any member of a rather loose assemblage of 12 families of birds that are generally agreed to be related but that differ widely in many aspects. Gruiforms are an ancient group with a rich fossil history, but many families are now restricted in range and few in number. Members of the order occur on every continent, but the only family with worldwide distribution is the Rallidae (rails, gallinules, and coots), with 138 living species. Cranes (Gruidae) are found on every continent except South America, but many of the 15 species have small populations, some on the verge of extinction. The bustards (Otididae), with 26 species, have a wide distribution, limited to the Old World, but hunting pressures and modern agricultural methods have greatly reduced their numbers. The mesites (Mesitornithidae), however, are confined to Madagascar and the kagu (Rhynochetus jubatus) to the island of New Caledonia. Other small families in the order, usually assigned to separate suborders, contain the hemipodes, or button quails (Turnicidae), limpkins (Aramidae), trumpeters (Psophiidae), finfoots (Heliornithidae), sun bitterns (Eurypygidae), and seriemas, or cariamas (Cariamidae). The plains wanderer (Pedionomidae), formerly classified as a gruiform, is now assigned to the order Charadriiformes.
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