Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Saturday, 31 October 2015


Reconstruction of the makalala's possible appearance in life (© Markus Bühler)

Here's something suitable for Hallowe'en from the cryptozoological chronicles – a monster bird with a taste for flesh...human flesh.

No one doubts that the tallest species of bird alive today is Struthio camelus, the ostrich - no-one, that is, except for the Wasequa people (most probably an alternative, kiSwahili name for the Zigua - see Pat the Plant's very informative comments posted at the end of this ShukerNature blog article - thanks Pat!), who inhabit an unspecified interior region of mainland Tanzania 8-9 days' journey from the coast of Zanzibar (the Zigua do live directly inland from Zanzibar).

According to a report by a Count Marschall (Bulletin de la Société Philomatique, 1878-9), as recently as the 1870s these people averred that their territory harboured a monstrous bird even taller than the 8-ft-high ostrich, equipped with very long legs, the head and beak of a bird of prey (which it puts to good use when feeding on carrion from animal carcases), and the ability to take to the air in sustained, powerful flight. Also, each of its wingtips bears hard plates composed of a horny, compact substance, and when it strikes its wings together they produce a very loud noise, earning this bird its local name - makalala ('noisy').

Marschall claimed that the makalala is said by the Wasequas to be very fierce, but can be killed if the correct strategy is employed. Engaging upon an extremely hazardous version of 'playing possum', the would-be assassin has to lie on the ground and feign death, until the makalala approaches close enough to seize the supposed human carcase - whereupon the latter must reanimate himself instantly and deliver the fatal blow before the makalala can rectify its mistake!

A second reconstruction of the makalala's possible appearance in life (© Tim Morris)

So far, this could all be discounted as fanciful native folklore - but physical remains of the makalala may have been recorded too. Marschall mentioned a Dr Fischer, who saw in Zanzibar an object that he identified unhesitatingly as a rib from some form of gigantic bird. Narrowing from one end to the other, this alleged rib had a width of 8 in at its widest end, and was just under 1 in at its narrowest end. Unfortunately, Marschall did not record whether Fischer sent it to a scientific institution for conclusive identification and retention.

However, Marschall did record another possible source of makalala remains - because he noted that native chiefs placed makalala skulls on their heads, using them as helmets! Could any of these bizarre examples of protective headgear still be owned today by Wasequa tribesmen?

Thanks to my afore-mentioned correspondent Pat, I now have a copy of a second makalala document from the same time period - namely, the published account by the Dr Fischer alluded to by Marschall in his own report. He was Dr Gustav A. Fischer, and his account of the makalala was part of a much longer report co-authored in German with Dr A. Reichenow, which was published in 1878 within the Journal für Ornithologie. Interestingly, in his own account Fischer described the makalala as being very shy (rather than very fierce as claimed for him by Marschall in his report), and stated that he was reluctant to believe that the rib-like structure came from a bird (whereas Marschall claimed that Fischer readily identified it as such), but otherwise the two descriptions correspond well with one another.

Assuming, against all the odds, that the makalala is real - that the frightening scenario of a carnivorous bird taller than the ostrich surviving into historical times somewhere in mainland Tanzania's interior is not a grotesque fantasy but a sober fact - what could it be? Several interesting, albeit mutually-exclusive lines of speculation compete for attention.

The first of these to be discussed here was kindly brought to my attention by German cryptozoologist Markus Bühler. Breeding throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, sporting an immense wingspan of up to 10.5 ft (even greater spans have been claimed but presently not verified), standing up to 5 ft tall, and weighing as much as 20 lb, the well known marabou stork Leptoptilos crumenifer (syn. crumeniferus) is certainly an extremely impressive, potentially formidable bird. Indeed, when specimens are scavenging from a carcase, they will sometimes even ward off vultures once the latter birds of prey have torn chunks of flesh from the carcase with their hooked beaks (which marabous lack). Even so, it seems unlikely that such a familiar species could have somehow been converted by local myth and superstition into a mystery bird.

The marabou stork (© DickDaniels/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

However, as Markus pointed out, during the Pliocene, Africa was also home to an even bigger species of marabou stork, L. falconeri, Falconer's marabou. Like L. crumenifer, it was widespread across northern and eastern Africa but stood around 6.5 ft tall (taller than an adult human of average height) and weighed up to 44 lb (as heavy as a small child). In comparison to L. crumenifer, Falconer's marabou exhibited a slight reduction in wing size, therefore possibly being more terrestrial than its modern-day relative, but it was still fully able to fly. As birds often look much bigger than they actually are, due to their plumage and pneumatic internal system adding substantial volume to their forms, this already-huge species would have been truly monstrous in appearance, added to which its possibly greater terrestrial lifestyle means that it may possibly have been able to kill and eat bigger creatures than L. crumenifer.

Based upon fossil evidence, Falconer's marabou stork had become extinct by the end of the Pliocene 2.5 million years ago, but if it had somehow survived into historical times (with what would be its more recent fossils not having been uncovered so far), there is no doubt that it could have been a thought-provoking makalala candidate (albeit one lacking the raptorial beak claimed by the Wasequas for the makalala). Even the latter's supposed wing-clapping sounds might in reality have been a confused memory of the beak-clapping sounds often produced by storks, and which would have been very loud if made by Falconer's marabou. However, there is currently no scientific evidence that the latter species did survive into historical times.

Another very large and intriguing species of bird that once inhabited Africa is Eremopezus eocaenus, which, as its name indicates, lived during the Eocene (specifically the late Eocene, between 36 and 33 million years ago). Its fossil remains, which have been obtained from Jebel Qatrani Formation deposits around the Qasr el Sagha escarpment, north of the Birket Qarun lake near Faiyum in Egypt, indicate that this was a very large, flightless, and quite possibly predatory bird, probably as tall as a small emu or large rhea but bulkier in form. Its taxonomic position has incited much debate, and it has yet to be confidently allied with any existing avian lineage, but the enigmatic Eremopezus does possess certain interesting and quite specific anatomical similarities with the secretary bird – a highly distinctive African species that will feature a little later in this discussion of potential makalala identities.

Could Eremopezus itself, however, be linked to the latter mystery bird? It seems implausible that this species could have lingered on into the present day or given rise to modern-day descendants without some geographically intervening remains have been found somewhere between Egypt and Tanzania's portion of East Africa. Then again, the fossil record is famously incomplete.

Height comparison of Homo sapiens alongside a selection of terror bird species (from left to right) Kelenken guillermoi, Phorusrhacos longissimus, and Titanis walleri, plus the diatrymid Gastornis parisiensis (public domain)

With flagrant disregard for zoogeographical dictates, the makalala readily recalls the phorusrhacids or terror birds. These were an aptly-named taxonomic group of huge flesh-eating birds known predominantly (but not exclusively) from the New World, and which attained their awesome zenith with a truly gigantic, spectacular species from Argentina's Patagonia region called Kelenken guillermoi.

Sporting a massive 28-inch-skull armed with an enormous hooked beak, this 10-12-ft-tall horror died out approximately 15 million years ago during the mid-Miocene, whereas Titanis walleri (originally thought to have been 10-12 ft tall too until further finds led it to be downsized to a still-daunting 5-6 ft) not only reached North America but lived there in Texas and Florida until as least as recently as 2.5 million years ago, making it the youngest terror bird species currently known. However, these fearful birds were flightless, as their wings were vestigial. Moreover, although confirmed terror bird fossils have been discovered in the Americas and also Antarctica, the only known fossil evidence for their erstwhile existence in Africa is a single femur from an individual that had lived during the early or early-to-mid-Eocene (i.e. between 52 million years and 46 million years ago) in what is today southwestern Algeria. In 2011, this mysterious species was named Lavocatavis africana.

Red-legged seriema Cariama cristata (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Even so, could the makalala be an undiscovered modern-day species? There is one notable precedent for such speculation, because some zoologists consider it plausible that a living, flying species of phorusrhacid-related bird is already known from Africa – namely, that strange, stork-like bird of prey called the secretary bird Sagittarius serpentarius. Although it is commonly classed as an aberrant accipitrid based upon molecular analyses, egg albumen comparisons have suggested in the past a closer taxonomic allegiance between this species and a pair of South American birds known as seriemas - which constitute the last surviving members of a phorusrhacid-allied taxonomic family.

The secretary bird (© Brian Ralphs/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0 licence; photo cropped)

In any event, the secretary bird affords a compelling correspondence to the makalala's morphology (albeit on a rather more modest scale). Standing up to 4.5 ft tall on notably long, crane-like legs, and endowed with strong wings that support a powerful, soaring flight, plus the head and hooked beak of a bird of prey, the secretary bird constitutes a very acceptable makalala in miniature. Furthermore, when attacking snakes (an important part of its diet) it frequently shields itself from potentially fatal strikes with its outstretched wings, which are equipped with horny tips - i.e. claws on the tips of its 'finger bones' (phalanges), instantly recalling those of the makalala.

This last-mentioned correspondence is particularly telling, because there are very few species of bird alive today that are equipped with these wingtip claws. Indeed, other than the secretary bird, the only ones presently known are the three species of crane-allied birds called finfoots or sun-grebes, plus three vaguely grouse-like relative of waterfowl known as screamers, native to South America, and including the black-necked screamer Chauna chavaria, the cross-sectional shape of whose wing spurs is such that they are particularly noisy when clapped together. In addition, a strange pheasant-like bird known as the hoatzin Opisthocomus hoazin, again from South America, produces curiously reptile-like offspring able to crawl along tree branches by virtue of two large, mobile claws on each wing, but these are lost as the chicks mature. Over the years, the hoatzin has been classified with numerous different avian groups, including the galliforms, cuckoos, touracos, mousebirds, waders, sand-grouses, and many others, but it is currently deemed to represent the oldest living avian lineage, discrete from all others alive today.

Illustration of the black-necked screamer, by Joseph Wolf, 1864 (public domain)

Certain other birds, like the jacanas or lily-trotters, the spur-winged goose Plectropterus gambensis, the spur-winged plover Vanellus spinosus, and a pair of Antarctic endemics called sheathbills, possess horny spurs on their wings, used in combat - but these are variously sited on the 'wrist bones' (carpals) or 'hand bones' (metacarpals), not upon the finger tips.

Out of all of these species, moreover, only one - the secretary bird - is predominantly carnivorous. Could the makalala, therefore, be some form of extra-large secretary bird - not necessarily as tall as the Wasequas state (their fear of it could certainly have inflated their estimate of its height), but much bigger than today's single known species? If so, a suitable scientific name for it, based upon its morphological description given above, would be Megasagittarius clamosus - 'the noisy, giant secretary bird'.

Staying with the secretary bird line of speculation, is it conceivable, alternatively, that the makalala was a false secretary bird, i.e. some other raptorial species, possibly another accipitrid (the eagles, hawks, and Old World vultures), that had assumed via convergent evolution a form outwardly comparable to Sagittarius? Although this is just another suggestion with no tangible evidence to support it directly, there is actually an interesting confirmed precedent for such an ostensibly unlikely premise.

In 1989, Drs Alan Feduccia and Michael R. Voorhies formally described a remarkable new species of North American fossil accipitrid from the late Miocene whose tarsometatarsal structure was nearly identical morphologically to that of the secretary bird. Indeed, the convergence was so striking that they christened this species Apatosagittarius terrenus, which translates as 'terrestrial false secretary bird', because they considered it likely that just like the true secretary bird, it had exhibited a predominantly terrestrial hunting lifestyle. In fact, it was only because the tarsometatarsus bore some attached phalanges whose structure was very different from those of the secretary bird that Feduccia and Voorhies were able to confirm that Apatosagittarius was not a true secretary bird, but was merely an anatomical impersonator.

The shoebill - close-up of its head revealing its immense hooked beak, and a beautiful shoebill illustration from 1901 (© Dr Karl Shuker/public domain)

Finally, a sizeable bird native to western Tanzania but possibly venturing eastward occasionally into the region supposedly inhabited by the makalala is the shoebill Balaeniceps rex. Once deemed to be an aberrant stork but nowadays considered to be more closely related to pelicans, this highly distinctive species stands up to 5 ft tall, sports a very impressive 8.5-ft wingspan, is famed for its enormous hooked beak, and has such a positively prehistoric appearance when seen in flight that it has been proposed by some zoologists as the identity of supposed living pterosaurs spasmodically reported from various regions of East and Central Africa - click here for a ShukerNature blog article on this subject.

However, the shoebill's wings do not possess horny tips, so it could not make the loud wing-claps characterising the makalala. In addition, being principally piscivorous it doesn't scavenge carcases, it is shy of humans, and as its overall appearance is so singular that it seems unlikely the Wasequa would confuse such an unmistakeable species with anything else or convert it into a much larger, quite different mystery bird, this would seem to rule out the shoebill from further consideration concerning the makalala - unless, of course, there is a still-undiscovered species of giant shoebill out there...?

With a life-sized model of the North American terror bird Titanis walleri (© Dr Karl Shuker)

All of the lines of speculation discussed above – with identity contenders ranging from marabou storks, shoebills, and terror birds to secretary birds, false secretary birds, and even the anomalous Eremopezus – are certainly absorbing and thought-provoking, but even if any of them is valid, it is scarcely likely to yield a living makalala, sadly. After all, a bird as large and as visually distinctive as this one would surely be hard-pressed indeed to remain undiscovered by science for long, regardless of the geographical locality involved - yet there do not appear to be any post-19th-Century reports of its existence.

Consequently, even if the makalala was a reality in the 1870s, presumably it no longer survives - but that does not mean that its former existence cannot be verified. As noted earlier, among the valued possessions and relics of present-day Wasequas there may still be one or more of the revered helmets worn by long-departed chiefs. Should one of these tribal heirlooms pass into the hands of an ornithologist, the lucky recipient could well find himself holding a bona fide makalala skull!

The above ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my long-awaited updated edition of In Search of Prehistoric Survivors – coming soon…

And staying with monstrous birds, be sure to click here to read my ShukerNature article about the seriously scary giant marabou 'stork of doom' pictured below that was still alive in southeast Asia as recently as the late Pleistocene, approximately 18,000 years ago.

Leptoptilos robustus, the spectacular if flightless giant marabou stork of Flores, and one of the diminutive real-life hobbits (Flores Man Homo floresiensis) that lived in its formidable shadow (© Hodari Nundu)

For a comprehensive coverage of the terror birds' evolution and fossil history, check out my book The Menagerie of Marvels, which features on its front and back covers a spectacular pair of terror birds depicted by acclaimed artist Anthony Wallis – thanks Ant!


  1. Is there a release date for the new edition of the book?

    1. I'm still working on the updates at present, but it should certainly be published some time next year. It is definitely planned as my next book. #25.

  2. The Zigua (in kiSwahili called Wazigua or Wazegua, "wa" being a common prefix meaning of/the/to) sound about right and live directly inland from Zanzibar. Their medicine horns sometimes have bird-headed stoppers. The Zigua are said to come from the vicinity of Korogwe so they live inland at least as far as the Usambara Mountains, which is part of the Eastern Arc Mountains, one of the 25 World Biodiversity Hotspots. New species are still being found in the mountainous forests of Tanzania, lots of reptiles and amphibians, a half-metre long giant elephant shrew, a monkey and a bat quite recently and a partridge in 1991.

    The shoebill is another scary five-foot tall predatory bird from that area that has a hooked beak. No rattly feathers but it might have some even scarier relatives.

    The Segeju, known in Swahili as Wasegeju have a quite bird-oriented culture, it seems. They live straddling the border between Kenya and Tanzania by the coast, a little north of Zanzibar. They seem less likely but you never know with colonial-era spelling.


    1. Thanks very much for your much-valued comments and information! I've incorporated some of it (credited to you) in my article, so thanks again for your updates, much appreciated.

  3. Only 4,096 characters at a time? I'll try again,

    I was intrigued enough to go to the original sources (it is the weekend, who needs sleep?), both available on the biodiversitylibrary.org website. I am certain that it was not a rib that was meant by Dr Gustav Fischer. The French report has "baleine" which can mean "whale" or "baleen". The latter makes more sense, as baleen is made of solid keratin like human fingernails and bird beaks. While "fischbein" in the original German version literally means "fishbone" it is actually the word for baleen, like our term whalebone.

    Here is the French one and my translation (polished google):

    VI. Oiseau problématique. (Journal de Cabanis, 1878, p. 297.)

    Les Wasequas, habitants d'une région de l'Afrique centrale, à 8 à 9 journées de la côte de Zanzibar, rapportent qu'il existe dans leur pays un oiseau de taille plus grande que l'Autruche, à jambes très-longues, à tête et bec d'oiseau de proie, doué d'un vol puissant et se nourrissant de
    cadavres. Selon ces rapports, les ailes de cet oiseau se terminent par des plaques de substance cornée compacte, qui, frappées l'une contre l'autre, produisent un bruit considérable, qui luis a valu le nom de « Makalala » (tapageur). M. le Dr Fischer a vu à Zanzibar, sans se douter qu'elle provint d'un oiseau, une masse semblable à de la baleine, s'amincissant d'un bout à l'autre de 20 jusqu'à 1 1/2 et épaisse de l/2 cm. On dit que les chefs indigènes se coiffent du crâne de cet oiseau en guise de casque.
    L'oiseau en question est, dit-on, très-farouche; on ne peut s'en emparer, qu'en se couchant à terre et en simulant la mort.

    Au moment où le Makalala s'approche pour saisir le prétendu cadavre, on lui porte le coup mortel.

    VI. Problematic bird. (Journal of Cabanis, 1878, p. 297.)

    The Wasequas, inhabitants of a region of central Africa, 8-9 days from the coast of Zanzibar, report that in their lands there lives a bird of a greater size/height/waist measurement (probably height, but you never know) than the Ostrich, with very long legs, the head and beak of a bird of prey, gifted with a powerful flight and feeding on corpses. According to these reports, the wings of this bird end in plates of a compact horny substance, which, struck one against the other, produce considerable noise, which earned it the name "Makalala" (noisy). Dr. Fischer has seen in Zanzibar, without doubting it was of a bird, a mass similar to baleen, tapering from 20 cm at one end to 1½ cm at the other and with a thickness of ½ cm. It is said that indigenous chiefs decorate their hair with the skull of this bird like a helmet. The bird in question is, they say, very fierce; one cannot seize it except by lying oneself down on the earth and simulating death.

    At the moment the Makalala approaches to seize the pretend corpse he is given the mortal blow.

    M. le comte Marschall "Comptes-rendu zoologiques" Bulletin de la Société Philomathique de Paris (1879-1880) 7(3): 169-181 (relevant part on page 176, 1879)

    1. Thanks for this, Pat. It matches very closely my own translation of the Marschall letter - a copy of which was originally sent to me back in the early 1990s by French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal nicely in time for me to document it in my original Prehistoric Survivors book published in 1995. This present, much-expanded ShukerNature version of that previous documentation of mine will be appearing in the updated edition of that book, which should be published next year.

  4. Unfortunately my German is practically non-existent so I can't polish the google translation of the original report. However, even relying on the googlemess shows a few differences. The bird is "scheu" meaning shy/timid/cautious, which is why it is difficult to catch. It is not "farouche" - wild/ferocious/rabid as the French version would have us believe.

    In German Dr Fischer was reluctant to believe the fishbonely mass had come from a bird, presumably because it was too big for a normal bird's beak, though he is still infuriatingly vague. Getting a native speaker to translate it might squeeze out a bit more nuance. Unfortunately "grösser" means bigger/larger/taller so is not much more help than the French "taille plus grande"

    Bagamoyo/Bagamojo is 222 miles from Korogwe by the A14 road, which is not quite direct. According to google that would take 45 hours to walk. Considering the conditions back then (and the necessity to be bird-collecting along the way) the equivalent of a modern 5½ hours travel per day does not seem unreasonable.

    ... During my stays in Bagamoyo - we spent 4 days there - I heard details about a fabulous bird, which I once before received word that should occur 8-9 days' journey from Bagamojo inside. The top-priest, who at the mission in the interior - in the Nguru Mountains - hear more about the strange bird, told me the following: the natives - Wasegua - indicate it come with them a bird in front of which is greater than an ostrich, very long legs, a Raptor-like head and beak were wearing, can fly very well and nourishing of carrion. The wings are to be phased in a compacte horny plate, with which he causing a loud noise by banging, why give him the natives the name makalala ie noise makers. I saw some time ago in Zanzibar such whalebone like mass, at one end about 20 cm. wide, then gradually narrows to the 1½ Cm. wide the other end. The mass was perhaps ½ Cm. thick. At that time I did not want to believe that the Object herstamme (originates) of a bird. The skull of the bird is to be used by the chiefs as a kind of cap for headgear. The animal is to be very shy and only to kill so that the natives lay as if dead on the floor and in the moments when the bird approaches its prey, jump up and down push him. I plan to when we return happy from our trip to the Wapokomo to go to the French resort in the interior, to determine certain about the alleged bird. It should be a very rich fauna in general there.

    1. I haven't seen the German report, so it is great to have this additional info from it - thanks very much. Do you have the full reference to it?

  5. ... Bei meinem Aufenthalte in Bagamojo — wir waren 4 Tage dort — hörte ich Näheres über einen fabelhaften Vogel, von dem ich früher schon einmal Kunde erhalten, der im Innern 8-9 Tagereisen von Bagamojo vorkommen soll. Der Ober-Pater, der auf der Missionsstation im Innern — in den Nguru-Bergen — Näheres über den merkwürdigen Vogel gehört, erzählte mir Folgendes : die Eingeborenen — Wasegua — geben an, es komme bei ihnen ein Vogel vor, der, grösser als ein Strauss, sehr lange Beine, einen raubvogel- ähnlichen Kopf und Schnabel trüge, sehr gut fliegen könne und sich von Aas nähre. Die Flügel sollen in eine compacte hornartige Platte auslaufen, womit er durch Aneinanderschlagen ein starkes Geräusch verursache, weshalb ihm die Eingebornen den Namen makalala d. h. Lärmmacher gegeben. Ich sah vor einiger Zeit in Sansibar eine solche fischbeinähnliche Masse, an dem einen Ende ca. 20 Cm. breit, dann sich allmälig verschmälernd bis zu dem etwa 1½ Cm. breiten andern Ende. Die Masse war vielleicht ½ Cm. dick. Damals wollte ich nicht glauben, dass das Object von einem Vogel herstamme. Der Schädel des Vogels soll von den Häuptlingen als eine Art Kappe zur Kopfbedeckung benutzt werden. Das Thier soll sehr scheu und nur so zu erlegen sein, dass sich die Eingebornen wie todt auf den Boden legen und in dem Augenblicke, wo der Vogel sich seiner Beute nähert, aufspringen und ihn niederstossen. Ich habe vor, wenn wir glücklich von unserer Reise zu den Wapokomo zurückkehren, zu der französischen Station im Innern zu gehen, um Sicheres über den angeblichen Vogel festzustellen. Es soll dort überhaupt eine sehr reichhaltige Fauna sein.

    Dr GA Fischer, Dr A. Reichenow "Briefliche Reiseberichte aus Ost-Afrika III." Journal für Ornithologie (1878) XXVI (III:143) 268-297 (the relevant part being on p.297. This is the Journal published by Prof Dr Jean Cabanis or "Journal of Cabanis" referred to by M. le comte Marschall)

    1. Awesome! Thanks very much for this! Calls for another rewording session of my own article, I think! Great to have this update before the book comes out next year.

  6. Given that this article has not yet been published in a book, I feel I should point a few mistakes/ommissions you have in there:

    - There was a short time when Secretary Birds were considered to -perhaps- be related to seriemas, but that has never been recovered in any studies again. *Sagittarius* is very much a relative of accipittrids, the osprey and New World Vultures (but not falcons!) Seriemas themselves are related to, astonishing as it is, falcons, parrots and passeriforms. Also, you probably don't mean 'a closer taxonomic allegiance' when talking about relatedness. Taxonomy is just giving names, phylogeny is about the tree of life.
    - *Kelenken* is the largest well-known phorusrhacid but not neccessarily the largest overall. There is always mysterious *Brontornis* which likely was of comparable height but far more massive than *Kelenken*.
    - The hoatzin is not related to cuckoos (or galliforms) after all. Even in the days of molecular studies, it keeps jumping around the avian family tree but it is undoubtedly without any *close* relatives and whatever they are most closely related to, it's highly unlikely to be cuckoos at this point.
    - There are three species of screamer, not one, and they all possess impressive wing spurs.

    I hope you're not offended by me pointing this out but it would be a pity if these mistakes ended up in your book.

    1. Hi Brian, Thanks for your comments, but in reality they are more differences of opinion and expansions than mistakes or omissions. Although molecular studies do tend to ally the secretary bird closer to the typical accipitrids (hence my referring to it variously as a raptor and a bird of prey), the egg albumen comparisons did indicate a similarity with the seriemas, and therefore merited a mention here. Kelenken is by far the tallest and also largest unequivocal phorusrhacid - there is controversy as to whether Brontornis is even a phorusrhacid at all, with some workers supporting an anseriform relationship. As you note yourself, the affinities of the hoatzin remain very controversial, with the latest notion being that it represents the oldest living avian lineage, distinct from all others alive today. Yes, there are indeed three species of screamer (I actually document the horned screamer in a separate ShukerNature article), which all possess the wing spurs, but the cross-section shape of the black-necked screamer's is such that it is likely to make the most noise when the wings are clapped together, hence my reason for highlighting this particular species. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to you for taking the time to mention these various points and I'll amend/expand those aspects that would benefit from greater elucidation to ensure that there are no ambiguities. All the best, Karl

  7. On a different topic, did you see this recent BBC piece on the Migoi of Bhutan?