Birds: different types, definitions, photos and more
Birds are members of the class Aves , which includes more than 10,400 living bird species, more than half of which are passerine or "perching" birds. Their feathers distinguish them from all other kinds of animals; no other animal on Earth has them.
There are many different types of birds, they are beautiful and charming to look at, they are often kept as pets by humans and have been the subject of many stories or photographs. Bird watchers number in the millions, and aviculture is a multi-million dollar industry fueled by humans' love of our feathered friends.
If you see an animal with feathers, it is undoubtedly a bird. Like mammals, birds are warm-blooded vertebrates with four-chambered hearts. However, birds are more closely related to reptiles and are thought to have evolved from dinosaurs. Their closest relatives are crocodiles.
Millions of years of evolution have transformed their forelimbs into wings, they lay hard-shelled eggs, and they possess extraordinary vision—the sharpest of their senses. Most types of birds are diurnal, which means they sleep at night.
Different types of birds may exhibit different behaviors, but in general, birds are social animals that communicate through songs, calls, chirps and movements. Some birds engage in cooperative hunting and travel in flocks. Many birds are monogamous – mostly during the breeding season, but sometimes for life.
Most birds can fly, but there are also flightless birds.
Five Top Bird Traits
Certain identifying features distinguish different types of birds from other types of animals. Five particularly important distinguishing characteristics of birds include:
All birds have feathers, which are actually highly evolved scales. The fact that birds have scales on their feet—the clearest indication of their close relationship to reptiles. As mentioned above, feathers are not found on any other kind of animal. Like human nails and hair, feathers are made of keratin. They serve a variety of purposes, from providing warmth to aiding in flight. Most birds shed or molt once or twice a year. Contoured feathers help the bird fly efficiently and create a streamlined body shape. Soft, fluffy feathers provide warmth. Flight feathers on the wings and tail provide loft. Male birds also often use their feathers to attract mates.
Wings are the main feature of birds, but they are also present in other types of animals. For example, bats are winged flying mammals, as are many insects. Strong muscles in the thorax help propel the wings, enabling flight. The bird's body is specially curved to lift the wings. Different wing shapes offer different advantages, depending on the species. For example, wings with sharp, narrow tips can increase speed. Wings that are longer than wide make it easier for birds to soar for long periods of time. Oval, uniformly shaped wings, most common on songbirds, allow for small, rapid movements. Different types of birds are able to swim, such as penguins and puffins, whose wings are shaped like flippers.
All birds have a beak, or beak — a concentration of bone surrounded by layers of keratin. The shape of a bird's beak provides powerful clues to its eating habits. Although some birds have sharp bumps along the edge of their beaks, none have true teeth. Therefore, the beak plays a crucial role in feeding. For example, birds that feed primarily on seeds tend to have strong, tapered beaks. Ducks, geese, and other types of waterfowl have wide, flat beaks that help them filter food out of the water. Predatory birds like owls and hawks have sharp hooked beaks that they use to grind, tear and shred their prey.
Egg-laying is another trait shared by all birds or members of the class Aves. However, this is not unique to this group of animals, as reptiles, fish, amphibians and insects also lay eggs. Bird eggs have hard shells made mostly of calcium; a layer of hardened mucus helps keep them intact. In an egg, the embryo gets its nutrients from the yolk and white (called albumin). The vast majority of birds build nests for their eggs and continue to care for the young until they are able to fend for themselves. In most species, both males and females play important roles in caring for young.
Almost all species of birds hatch eggs. Exceptions include megafauna or mound builders that rely on external sources of heat (such as decaying vegetation) and brood parasites. The latter, including cuckoos and cowbirds, prefer to lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Some birds, such as murres and certain penguin species, do not use nests at all, opting instead to place their eggs on the insteps during incubation. The incubation period varies from 11 to 80 days, depending on the species.
A group of eggs laid at one time is called a clutch. From 1 to 20 or so eggs may be found in a nest. Some birds practice deterministic spawning, which means they lay the same number of eggs per clutch each time. Most birds engage in indeterminate lay, which means that the size of each clutch varies.
Flightless birds have heavy bones filled with marrow. Birds capable of flight—in other words, most birds—have lightweight skeletons made of hollow bones. Their skeleton has many fused bones, including the collarbone, which help them effectively support their wings during flight. Birds have a large sternum, or sternum, that provides a strong attachment point for the muscles of the wings.
notable bird types
Today, there are more than 10,400 living bird species in the world. In North and South America, there are more than 4,400 species of birds. About 2,700 different species are found in Asia and another 2,300 or so in Africa. More than 500 species are found in Europe west of the Ural Mountains, and more than 700 in Russia. Costa Rica has one of the highest concentrations of bird species – about 800 species.
Some of the most famous birds include:
- Birds of Prey – This group consists of more than 300 species of birds, including eagles, falcons, ospreys, falcons and bald eagles.
- Cranes – This group includes more than 200 species of Cranes and Cranes.
- Game Birds – Perhaps most famous of all, game birds include chickens, turkeys, quail and macropods. There are about 250 species of game birds in the world.
- Herons and Storks – More than 100 species are found in this group, including egrets, spoonbills and ibis.
- Hummingbirds and Swifts – The smallest bird category, this class includes more than 400 different species.
- Ostrich – The ostrich is the most famous flightless bird and the only species in its genus. It is also one of the largest birds.
- Owl – Another important bird species is the owl. There are more than 200 species of owls in the world.
- Parrots and Cockatoos – This colorful group includes macaws, cockatiels and budgerigars, with more than 350 species. They are often kept as pets.
- Penguins – There are about 20 species of these flightless birds in the world.
- Perching birds – Also known as passerines, this group includes more than 5,000 species, making it the most numerous and diverse of bird species. Common roosting birds include crows, swallows, jays, finches, house sparrows, wrens, starlings and larks.
- Pigeons and Doves – This group includes more than 300 species of birds. Pigeons are known to carry messages for humans and have been used in this way since Roman times. They were also used during World Wars I and II and the Korean War.
- Shorebirds – This group of birds includes more than 350 species and includes sandpipers, terns, oystercatchers and gulls.
- Waterfowl – Ducks, geese, swans and many other birds fall into this category, which includes more than 150 species.
- Woodpeckers and Toucans – Known for their distinctive beaks, this group consists of more than 400 species.
Evolution of different species of birds
The evolution of birds has been a subject of debate for centuries. Today, the most commonly accepted theory is the theropod ancestry hypothesis, which holds that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, which occurred between 165 million and 150 million years ago.
Theropods are two-legged dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex belongs to their ranks.
The earliest known bird in the fossil record, Archeopteryx, was a hybrid of a bird and a dinosaur. It had bird-like feathered wings, but also sharp dinosaur-like teeth and a long, bony tail. This and other types of early birds diversified rapidly throughout the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. They quickly become capable pilots and show great growth.
However, their populations were decimated by major extinction events that wiped out the dinosaurs entirely. Since then, modern birds have diversified at an explosive rate, and there are now more than 10,000 different species worldwide.
type of bird
african gray parrot
When a gray parrot named Yosuke got lost, he reunited with his owner after reporting his name and address.
Largest wingspan of any bird in the world!
These parrots can be trained to be 'talking birds' that mimic human speech
The color "robin egg blue" is named after the color of their eggs.
Anna's hummingbird wings beat 40-50 times per second during normal flight
Has a curved, upturned beak!
Vultures have 20/5 vision, much sharper than humans
Can be found all over the world!
Like other owls, the barred owl swallows its prey whole.
baya builds a giant nest out of plant fibers
They roll in the dirt to ward off external parasites
The Belgian canary is one of the oldest and most influential canaries in its genus.
Not all birds can fly!
blue wax mouth
Blue waxbill parents remove insect heads, legs and wings before feeding them to their babies.
Bluebirds rub ants on feathers to remove harmful acid
Blue tits can hang upside down from tree branches
In spring, the male bobolink is the only North American bird with a dark underside and a light top. This makes identification easy.
Spot seabirds across the South Pacific!
Males are usually monogamous during mating season and will protect females from other males. However, females tend to venture out from their mates and mate with other males.
These birds fly over 3,000 miles during their migration!
There are 14 genera and 53 species in main families
The Carolina Parakeet is one of the few parrots living in the northern United States
Their feathers have red waxy tips that are hard to spot unless you get close.
Chickadees are named for the sound they make: Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee!
First domesticated over 10,000 years ago!
The "hair bird" is so named because the nest is covered with animal hair
This vulture can fly very high. At least one has been found thousands of feet from the summit of Mount Everest.
Their peaks rise or fall based on their mood
Highly social, intelligent and talkative bird.
The common freckle is a pest that damages crops and spreads disease.
A flock of crows is called inhumanity or conspiracy.
common yellow throat
Common Yellowthroat stay close to the ground and use stealth to survive!
Smart and loud, they often imitate sounds and learn vocabulary.
They can fly up to 35 miles per hour and dive up to 150 feet underwater.
Costa's male hummingbirds have iridescent purple feathers on their heads and necks.
Many are critically endangered species!
A flock of such birds is called a murder.
black eyed weed
They are called snowbirds because many subspecies re-emerge in winter.
Native to the island of Mauritius!
Rows and rows of little plates lined the teeth!
Both male and female dark frogs can have multiple mates during each breeding season
Has extraordinary eyesight!
Bluebirds drop directly onto their prey from perches, much like leopards.
Dongfang Wangniao is a ferocious fighter once known as the king of slaughter!
This passerine bird can sing without hearing another bird vocalize first.
They stole large ostrich eggs and cracked the shells with stones and pebbles.
Eiders are sexually dimorphic, with males being larger and brighter in color.
Vorombe titan, an elephant bird, the largest bird ever
The Elf Owl is the smallest and lightest owl in the world
Emerald toucans spend their entire lives in the canopy of tall forests and almost never go down to the ground!
Australia's largest bird!
The Eurasian collared dove has been extensively studied for its astonishing ability to quickly colonize new territories.
Eurasian eagle owl
The Eurasian Horned Owl is the second largest owl in the world with a wingspan of up to six feet!
Eurasian Jay Chou
Eurasian jays have the ability to imitate other sounds
They are regulars on backyard feeders, especially those containing Niger seeds.
Male robins are extremely aggressive and territorial, and they will attack their own reflections.
European starlings are skilled imitators, often imitating the songs or sounds of other birds and animals (frog calls, goats, cats), even mechanical sounds and human speech!
The fastest creature on earth!
Finches have strong, conical beaks that help them break apart tough seeds in a way that many other birds cannot.
Discover living on tropical islands and coasts!
The goldcrest never starts to move and needs to spend most of the day just to survive. Therefore, it is best to eat 90% of your daily intake during the cooler months.
golden masked owl
A mouse can be heard moving among the tall grass in the field as this owl flies high!
There are 29 different species!
Goshawks are a popular choice for European falconers
Male Guldian finches will wag their heads to court females.
gray cat bird
Their songs have a cat-like quality that mimics other birds and animals, such as tree frogs.
great blue heron
Their wingspan is larger than that of an eagle; both male and female help to incubate their eggs; symbolic
Male egrets put on an elaborate courtship show to attract a mate
The greater kiskadee is an extremely adaptable predator that can live in almost any habitat within its range and hunts in the air, on the ground, and in the water.
big porto bird
At night, they make a terrifying low cry that sounds like a moan or growl in pain.
bird of prey
they swim like frogs
Male gray herons are picky about their mates. They will reject women they don't like.
Feathered legs and toes!
Their eyesight is eight times that of humans
Once considered the patron saint of homes in Hawaii
While the Ferruginous hawk is the largest species in the United States, the Asian highland condor is the largest overall.
Inhabit wetlands all over the world!
They are loud, lively birds with husky calls that sound like bursts of laughter.
Honey hawks are medium-sized birds of prey named for their raids on bee and wasp nests.
The crested warbler has a very sweet tooth, so nectar and jelly are among its favorite treats.
Amazing bird with a stinky way to deter predators!
This bird has a huge horn on its beak!
House sparrows can turn redder depending on what they eat
The wren's nickname, aedon, comes from a Greek queen who accidentally killed her only son. She was actually for her nephew, and Zeus took pity on her and turned her into a nightingale.
The Hyacinth Macaw is the largest flying parrot in the world!
Found in swamps, bogs and wetlands!
They form lifelong companionships and live in groups near water sources.
Otters have the ability to swim underwater
Jackdaws tend to mate with one mate for life
The term "pecking order" comes from the hierarchy of jungle chickens between the sexes
The endangered kagu is the only bird in the world with nose corns!
The heaviest parrot breed in the world!
Calls can be heard a quarter of a mile away
The Kentucky Warbler appears to be wearing bright yellow cat-eye glasses!
can be hung on wind current
A killer deer feigns injury to lure predators away from its den.
Females look similar to males but are not blue
The king vulture is the second largest New World vulture species
Inhabit wetlands and woodlands around the world!
Only found in the forests of New Zealand!
It is easily recognized by its crest, large size and wingspan
The vertical-faced vulture is very clean and washes its hair in water after eating
Young otters are nomadic, often moving in search of temporary wetland habitat.
Although cardinals are monogamous during mating season, they do not mate for life. When breeding pairs are together, the males are very territorial and will defend the nesting site and surrounding area.
The tongue of a lorikeet is as long as a brush and covered with fine hairs
Lyrebirds mimic birds of prey to deter predators such as birds of prey.
The largest parrot breed in the world!
The complex story of how MacGillivray's warbler got its name involves three ornithologists, a doctor and a compromise.
The Madagascar otter is endangered due to habitat loss and illegal hunting.
They are found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa!
With the right tailwinds, mallards can fly hundreds of miles in a day
Mississippi kites tend to be monogamous throughout life
Mockingbirds are incredible mimics and can learn hundreds of songs!
Depending on the time of year, this merle can live as far north as Alaska.
Almost always the male makes the famous sad cry, which is a courtship call
The mourning warbler is named for its gray head, which resembles a mourning veil!
Unlike most ducks, Muscovy ducks are silent, vocalizing only when excited or threatened.
Many people think that starlings are better at imitating humans than parrots!
Unlike other pigeons, Nicobar pigeons do not fly in flocks at random, but fly in file or single file.
Young great herons will spit out the contents of their stomachs when they feel threatened.
There are 97 species of nightjars in 20 genera!
The northern otter is one of two species found in the Americas, from the United States to Panama.
Nuthatches spend a lot of time upside down.
They use rapid wing flapping to hover over foliage as they search for food.
The tradition of covering your face with a napkin or towel while eating the bird was started by a priest who was a friend of the great French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
They reuse nesting sites for 70 years!
The largest bird in the world!
Ovenbirds are named for their unusual nests, which are shaped like ovens!
The owl's head can rotate about 270 degrees
The cattle woodpecker, known as the rhino guard, alerts its host to danger by making loud noises
The monk parakeet is the only true nesting parakeet. They are also the only parakeets that nest in large colonies.
The life span can reach 100 years!
The parrot isn't the smallest parrot in the world – that would be the Australian pygmy parrot.
A long-lost civilization immortalized male partridges in art, depicting them as symbols of fertility.
Most common in mainland India!
Wingspan up to 3 meters!
Spend 75% of your time looking for food!
The jacana is the only species in its family that can migrate over long distances.
These chicks have tails up to five feet long!
They can find their way back to their lair from as far as 1,300 miles away.
When foraging, the pine tit hangs upside down on leaves and bark, collecting seeds from conifers.
Potoo have slits in their eyelids that allow them to see even with their eyes closed.
They inflate an orange neck patch during a mating display
Can stay in water for up to 2 minutes!
The strength of the feathers changes depending on what the bird eats
Purple Chicken Balls
They build their nests on the surface of the water, anchoring them to nearby aquatic vegetation.
Inhabit woodlands and forest areas around the world!
Male tail feathers can be up to 1m long!
Cardinals can form flocks of over 100 birds.
The bird moves its tail to control its body like a rudder on a boat.
They nest in tree cavities, caves, stone walls and roofs
Male rheas can mate with up to 12 females and can raise up to 80 chicks individually at a time!
Ring-billed gulls feed on large amounts of human waste and garbage.
There are over 45 species in Australia alone!
Will mate with the whole flock!
This bird is also known as a cutthroat bird because the male's throat looks like it has been slit and flows down his chest.
Some sandpipers can migrate over 8,000 miles without stopping!
When danger lurks, parents use low meows to tell their chicks to stay still and lie still.
The Savannah sparrow got its name because the first birds of its kind were found in Savannah, Georgia.
Like many parrots, scarlet macaws are able to imitate sounds.
Sea eagles tend to mate with one mate for life
some seagulls are able to use tools
As pets, Senegalese parrots are able to 'talk' to their owners
In captivity, sharp eagles can live up to 13 years. However, in the wild, this number is significantly reduced to 3 years!
Adults greet each other by knocking their bills together.
short eared owl
The short-eared owl is one of the most widely distributed owl species in the world, with a distribution on five continents.
Silkie hens are excellent mothers and will share a treat with her chicks. That means she'll walk up to the food or treat, take a bite, and call the chick to her to share. Silkies will raise any bird as their own and have been known to sit patiently on a nest of duck or goose eggs until they hatch.
Skuas will chase other birds until they give up
One of the largest owl species in the world!
A male thrush can include over 100 phrases in its song repertoire and can imitate pet birds, telephones, and other man-made objects.
There are 140 different species!
Sparrowhawks get their name from preying on sparrows
They cannot sing like other birds.
Swallows have aerodynamic bodies to catch prey in flight
The population is affected by pollution!
The Tawny Frogbill is a master of camouflage and can hide in plain sight!
The American robin is called the robin because its red breast reminded European settlers of the robin of its homeland.
There are more than 40 different species!
Most ruby species are non-migratory. However, some are partial migrators, depending on their location.
Tree swallows can make a dozen different sounds
their tail feathers help them balance on tree trunks
Their name means "banana eaters," but they rarely eat bananas.
Their guano is used in face creams!
Ural owl's head can rotate 270 degrees
There are 30 different species worldwide!
Songbirds are named for the trill of their songs.
They are generally loud birds but display a soft tone of voice towards their young.
Weavers meticulously build nests for breeding season
The finicky whimbrel will sometimes wash off its prey before eating it.
whinchat can imitate the songs of at least a dozen other birds!
Males learn different songs from the communities they grew up in and continue to sing in the same dialect as adults.
The species is named for the loud call it makes
These birds live in the undergrowth and are named for their love of flying among willow trees and bushes.
They play dead by paralyzing their bodies and closing their eyes.
Yellow Belly Juicer
Most of the time the male is responsible for choosing the nesting tree. Fortunately, empty nests are usually reused over multiple breeding seasons (up to 7 years).
The Yokohama chicken has snow-white feathers and a 4-foot tail.
Male zebra finches create a unique song inspired by their parents or mentors
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Birds: Different Types, Definitions, Photos and More FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What are the four types of birds?
There are far more than four types of birds in the world. If by "type" you mean "species," the number is closer to around 10,400. Birds can be divided into different categories in a number of ways, including flightless birds versus those that can fly and those that live primarily on land or near water.
How are birds identified?
Bird watching is a popular pastime that involves identifying birds in the wild. There are four things to look for when identifying birds: their size and shape, their behavior, their habitat, and their color patterns. By learning the basics of each category, birders can more quickly identify birds in the wild—an important aspect of the sport.
Why do birds take a bath?
Bathing is an important part of plumage care. The water helps loosen dirt and other debris that has gotten into the feathers. Once the dirt is removed, the feathers are easier to comb. During grooming, birds rearrange their feathers and distribute oils from grooming glands to ensure their feathers remain waterproof. This also creates a layer of insulating air underneath to help keep the bird warm.
Which birds can't fly?
Some of the most famous flightless birds include penguins, ostriches, emus, cassowaries and kiwis.
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