So you are wondering about the different types of birds and perhaps how ornithologists classify them. With more than 9000 species of birds, it is difficult to present all of them in a short article. However, I will break it down for you to get a holistic overview of the various types of birds:
Let’s first start with the scientific classification or taxonomy of birds and other living things. Individual bird species are classified as follow:
Kingdom, Phylum, and Class
The first three on the taxonomy pyramid (Kingdom, Phylum, Class) don’t change regardless of the bird type because:
- All bird types are animals and therefore they belong to the kingdom Animalia.
- Each bird is vertebrate and hence belongs to the phylum Chordata.
- Every bird has feathers and toothless beaked jaws, and as a result, belongs to the class Aves.
Types of birds by order and family
Next on the taxonomy pyramid is order and family. Birds that share broad common characteristics are grouped under one order, and each order is further divided into families to group species that share further similarities and features. Let’s pick two species of birds from the same order but from different families, and see how they are classified:
So why, for example, crows and sparrows share the same order? simply because they share broad common traits, such as perching ability and having four toes, three directed forward and one backward.
And why do both belong to different families? simply because similarities between them stop at the order level, and their differences must be marked by grouping them into two separate families.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recognizes 41 orders of birds, but the number varies depending on the authority consulted. So, taxonomy is not unified across the board, and it also changes to reflect recent biological evidence and discoveries. Now let’s dig deeper into the different types of birds that belong to 22 out of 41 orders, and present some of the families and species that belong to each order.
1. Passeriformes (Songbirds)
It is the largest order containing over 5000 species divided into 82 families, depending on the authority consulted. Since this order is so large, let’s pick only three families to display some of their respective species.
Finches are seedeaters and have conical beaks and a V-shaped tail. This family currently has 227 species, including the European Goldfinch, Canary, Eurasian Siskin, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, and Hawfinch.
Swallows have a small beak and short legs, and they can stay in the air for a long time. The Barn Swallow and Common House Martin are just two of 86 documented species in this family.
Sunbirds are small and slender, and they usually have long downward-curved beaks to feed on nectar in followers. The Palestine Sunbird and Southern Double Collared Sunbird are among 143 confirmed species of sunbirds.
2. Psittaciformes (Parrots)
Over 350 species of parrots fall under this order, and they are grouped into four families:
It comprises 21 species of Cockatoos, such as the Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo, White Cockatoo, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Palm Cockatoo, Cockatiel, and Galah.
Strigopidae (New Zealand parrots)
Only four species exist in the wild and they are all confined to New Zealand. The species are:
- Kea (Nestor notabilis)
- Norfolk Island Kaka (Nestor productus)
- New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis)
- Kakapo (Strigops habroptila)
Psittaculidae (Old world Parrots)
This family contains over 180 species, and it includes parrots such as the Budgerigar, Lorikeets, Lovebirds, and many others.
Psittacidae (New World and African parrots)
This family makes up the reset of parrot species and they include Macaws, Amazons, Monk Parakeet, the African Grey, and Senegal Parrot.
Suggested reading: top 12 talking parrots in the world.
3. Gaviiformes (Divers or Loons)
This order has only one family (Gaviidae) and one genus (Gavia), and five species, which are: the Black-Throated Loon, Common Loon, Pacific Loon, Red-Throated Loon, and Yellow-Billed Loon.
This order used to encompass five families: Kiwis, Cassowaries, Emus, Ostriches, and Rheas. However, recent changes group these families under four separate orders as follow:
- Struthioniformes (Ostriches), family: Apterygidae (2 species).
- Casuariiformes (Cassowaries and Emus), family: Casuariidae (4 species).
- Rheiformes (Rheas), family: Rheidae (2 species).
- Apterygiformes (Kiwis), family: Apterygidae (5 species).
5. Columbiformes (Pigeons & Doves)
This order has only one family (Columbidae) and it comprises more than 300 species, which includes pigeons and doves, such as Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, and Woodpigeon.
The Raphidae family used to be listed under this order but its species, the Dodos and Solitaires, have gone extinct.
6. Pteroclidiformes (Sandgrouses)
This order contains only one family (Pteroclidae) of 16 species of Sandgrouses. Since this family shares common traits with doves and pigeons, some authorities classify it under Columbiformes, and yet others classify it under the order Charadriiformes for the same reason. To clear this, some systems of classifications assign this family an order of its own, Pteroclidiformes as presented here.
7. Strigiformes (Owls)
This order has only two families Tytonidae (Barn Owls) and Strigidae (True Owls), and together they comprise over 200 species such as the Eagle Owl, Barn Owl, and Little Owl.
It contains eight families:
- True swifts (Apodidae) e.g. European Swift
- Treeswifts (Hemiprocnidae) e.g Crested treeswift
- Hummingbirds (Trochilidae) e.g. Anna’s hummingbird
- Frogmouths (Podargidae) .e.g Tawny Frogmouth
- Nightjars (Caprimulgidae) e.g European Nightjar
- Owlet- Nightjars (Aegothelidae) e.g Australian Owlet-nightjar
- Potoos (Nyctibiidae) e.g Northern Potoo
- Oilbird (Steatornithidae) the only species in this family.
This order has 252 species divided across three families as follow:
It is The largest family of the order Accipitriformes comprising 250 species, which includes Vultures, Hawks, Eagles, Buzzards, Harriers, and Kites, such as the Egyptian vulture, Sparrowhawk, Golden Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Red kite, and Harris’s hawk.
Note: a few authorities place vultures into a separate order under Cathartiformes. The taxonomic juggling never ends!
The osprey is the only species in this family, and some authorities classify it as a subfamily of hawks and eagles (Accipitridae).
The Secretarybird, native to African, is also the only species in this family. But some authorities assign this family its own order (Sagittariiformes).
10. Falconiformes (Falcons and Caracaras)
This order has only one family (Falconidae), and it includes the Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Barbary Falcon, and the Northern Crested Caracara.
This order contains seven families:
- Woodpeckers (Picidae), e.g Syrian Woodpecker
- Honeyguides (Indicatoridae) e.g Malaysian Honeyguide
- Toucans (Ramphastidae) e.g Yellow-browed Toucanet
- Toucan- Barbets (Semnornithidae) e.g Prong-billed Barbet
- Barbets (Capitonidae) e.g Orange-fronted Barbet
- African Barbets (Lybiidae) e.g Crested Barbet
- Asian Barbets (Megalaimidae) e.g Sooty Barbet
This order contains five families:
- Megapodes (Megapodiidae), such as the Australian Brushturkey.
- Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows (Cracidae), such as the Plain Chachalaca.
- Guineafowl (Numididae), such as the Helmeted Guineafowl.
- New World Quail (Odontophoridae), such as the California Quail.
- Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies (Phasianidae) such as the Chukar and Common Quail.
13. Podicipediformes (Grebes)
Podicipediformes consists of 22 species all of which listed under one family (Podicipedidae), such as the Little Grebe, New Zealand Grebe, and White-tufted Grebe.
14. Phoenicopteriformes (Flamingos)
This order contains six species belonging to one family (Phoenicopteridae):
- Chilean Flamingo
- American Flamingo
- Greater Flamingo
- Lesser Flamingo
- Andean Flamingo
- James’s Flamingo
From this point on, I will display only a few species of birds that belong to the order in question with some images, but without giving reference to the family.
15. Ciconiiformes (Storks)
Black Stork, Lesser Adjutant, and Painted Stork
Black-winged Stilt, Stone-curlew, Avocet, Spur-winged Lapwing, and Atlantic Puffin.
White-breasted Kingfisher, The Great Hornbill, the Eurasian hoopoe, Little Green Bee-eater.
18. Cuculiformes (Cuckoos)
The Hoatzin, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Greater Coucal
Shelduck, Common Teal, and Mallard
Eurasian Moorhen, Horned Coot and Water rail
The Fairy Prion, the Great shearwater, and the Northern Fulmar
American White Pelican, Shoebill, Hamerkop, Little Bittern, Night Heron, and Cattle Egret
Reviewed by Bashar Jareseh, an expert in wild birds.