Bird Classification

Since I like birds so much, I thought I would tell you about how they are classified! Here are some basic facts about birds: all of them belong to the same class, Aves. (Remember, scientific classification goes kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, if you ignore the subtleties.)

I have written this guide inspired by my research and by my own experiences observing hundreds of species of birds. I don’t have photos of at least one representative from each family, but I am working on that!

Note: this is a work in progress and the last update was on January 26, 2024.

Struthioniformes

  1. Struthionidae (Ostriches)

Rheiformes

  1. Rheidae (Rheas)

Tinamiformes

  1. Tinamidae (Tinamous)

Casuariiformes

The order Casuariiformes consists of just one family: Casuariidae. There aren’t many birds here: just the cassowaries and the emu. After the ostrich, these are the second-tallest birds.

  1. Casuariidae (Cassowaries and Emu)

Casuariidae (Cassowaries and Emu)

Apterygiformes

  1. Apterygidae (Kiwis)

Anseriformes, 178 Species

Anseriformes is an order consisting of three families, the largest one being Anatidae with hundreds of species. The other families are quite small and comprise of four birds in total, with the Anseranatidae consisting of just one species.

Anhimidae, 3 Species

The Anhimidae or screamers consists of just three birds, all living in South America. Not much is known about the screamers compared to the other birds in the order Anseriformes. One of them, the Northern Screamer or Chauna chavaria is considered by some to be near-threatened, though the IUCN officially lists it as least concern but given that it has a fairly small range in South America, anything can happen.

I checked out these birds in Helmut Sick’s book Ornitologia Brasileira and found this small bit of information about the Southern Screamer:

Pousa durante horas sobre árvores. Forma grandes bandos para pernoitar nos banhados, ficando em pé na água rasa. Em qualquer época do ano há agrupamentos menores ou maiores de indivíduos que aparentemente não procriam mas pastam juritos tranqüilamente; em alguns locais são até considerados concorrentes das ovelhas [.]

This was translated by the best translator, Larissa Maestrelo as follows:

Perches for long hours on trees. Forms great flocks to spend the night in wet regions, standing in shallow water. At any time of the year, there are gatherings of small or big groups of individuals, apparently not for reproduction purposes, but they forage together peacefully; in some locations they are even considered a competition for sheep.

Anseranatidae, 1 Species

Now here we have something different: a bird in its own family! This perhaps lonely bird, though lonely due only to our strange scientific predilictions, is the Magpie Goose or Anseranas semipalmata as it likes to be called in latin. It is found mostly in Australia, although it also hangs out in Papau New Guineau and some other nearby islands.

According to one article by Frith and Davies, “The birds are to some extent nomadic. In the dry season most of them concentrate on the Mary and South Alligator Rivers, and during the wet season they spread over the other rivers to breed. Movements are mainly controlled by the availability of food, water, and breeding habitat. The main foods are the seeds of swamp grasses, the blades of dry-land grasses, and the underground bulbs of spike-rush.”

What about its conservation? Although it is listed by the IUCN as “least concern”, its range has shifted and changed due to human settlements. A research paper by Traill et al. concluded that “Australia’s once-abundant and widespread magpie goose will be reduced to a fragmented population of just a few thousand individuals within the next 200–300 yr.”

Anatidae, 174 Species

The family Anatidae consists of ducks, geese, and swans. It is the family of the Anseriformes that most people will be familiar with with about 174 species. Every area of the world has some representative species except Antarctica.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), a duck. Photo © Jason Polak

Most of these species will be found near water and many are migratory, which means that they often winter in more temperate areas and return to northern areas to breed. This makes many ducks susceptible to habitat degradation because they need stopover points on their long migrations to keep eat and keep healthy for breeding.

Many species are endangered such as the Brazilian Merganser.

Galliformes

  1. Megapodiidae (Megapodes)
  2. Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)
  3. Numididae (Guineafowl)
  4. Odontophoridae (New World Quail)
  5. Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

Phoenicopteriformes

  1. Phoenicopteridae (Flamingos)

Podicipediformes

  1. Podicipedidae (Grebes)

Columbiformes

  1. Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

Mesitornithiformes

  1. Mesitornithidae (Mesites)

Pterocliformes

  1. Pteroclidae (Sandgrouse)

Otidiformes

  1. Otididae (Bustards)

Musophagiformes

  1. Musophagidae (Turacos)

Cuculiformes

  1. Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

Caprimulgiformes

  1. Podargidae (Frogmouths)
  2. Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
  3. Nyctibiidae (Potoos)
  4. Steatornithidae (Oilbird)
  5. Aegothelidae (Owlet-nightjars)
  6. Apodidae (Swifts)
  7. Hemiprocnidae (Treeswifts)
  8. Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

Opisthocomiformes

  1. Opisthocomidae (Hoatzin)

Gruiformes

  1. Sarothruridae (Flufftails)
  2. Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
  3. Heliornithidae (Finfoots)
  4. Aramidae (Limpkin)
  5. Psophiidae (Trumpeters)
  6. Gruidae (Cranes)

Charadriiformes

  1. Chionidae (Sheathbills)
  2. Pluvianellidae (Magellanic Plover)
  3. Burhinidae (Thick-knees)
  4. Pluvianidae (Egyptian Plover)
  5. Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
  6. Ibidorhynchidae (Ibisbill)
  7. Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)
  8. Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
  9. Pedionomidae (Plains-wanderer)
  10. Thinocoridae (Seedsnipes)
  11. Rostratulidae (Painted-Snipes)
  12. Jacanidae (Jacanas)
  13. Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
  14. Turnicidae (Buttonquail)
  15. Dromadidae (Crab-Plover)
  16. Glareolidae (Pratincoles and Coursers)
  17. Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)
  18. Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)
  19. Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

Eurypygiformes

  1. Rhynochetidae (Kagu)
  2. Eurypygidae (Sunbittern)

Phaethontiformes

  1. Phaethontidae (Tropicbirds)

Gaviiformes

  1. Gaviidae (Loons)

Sphenisciformes

  1. Spheniscidae (Penguins)

Procellariiformes

  1. Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
  2. Oceanitidae (Southern Storm-Petrels)
  3. Hydrobatidae (Northern Storm-Petrels)
  4. Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

Ciconiiformes

  1. Ciconiidae (Storks)

Suliformes

  1. Fregatidae (Frigatebirds)
  2. Sulidae (Boobies and Gannets)
  3. Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
Anhingidae (Anhingas), 4 Species

The Anhingidae, sometimes known as darters, are a small family in the order Suliformes. It is a tropical bird, one per warmer continent: the Anhinga of South America, the African Darter of Africa, the Oriental Darter of Asia, an the Australasian Darter of Australia and the more southern parts of Asia.

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), the archetypal Anhinga. Photo © Jason Polak

These birds are very characteristic and hard to mistake. I always know I’m seeing one by the unsually snake-like appearance of these birds in the water. They also sit on dry surfaces to dry their wings. When they do so, they are like cormorants but their feathers are often more ruffled and they have a very flexible snake-like neck. Their eyes are quite unusual as well.

However, anhingas are not exactly like cormorants. On a study that compared the African Darter to the Double-crested Cormorant, Rijke, Jesser, and Mahoney found that the African Darter is able to become airborne right away after swimming and also, and yet their feathers can asborb more water as well. This may explain the different locations that cormorants and darters use for roosting.

Pelecaniformes

  1. Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
  2. Balaenicipitidae (Shoebill)
  3. Scopidae (Hamerkop)
  4. Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
  5. Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

Cathartiformes

  1. Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

Accipitriformes

  1. Sagittariidae (Secretarybird)
  2. Pandionidae (Osprey)
  3. Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

Strigiformes

  1. Tytonidae (Barn-Owls)
  2. Strigidae (Owls)

Coliiformes

  1. Coliidae (Mousebirds)

Leptosomiformes

  1. Leptosomidae (Cuckoo-roller)

Trogoniformes

  1. Trogonidae (Trogons)

Bucerotiformes

  1. Upupidae (Hoopoes)
  2. Phoeniculidae (Woodhoopoes and Scimitarbills)
  3. Bucorvidae (Ground-Hornbills)
  4. Bucerotidae (Hornbills)

Coraciiformes

  1. Todidae (Todies)
  2. Momotidae (Motmots)
  3. Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)
  4. Meropidae (Bee-eaters)
  5. Coraciidae (Rollers)
  6. Brachypteraciidae (Ground-Rollers)

Galbuliformes

  1. Bucconidae (Puffbirds)
  2. Galbulidae (Jacamars)

Piciformes

  1. Lybiidae (African Barbets)
  2. Megalaimidae (Asian Barbets)
  3. Capitonidae (New World Barbets)
  4. Semnornithidae (Toucan-Barbets)
  5. Ramphastidae (Toucans)
  6. Indicatoridae (Honeyguides)
  7. Picidae (Woodpeckers)

Cariamiformes

  1. Cariamidae (Seriemas)

Falconiformes

  1. Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

Psittaciformes

  1. Strigopidae (New Zealand Parrots)
  2. Cacatuidae (Cockatoos)
  3. Psittaculidae (Old World Parrots)
  4. Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)

Passeriformes

  1. Acanthisittidae (New Zealand Wrens)
  2. Calyptomenidae (African and Green Broadbills)
  3. Eurylaimidae (Asian and Grauer’s Broadbills)
  4. Sapayoidae (Sapayoa)
  5. Philepittidae (Asities)
  6. Pittidae (Pittas)
  7. Thamnophilidae (Typical Antbirds)
  8. Melanopareiidae (Crescentchests)
  9. Conopophagidae (Gnateaters)
  10. Grallariidae (Antpittas)
  11. Rhinocryptidae (Tapaculos)
  12. Formicariidae (Antthrushes)
  13. Furnariidae (Ovenbirds and Woodcreepers)
  14. Pipridae (Manakins)
  15. Cotingidae (Cotingas)
  16. Tityridae (Tityras and Allies)
  17. Oxyruncidae (Sharpbill, Royal Flycatcher, and Allies)
  18. Menuridae (Lyrebirds)
  19. Atrichornithidae (Scrub-birds)
  20. Ptilonorhynchidae (Bowerbirds)
  21. Climacteridae (Australasian Treecreepers)
  22. Maluridae (Fairywrens)
  23. Meliphagidae (Honeyeaters)
  24. Dasyornithidae (Bristlebirds)
  25. Pardalotidae (Pardalotes)
  26. Acanthizidae (Thornbills and Allies)
  27. Pomatostomidae (Pseudo-Babblers)
  28. Orthonychidae (Logrunners)
  29. Cinclosomatidae (Quail-thrushes and Jewel-babblers)
  30. Campephagidae (Cuckooshrikes)
  31. Mohouidae (Whiteheads)
  32. Neosittidae (Sittellas)
  33. Psophodidae (Whipbirds and Wedgebills)
  34. Eulacestomatidae (Ploughbill)
  35. Oreoicidae (Australo-Papuan Bellbirds)
  36. Falcunculidae (Shrike-tits)
  37. Paramythiidae (Tit Berrypecker and Crested Berrypecker)
  38. Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
  39. Pachycephalidae (Whistlers and Allies)
  40. Oriolidae (Old World Orioles)
  41. Machaerirhynchidae (Boatbills)
  42. Artamidae (Woodswallows, Bellmagpies, and Allies)
  43. Rhagologidae (Mottled Berryhunter)
  44. Platysteiridae (Wattle-eyes and Batises)
  45. Vangidae (Vangas, Helmetshrikes, and Allies)
  46. Pityriasidae (Bristlehead)
  47. Aegithinidae (Ioras)
  48. Malaconotidae (Bushshrikes and Allies)
  49. Rhipiduridae (Fantails)
  50. Dicruridae (Drongos)
  51. Paradisaeidae (Birds-of-Paradise)
  52. Ifritidae (Ifrita)
  53. Monarchidae (Monarch Flycatchers)
  54. Corcoracidae (White-winged Chough and Apostlebird)
  55. Melampittidae (Melampittas)
  56. Platylophidae (Crested Shrikejay)
  57. Laniidae (Shrikes)
  58. Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
  59. Cnemophilidae (Satinbirds)
  60. Melanocharitidae (Berrypeckers and Longbills)
  61. Callaeidae (Wattlebirds)
  62. Notiomystidae (Stitchbird)
  63. Petroicidae (Australasian Robins)
  64. Picathartidae (Rockfowl)
  65. Chaetopidae (Rockjumpers)
  66. Eupetidae (Rail-babbler)
  67. Hyliotidae (Hyliotas)
  68. Stenostiridae (Fairy Flycatchers)
  69. Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
  70. Remizidae (Penduline-Tits)
  71. Alaudidae (Larks)
  72. Panuridae (Bearded Reedling)
  73. Nicatoridae (Nicators)
  74. Macrosphenidae (African Warblers)
  75. Cisticolidae (Cisticolas and Allies)
  76. Acrocephalidae (Reed Warblers and Allies)
  77. Locustellidae (Grassbirds and Allies)
  78. Donacobiidae (Donacobius)
  79. Bernieridae (Malagasy Warblers)
  80. Pnoepygidae (Cupwings)
  81. Hirundinidae (Swallows)
  82. Pycnonotidae (Bulbuls)
  83. Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)
  84. Scotocercidae (Bush Warblers and Allies)
  85. Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)
  86. Sylviidae (Sylviid Warblers, Parrotbills, and Allies)
  87. Zosteropidae (White-eyes, Yuhinas, and Allies)
  88. Timaliidae (Tree-Babblers, Scimitar-Babblers, and Allies)
  89. Pellorneidae (Ground Babblers and Allies)
  90. Leiothrichidae (Laughingthrushes and Allies)
  91. Regulidae (Kinglets)
  92. Tichodromidae (Wallcreeper)
  93. Sittidae (Nuthatches)
  94. Certhiidae (Treecreepers)
  95. Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)
  96. Troglodytidae (Wrens)
  97. Elachuridae (Spotted Elachura)
  98. Cinclidae (Dippers)
  99. Buphagidae (Oxpeckers)
  100. Sturnidae (Starlings)
  101. Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
  102. Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
  103. Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)
  104. Bombycillidae (Waxwings)
  105. Mohoidae (Hawaiian Honeyeaters)
  106. Ptiliogonatidae (Silky-flycatchers)
  107. Dulidae (Palmchat)
  108. Hylocitreidae (Hylocitrea)
  109. Hypocoliidae (Hypocolius)
  110. Promeropidae (Sugarbirds)
  111. Modulatricidae (Dapple-throat and Allies)
  112. Dicaeidae (Flowerpeckers)
  113. Nectariniidae (Sunbirds and Spiderhunters)
  114. Irenidae (Fairy-bluebirds)
  115. Chloropseidae (Leafbirds)
  116. Peucedramidae (Olive Warbler)
  117. Urocynchramidae (Przevalski’s Pinktail)
  118. Ploceidae (Weavers and Allies)
  119. Estrildidae (Waxbills and Allies)
  120. Viduidae (Indigobirds)
  121. Prunellidae (Accentors)
  122. Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
  123. Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
  124. Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
  125. Rhodinocichlidae (Thrush-Tanager)
  126. Emberizidae (Old World Buntings)
  127. Calyptophilidae (Chat-Tanagers)
  128. Phaenicophilidae (Hispaniolan Tanagers)
  129. Nesospingidae (Puerto Rican Tanager)
  130. Spindalidae (Spindalises)
  131. Zeledoniidae (Wrenthrush)
  132. Teretistridae (Cuban Warblers)
  133. Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)
  134. Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
  135. Parulidae (New World Warblers)
  136. Mitrospingidae (Mitrospingid Tanagers)
  137. Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
  138. Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies), 229 Species

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)

Here’s another large family of finch-like birds, the Fringillidae, sometimes known as the true finches. It’s a family with a varied morphology, with Euphonias having more curved bills and the finches having more pointed bills.

There are quite a few endangered birds in this family, especially in Hawaii such as the Maui Parrotbill (Pseudonestor xanthophrys) and Akekee (Loxops caeruleirostris).

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows), 132 Species

Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), seen in Arizona. Photo © Jason Polak

The Passerellidae is a large group of sparrows that span the new world. They typically have beautiful songs and call frequently. Many readers will be familiar with this family through birds like Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), and the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).

Most species in this family are not threatened and are doing well, but there are a few exceptions. The worst off is the Antioquia Brush-finch (Atlapetes blancae).

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers), 441 Species

Masked Water-Tyrant (Fluvicola nengeta), one of three Tyrant Flycatchers in the genus Fluvicola

The Tyrant Flycatchers is an absolutely huge familiy of birds with more than 400 species!