INTRODUCTION & BIOLOGY
On Home-Earth, Apodimorphaea includes a number of species, including swifts and hummingbirds. In Spec, however, this clade is somewhat more restricted, relegated almost entirely to the Americas.
Until the middle of the Cenozoic, it seems, Spec's p-apodimorphs enjoyed a more global spread of influence, the most specious of their clades being the p-apodiforms (the swifts familiar to Home-Earth). Eocene p-apodiforms have been discovered in Spec's France, and clearly occupied the flying-insectivore niche that is today dominated by the twitavian mistriders. Perhaps because of competition from the mistriders, the p-apodiforms declined throughout the Pliocene, vanishing some 10 million years before the present day.
However, a New World branch of the p-apodimorph family tree produced a second radiation of this clade and has managed to gain a second chance for survival. This radiation produced the clades Agilifugiiformes and p-Trochiliformes, which quickly spread throughout the Americas.
The swoops (Agilifugiiformes) and hummingbirds (p-Trochiliformes) evolved in South America, isolated from the mistrider invasion, and have since spread across the Americas and even into Eurasia.
No fossils of these birds have been found, but DNA hybridization studies show that they are somewhat related to the hummingbirds, and likely evolved in South America during the Pliocene, shortly before the Great Faunal Interchange. These birds rapidly spread throughout the Americas, evolving in parallel with the passerine New World flycatchers of Home-Earth. Swoops are somewhat more robust than the mistriders that are their principal competition, and generally hunt during the day, leaving the dusk and dawn to their twitavian counterparts.
VELOCIPTERYGIDAE (Crested swoops)
Crested Swoop (Velocipteryx coronata)
A very small subclade of the agiliforms, Velocipterygidae (the crested swoops) includes only a single genus, Velocipteryx, and is endemic to the rainforests of South America. Although several aspects of their anatomy (wide mouths, small feet, short humeri, sickle-shaped wings, etc.) are distinctly agiliform, other velocipteryxid features are distinctively their own.
Velocipterygid feet, for instance, are particularly bizarre. Unlike the majority of other birds (and all other apodimorphs), crested swoops do not possess anisodactyl feet---with three toes projecting forward and the hallux projecting backward to form a grasping appendage---, but pamprodactyl feet. In a pamprodactylous foot, all four toes project forward under normal conditions, but the outer two toes can be swiveled around to oppose the inner two toes when the bird is perching. This pedal arrangement creates a strong grip (indeed, velocipterygids are completely at home clambering around trees and sheer rock cliffs) and is remarkably similar to the pedal arrangement of the apodids, or true swifts, of Spec's past and Earth's present. Genetic studies are pending, but preliminary analysis indicates that the crested swoops, while related to true swifts as fellow apodimorphs, are no more closely related to their extinct cousins than are other agilifugiforms. Thus, the crested swoops' pamprodactylous feet represent a truly bizarre form of cross-universal convergence, rather than a link to the apodids.
Found only in the cloud forests of the equatorial mountains of western South America, the crested swoop (Velocipteryx coronata) is considered by most scholars to be the most primitive of the agilifugiform species. The crested swoop and the other two species that share its genus share the short humeri and sickle-shaped wings of all the agilifugiforms, however, the birds' heavily-built skulls and bizarre feet cast doubt upon their precice phylogeny and have cast the genus Velocipteryx into its own subclade.
In their behavior, crested swoops are similar to other agilifugiforms, in that they are high-speed acrobats, specializing in chasing and catching flying insects on the wing. The birds occupy the highest canopy of the forest, darting about over the trees during the dawn and dusk, and then retiring to their nests within hollow trunks during the middle of the day and night. They are not particularly vocal, but are known to give forth a nasal pswi when feeding.
The most diverse family of Agilifugiiformes, Agilifugiidae includes most of the high-speed chasers of insects common to the New World.
Hmungos, those giant hadrosaurs that roam across the plains of North America, form the nucleus of a complex web of symbiotic relationships, from the internal flukes that feed upon their blood to the plants whose seedpods attach themselves to the herbivores' gargantuan feet. One of the most noticeable of the hmungo's many symbiotes is the hawk-sized hmungo-swoop.
Hmungo-Swoop (Agilifuga rufa)
The hmungo-swoop (Agilifuga rufa) is one of the larger species of clade Agilifugiiformes, a group of non-passerine, Spec-endemic birds that occupy most of the high-speed-pursuit insectivorous niches in the New World. Even among their kin, hmungo-swoops are particularly agile in the air, as they feed upon the swarms of flying insects that the hmungos' progress stirs up from the grass. These birds highly social, banding together in closely-knit flocks as they herd flying insects into manageable clumps. The hmungo-swoops, executing maneuvers of dazzling complexity, then proceed to snap up the clumps even as they break apart, inhaling insects like avian vacuum cleaners.
Hmungo-swoops may be found across North America, but are most common in grasslands, where they follow the hmungo herds in their endless search for food. Like most agilifugids, hmungo-swoops mate for life, and build their nests from mud, which they cement to the insides of hollow trees or other well-protected, vertical surfaces. No call is known for this species, but studies suggest that they may make use of supersonics for communication.
Alaskan Shuttlecock (Chaeturoides borealis)
The plump, rounded body of an Alaskan shuttlecock (Chaeturoides borealis) seems very different from the sleek, aerodynamic figure of a hmungo-swoop, but the birds are actually closely related, both part of the clade agilifugidae, the agile-wings. Shuttlecocks dwell on the tundra of the northernmost reaches of North America, feeding upon the hordes of insects that dwell in this area during the brief summer.
Alaskan shuttlecocks are highly migratory, and winter in southern North America during the Alaskan winter. These birds are also casual visitors to Eurasia by way Siberia, and share a recent ancestor with the Eurasian agilifugids.
Great Bigmouth (Oravis rex)
With a wingspan of a little less than half a meter, the great bigmouth (Oravis rex) is the largest of the agilifugiforms. Bigmouths, with their large heads, heavy bills, and short wings (compared to other agiliforms) are a far cry from their more acrobatic cousins and prey upon grasshoppers and small vertebrates. Found in southern North America and Central America, bigmouths are most common near streams and lakes, where their frog-like, croaking calls are difficult to ignore.
The minnies are minute insectivores that invaded North America during the Great Interchange along with the other apodimorphs. Superficially similar to their cousins, the hummingbirds, minnies are insectivorous and do not eat nectar, nor do they hover. These birds compete with the smaller North American coraciiforms for their ecological niche, and have largely replaced these native birds in the southern parts of North America.
Redshrouded Minny (Paramicrofugia colubris)
The redshrouded minny (Paramicrofugia colubris) is a denizen the p-Sequoia forests of western North America, where it feeds upon gnats, wasps, and insect larvae high up in the branches of the giant conifers. Common, but rarely seen, these minnies construct nests of spider silk and lichen (as do their cousins, the hummingbirds) and are not at all vocal.
Plummy Minny (Paramicrofugia bicolor)
Plummy minnies (Paramicrofugia bicolor) can be found in the bayous and swamps around the Gulf of Mexico, where they eat a variety of insects.
While the plants in RL make liberal use of toxins and other chemical deterrents to herbivores, the plants of Spec are under even more massive attack from large herbivores. As a result, they show a wider range of thorns, barbs, and toxins. Some of these Spec plants even produce toxins in their nectar, to keep herbivores from eating their flowers. Many of these plants are pollinated exclusively by hummingbirds of the family Pyroniphidae.
Scarlet hummingbird (Anthornis rosea)
The Scarlet hummingbird (Anthornis rosea) is one of those elusive but beautiful birds that inhabit the mountainous regions of South America. Their plumage imitates the color of the flowers of the Poisonous tobacco (Nicotax fatalis) that are of a brilliant rose with fringes white. Their aroma is sweet, but the nectar concentrates a dose of nicotine that is lethal for many small animals, even that inocuous for most of the big plant eaters. This bush that can reach the 2 meters of high, lived in humid areas of the mountain range of the Andes. The Scarlet hummingbird it flies of bush in bush consuming the abundant nectar. In time of mating that coincides with the phase of fructification of the plant, it builds a small nest in the a dense area of the bush. It is during this period that the plant produces bigger quantity of alkaloids, what maintains far to the consumers.
PYRONIPHIDAE (Fire sparks)
For each of these flowering plant species with a toxic nectar component, there is one or more species of hummingbird that is immune to the effects, and feeds almost exclusively on that plant species or genus. In some cases, the association is so strong that the hummingbirds have derived coloration to match their flowers of choice, so that they are somewhat hidden at long distances. A few species of Spec hummingbird actually concentrate some of the toxic nectar alkaloids in their oil glands, and apply them to their feathers while preening. These species have even more outlandish color schemes than most hummingbirds (which are spectacular as they are), and show off almost impossibly bright warning colorations, similar to the poison dart frogs of RL. These species are usually also larger and somewhat less nimble in the air than other hummingbirds.
Black Dart (Dardum nigrum)
Pyroniphids are particularly associated with the most common and successful of the toxic plants of Spec's South America: the p-Solanacea. This family, common on RL as tomatoes and allies, is particularly diverse in Spec and, with many species far more toxic than anything our timeline has produced. The fire sparks are most often associated with the p-solanaceas, which contain the alkaloid solanine in their leaves and other green parts (the chlorenchyma). The plants with which the hummingbirds most often associate also concentrate these poisons in their nectar. Most of these plants have green, tomato-like fruit (also toxic) and the fire tomato (Dinosolanopsis atrox) is deadly even to large animals.
The most poisonous hummingbird on Spec is the pollinator of this plant: the black dart (Dardum nigrum). The fruits of this small tree-like plant, common in the Neotropical zone, are a beautiful yellow when ripe.
ANTHORNITHIDAE (Non-toxic flower hummingbirds)
The anthornithids are more varied that the other families on forms and alimentation. The green hummingbirds (genus Enantitrochilus and p-Trochilis) are the most similar to the RL trochilid, to dine upon on flowers of many of Spec's New World plants. The closely related tobacco hummingbirds (Anthornis, Anthoavis, Nenufuria,etc) are adapted to suck the toxic nectar of paranicoteacines and other plaints, but are not, in themselves, toxic.
The tobacco hummingbirds are most often associated with Paranicoteacinae (Spec tobacco plants), an angiosperm unrelated to Home Earth tobacco plants that has convergenly evolved to produce the alkaloid poison nicotine in their leafs and stems. Among these plants, the flowers are very are generally red or orange, and the fruit are protected by a strong outer casing, rather than poison.
In contrast to the brightly colored pyronphids and anthorithids, one unique group of Spec hummingbirds, the timbrinos, have derived the opposite approach to protection: they are cryptically colored feeders on nigh-blooming flowers. Rather than produce toxic flowers, many Spec plants (many more than in RL) keep their flowers in good condition by opening at night, after the giant herbivores are asleep. For unknown reasons, there are only a very few nectar-feeding bats in the Spec's Americas, and, instead timbrinos frequent these night-blooming flowers, which they find with the aid of their noses, which are, for birds, unusually sensitive.
Nocturnal Timbrino (Optthalmornis nocturnus)
Most timbrinos have amazingly cryptic coloration, rivaled in the bird world only by the frogmouths and kin, which allow them to nearly disappear into the side of a branch. In motionless torpor during the day, these small hummers look like large thorns or tiny knobs of wood.
Common Timbrino (Timbrimus crepuscularis)
The common timbrino, as its name suggests, is widespread and populous across much of South and Central America. Naturalists, however, may never see one of these creatures, even as they hide in plain sight on tree branches or amid clumps of moss. Usually, the only hint of the timbrinos' presence is their high whistling call, most often heard around dusk. Birders may also find these cryptic hummingbirds by watching for them near their favorite night-blooming flowers.
- Daniel Bensen, Michael Habib, and Martin Chavez
,=Velocipterygidae=Velocipteryx coronata ( Crested Swoop )
| ,=Agilifuga rufa (Hmungo-swoop) | ,=Agilifugiinae=| | | `=Chaeturoides borealis (Alaskan shuttlecock) | ,=Agilifugiidae=| | | `=Oravinae=Oravis rex (Great bigmouth) `=| | ,=P. colubris (Redshrouded minny) | ,=Microfugiidae=Paramicrofugia=| `=| `=P. bicolor (Plummy minny) | | ,=Pyroniphidae=Dardum nigrum=(Black dart) | ,=| | | `=Anthornithidae `=p-Trochiliformes=| | ,=Timbrimus crepuscularis (Common timbrino) `=Timbrimidae=| `=Optthalmornis nocturnus (Nocturnal timbrino)