A-z - Animals

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.

common green magpie
The dark green common magpie is a carnivore that eats anything it can get its beak on, including dead animals and bird eggs.

© sittitap/Shutterstock.com

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:

feather

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.

wing

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.

beak

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

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.

Aerial view of cardinal nest with four light blue eggs
There are many different types of bird egg sizes and colors. Cardinals lay light blue eggs with dark stripes and spots.

©Olga Alyonkina/Shutterstock.com

skeleton

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.
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terror bird
The theropod ancestry hypothesis states that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period.

©Michael Rosskothen/Shutterstock.com

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.

albatross

Largest wingspan of any bird in the world!

amazon parrot

These parrots can be trained to be 'talking birds' that mimic human speech

American Robin

The color "robin egg blue" is named after the color of their eggs.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's hummingbird wings beat 40-50 times per second during normal flight

Crocodile

Has a curved, upturned beak!

bald eagle

Vultures have 20/5 vision, much sharper than humans

barn owl

Can be found all over the world!

striped owl

Like other owls, the barred owl swallows its prey whole.

baya

baya builds a giant nest out of plant fibers

Bee-eater

They roll in the dirt to ward off external parasites

belgian canary

The Belgian canary is one of the oldest and most influential canaries in its genus.

bird

Not all birds can fly!

blue wax mouth

Blue waxbill parents remove insect heads, legs and wings before feeding them to their babies.

blue jay

Bluebirds rub ants on feathers to remove harmful acid

blue tit

Blue tits can hang upside down from tree branches

blog link

In spring, the male bobolink is the only North American bird with a dark underside and a light top. This makes identification easy.

booby trap

Spot seabirds across the South Pacific!

Brown-headed bullbird

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.

canadian warbler

These birds fly over 3,000 miles during their migration!

cardinal

There are 14 genera and 53 species in main families

carolina parakeet

The Carolina Parakeet is one of the few parrots living in the northern United States

Cedar Waxwing

Their feathers have red waxy tips that are hard to spot unless you get close.

tit

Chickadees are named for the sound they make: Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee!

chicken

First domesticated over 10,000 years ago!

sparrow

The "hair bird" is so named because the nest is covered with animal hair

vulture

This vulture can fly very high. At least one has been found thousands of feet from the summit of Mount Everest.

cockatiel

Their peaks rise or fall based on their mood

cockatoo

Highly social, intelligent and talkative bird.

common grouper

The common freckle is a pest that damages crops and spreads disease.

raven

A flock of crows is called inhumanity or conspiracy.

common yellow throat

Common Yellowthroat stay close to the ground and use stealth to survive!

Conure snake

Smart and loud, they often imitate sounds and learn vocabulary.

cormorant

They can fly up to 35 miles per hour and dive up to 150 feet underwater.

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's male hummingbirds have iridescent purple feathers on their heads and necks.

crane

Many are critically endangered species!

crow

A flock of such birds is called a murder.

black eyed weed

They are called snowbirds because many subspecies re-emerge in winter.

dodo bird

Native to the island of Mauritius!

Duck

Rows and rows of little plates lined the teeth!

Dunnock

Both male and female dark frogs can have multiple mates during each breeding season

eagle

Has extraordinary eyesight!

oriental bluebird

Bluebirds drop directly onto their prey from perches, much like leopards.

eastern kingfisher

Dongfang Wangniao is a ferocious fighter once known as the king of slaughter!

Oriental Phoebe

This passerine bird can sing without hearing another bird vocalize first.

egyptian vulture

They stole large ostrich eggs and cracked the shells with stones and pebbles.

Down

Eiders are sexually dimorphic, with males being larger and brighter in color.

elephant bird

Vorombe titan, an elephant bird, the largest bird ever

elf owl

The Elf Owl is the smallest and lightest owl in the world

emerald toucan

Emerald toucans spend their entire lives in the canopy of tall forests and almost never go down to the ground!

emu

Australia's largest bird!

Eurasian leader

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

european goldfinch

They are regulars on backyard feeders, especially those containing Niger seeds.

european robin

Male robins are extremely aggressive and territorial, and they will attack their own reflections.

european starling

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!

falcon

The fastest creature on earth!

finch

Finches have strong, conical beaks that help them break apart tough seeds in a way that many other birds cannot.

frigate bird

Discover living on tropical islands and coasts!

golden crown

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.

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golden masked owl

A mouse can be heard moving among the tall grass in the field as this owl flies high!

Goose

There are 29 different species!

goshawk

Goshawks are a popular choice for European falconers

Hu Jinque

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

great egret

Male egrets put on an elaborate courtship show to attract a mate

great kiscardi

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

gray heron

Male gray herons are picky about their mates. They will reject women they don't like.

grouse

Feathered legs and toes!

Harris Hawk

Their eyesight is eight times that of humans

hawaiian crow

Once considered the patron saint of homes in Hawaii

eagle

While the Ferruginous hawk is the largest species in the United States, the Asian highland condor is the largest overall.

heron

Inhabit wetlands all over the world!

herring gull

They are loud, lively birds with husky calls that sound like bursts of laughter.

Honey Buzzard

Honey hawks are medium-sized birds of prey named for their raids on bee and wasp nests.

hooded oriole

The crested warbler has a very sweet tooth, so nectar and jelly are among its favorite treats.

hoopoe

Amazing bird with a stinky way to deter predators!

hornbill

This bird has a huge horn on its beak!

house sparrow

House sparrows can turn redder depending on what they eat

wren

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.

Hyacinth Macaw

The Hyacinth Macaw is the largest flying parrot in the world!

Ibis

Found in swamps, bogs and wetlands!

Jabiru

They form lifelong companionships and live in groups near water sources.

otter

Otters have the ability to swim underwater

Jackdaw

Jackdaws tend to mate with one mate for life

jungle chicken

The term "pecking order" comes from the hierarchy of jungle chickens between the sexes

Kagu

The endangered kagu is the only bird in the world with nose corns!

kakapo

The heaviest parrot breed in the world!

Kauai 'Ō'ō

Calls can be heard a quarter of a mile away

kentucky warbler

The Kentucky Warbler appears to be wearing bright yellow cat-eye glasses!

kestrel

can be hung on wind current

killer deer

A killer deer feigns injury to lure predators away from its den.

Quail King

Females look similar to males but are not blue

vulture king

The king vulture is the second largest New World vulture species

kingfisher

Inhabit wetlands and woodlands around the world!

kiwi fruit

Only found in the forests of New Zealand!

gray goose

It is easily recognized by its crest, large size and wingspan

vertical vulture

The vertical-faced vulture is very clean and washes its hair in water after eating

little otter

Young otters are nomadic, often moving in search of temporary wetland habitat.

cardinal

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.

lorikeets

The tongue of a lorikeet is as long as a brush and covered with fine hairs

Lyrebird

Lyrebirds mimic birds of prey to deter predators such as birds of prey.

macaw

The largest parrot breed in the world!

MacGillivray's Warbler

The complex story of how MacGillivray's warbler got its name involves three ornithologists, a doctor and a compromise.

madagascar otter

The Madagascar otter is endangered due to habitat loss and illegal hunting.

magpie

They are found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa!

mallard

With the right tailwinds, mallards can fly hundreds of miles in a day

mississippi kite

Mississippi kites tend to be monogamous throughout life

Robin

Mockingbirds are incredible mimics and can learn hundreds of songs!

mountain bluebird

Depending on the time of year, this merle can live as far north as Alaska.

mourning dove

Almost always the male makes the famous sad cry, which is a courtship call

mourning warbler

The mourning warbler is named for its gray head, which resembles a mourning veil!

muscovy duck

Unlike most ducks, Muscovy ducks are silent, vocalizing only when excited or threatened.

starling bird

Many people think that starlings are better at imitating humans than parrots!

nicobar pigeon

Unlike other pigeons, Nicobar pigeons do not fly in flocks at random, but fly in file or single file.

night heron

Young great herons will spit out the contents of their stomachs when they feel threatened.

nighthawk

There are 97 species of nightjars in 20 genera!

northern otter

The northern otter is one of two species found in the Americas, from the United States to Panama.

Nuthatch

Nuthatches spend a lot of time upside down.

orchard oriole

They use rapid wing flapping to hover over foliage as they search for food.

bunting

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.

osprey

They reuse nesting sites for 70 years!

ostrich

The largest bird in the world!

oven bird

Ovenbirds are named for their unusual nests, which are shaped like ovens!

owl

The owl's head can rotate about 270 degrees

cow woodpecker

The cattle woodpecker, known as the rhino guard, alerts its host to danger by making loud noises

Parrot

The monk parakeet is the only true nesting parakeet. They are also the only parakeets that nest in large colonies.

Parrot

The life span can reach 100 years!

Parrot

The parrot isn't the smallest parrot in the world – that would be the Australian pygmy parrot.

partridge

A long-lost civilization immortalized male partridges in art, depicting them as symbols of fertility.

Peacock

Most common in mainland India!

pelican

Wingspan up to 3 meters!

penguin

Spend 75% of your time looking for food!

Jacana

The jacana is the only species in its family that can migrate over long distances.

Phoenix Chicken

These chicks have tails up to five feet long!

Pigeon

They can find their way back to their lair from as far as 1,300 miles away.

pine tit

When foraging, the pine tit hangs upside down on leaves and bark, collecting seeds from conifers.

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Porto

Potoo have slits in their eyelids that allow them to see even with their eyes closed.

Prairie Chicken

They inflate an orange neck patch during a mating display

Puffin

Can stay in water for up to 2 minutes!

purple finch

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.

quail

Inhabit woodlands and forest areas around the world!

Quetzal

Male tail feathers can be up to 1m long!

cardinal

Cardinals can form flocks of over 100 birds.

red kite

The bird moves its tail to control its body like a rudder on a boat.

red star

They nest in tree cavities, caves, stone walls and roofs

Rhea

Male rheas can mate with up to 12 females and can raise up to 80 chicks individually at a time!

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed gulls feed on large amounts of human waste and garbage.

robin

There are over 45 species in Australia alone!

Rooster

Will mate with the whole flock!

Rose-breasted Waxbill

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.

snipe

Some sandpipers can migrate over 8,000 miles without stopping!

Sarus Crane

When danger lurks, parents use low meows to tell their chicks to stay still and lie still.

Savannah Sparrow

The Savannah sparrow got its name because the first birds of its kind were found in Savannah, Georgia.

Scarlet Macaw

Like many parrots, scarlet macaws are able to imitate sounds.

sea eagle

Sea eagles tend to mate with one mate for life

seagull

some seagulls are able to use tools

senegal parrot

As pets, Senegalese parrots are able to 'talk' to their owners

sharp eagle

In captivity, sharp eagles can live up to 13 years. However, in the wild, this number is significantly reduced to 3 years!

Shoebill

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.

silky chicken

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.

Skua

Skuas will chase other birds until they give up

snowy owl

One of the largest owl species in the world!

thrush

A male thrush can include over 100 phrases in its song repertoire and can imitate pet birds, telephones, and other man-made objects.

sparrow

There are 140 different species!

sparrow hawk

Sparrowhawks get their name from preying on sparrows

stork

They cannot sing like other birds.

swallow

Swallows have aerodynamic bodies to catch prey in flight

swan

The population is affected by pollution!

Tawny Frogbill

The Tawny Frogbill is a master of camouflage and can hide in plain sight!

thrush

The American robin is called the robin because its red breast reminded European settlers of the robin of its homeland.

toucan

There are more than 40 different species!

red beans

Most ruby species are non-migratory. However, some are partial migrators, depending on their location.

tree swallow

Tree swallows can make a dozen different sounds

tree climber

their tail feathers help them balance on tree trunks

Nautilus

Their name means "banana eaters," but they rarely eat bananas.

Wuguisu

Their guano is used in face creams!

ural owl

Ural owl's head can rotate 270 degrees

vulture

There are 30 different species worldwide!

warbler

Songbirds are named for the trill of their songs.

otter

They are generally loud birds but display a soft tone of voice towards their young.

weaver bird

Weavers meticulously build nests for breeding season

Huibrell

The finicky whimbrel will sometimes wash off its prey before eating it.

WeChat chat

whinchat can imitate the songs of at least a dozen other birds!

White-crowned Sparrow

Males learn different songs from the communities they grew up in and continue to sing in the same dialect as adults.

whooping crane

The species is named for the loud call it makes

willow flycatcher

These birds live in the undergrowth and are named for their love of flying among willow trees and bushes.

torticollis

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).

Yokohama Chicken

The Yokohama chicken has snow-white feathers and a 4-foot tail.

zebra finch

Male zebra finches create a unique song inspired by their parents or mentors

bird list

More great bird content

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  • The 7 Deadliest Birds on Earth
  • Do you think you know about birds? Take our brand new bird quiz.

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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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