is likely to be paraphyletic:

Anatinae: dabbling ducks and moa-nalos

The dabbling duck group, of worldwide distribution, were previously restricted to just one or two genera, but had been extended. Furthermore, while morphologically close to dabbling ducks, the mtDNA data indicates that a treatment as distinct subfamily is indeed correct, with the Tadorninae being actually closer to dabbling ducks than the diving ducks are:
  • Netta: Red-crested Pochard and allies (4 species, one probably extinct)
  • Aythya: pochards, scaups, etc (12 species)

Merginae: eiders, scoters, sawbills and other sea-ducks

There are 9 extant genera and some 20 living species; most of this group occur in the Northern Hemisphere, but a few (mostly extinct) mergansers in the Southern Hemisphere:

Oxyurinae: stiff-tail ducks

A small group of 3-4 genera, 2-3 of them monotypic, with 7-8 living species:
  • Oxyura: stiff-tailed ducks (5 living species)
  • Nomonyx: Masked Duck
  • Biziura: Musk Ducks (1 living species, provisionally placed here)
  • Heteronetta: Black-headed Duck


  • Cygnavus (Early Oligocene of Kazakhstan - Early Miocene of Germany)
  • Cygnopterus (Middle Oligocene of Belgium - Early Miocene of France) - sometmes included in Cygnavus
  • Megalodytes (Middle Miocene of California, USA)
  • "cf. Megalodytes" (Haraichi Middle Miocene of Annaka, Japan)
  • Anserobranta (Late Miocene of C Europe) - includes "Anas" robusta, validity doubtful
  • Presbychen (Temblor Late Miocene of Sharktooth Hill, USA)
  • Afrocygnus (Late Miocene ?- Early Pliocene of C Sahara, Africa)
  • Paracygnus (Kimball Late Pliocene of Nebraska, USA)
  • Eremochen (Pliocene)
  • Miotadorna (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • Tadorninae gen. et sp. indet. (Calvert Middle Miocene of Maryland, USA)
  • Balcanas (Early Pliocene of Dorkovo, Bulgaria) - may be synonym of Tadorna or even Common Shelduck
  • Anabernicula (Late Pliocene ?- Late Pleistocene of SW and W North America)
  • Brantadorna (Middle Pleistocene of Vallecito Creek, USA)
  • Nannonetta (Late Pleistocene of Peru)
Anatinae incertae sedis
  • Guguschia (Oligocene of Azerbaijan) - Anserinae?
  • "Anas" luederitzensis (Kalahari Early Miocene of Lüderitzbucht, Namibia) - Anatinae?
  • Dunstanetta (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • Matanas (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. MNZ S42797 (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • "Oxura" doksana (Early Miocene of Dolnice, Czechia)
  • "Aythya" chauvirae (Middle Miocene of Sansan, France and Credinţa, Romania) - 2 species
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. (Middle Miocene of Nördlinger Ries, Germany) - tadornine?
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. (Sajóvölgyi Middle Miocene of Mátraszõlõs, Hungary
  • "Anas" meyerii (Middle Miocene of Öhningen, Germany)
  • "Anas" velox (Middle - Late? Miocene of C Europe) - Anatinae? May include "A." meyerii
  • "Anas" isarensis (Late Miocene of Aumeister, Germany) - Anatinae?
  • ?Anser scaldii (Late Miocene of Antwerp, Belgium) - anserine or tadornine
  • "Anas" eppelsheimensis (Early Pliocene of Eppelsheim, Germany) - Anatinae?
  • Aldabranas (Late Pleistocene of Aldabra, Indian Ocean) - Tadorninae or Anatinae
  • "Chenopis" nanus - at least 2 taxa, may be living species (Pleistocene of Australia)
Putative or disputed prehistoric anatids are:
  • Romainvillia (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene) - Anseranatidae or Anatidae (own subfamily)
  • Loxornis (Deseado Early Oligocene of Argentina)
  • Paracygnopterus (Early Oligocene of Belgium and England)
  • Limicorallus (Indricotherium Middle Oligocene of Chelkar-Teniz, Kazakhstan)
  • Teleornis (Deseado Early Oligocene of Argentina)
  • Chenornis (Early Miocene) - Anserinae or Phalacrocoracidae
  • Paranyroca (Rosebud Early Miocene of Bennett County, USA) - distinct Anatinae subfamily or own family
  • Eoneornis (Miocene of Argentina) - Anatinae? A nomen dubium
  • Eutelornis (Miocene of Argentina) - Anatinae?



  • (2001): Fossil Evidence for a Diverse Biota from Kauaʻi and Its Transformation since Human Arrival. Ecological Monographs 71(4): 615-641.
  • (1992): Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese and Swans). In: : Handbook of Birds of the World (Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks): 536-629. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-10-5
  • (2001): Pink-headed Duck. In:Threatened Birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data Book: 489-501. BirdLife International. ISBN 0-946888-44-2 HTML fulltext
  • (1998-99): Középsõ-miocén õsmaradványok, a Mátraszõlõs, Rákóczi-kápolna alatti útbevágásból. I. A Mátraszõlõs 1. lelõhely [Middle Miocene fossils from the sections at the Rákóczi chapel at Mátraszőlős. Locality Mátraszõlõs I.]. Folia Historico Naturalia Musei Matraensis 23: 33-78. [Hungarian with English abstract] PDF fulltext
  • (1999): Phylogeny and biogeography of dabbling ducks (genus Anas): a comparison of molecular and morphological evidence. Auk 116(3): 792–805. PDF fulltext
  • (1986): A phylogenetic analysis of recent anseriform genera using morphological characters. Auk 103(4): 737-754. PDF fulltext DjVu fulltext
  • (1987): Wildfowl : an identification guide to the ducks, geese and swans of the world. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7470-2201-1
  • (1970): A new anseriform genus and species from the Nebraska Pliocene. Auk 87(3): 537-543. PDF fulltext
  • (1996): Molecular Relationships Within Australasian Waterfowl (Anseriformes). Australian Journal of Zoology 44(1): 47-58. (HTML abstract)
  • (1999): The Prehistory of Vertebrates, Especially Birds, on Tinian, Aguiguan, and Rota, Northern Mariana Islands. Micronesica 31(2): 319-345. PDF fulltext
  • (1991): The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Wings Books, New York. Reprint of 1980 edition. ISBN 0517032880

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