Types of Birds: A List of the Different Bird Types Alive Today with Pictures & Facts

Types of birds with pictures and facts: an alphabetical list of notable birds and bird families. Part of our Birds series.

Types of Birds: Introduction

This page will introduce you to many different types of bird – some familiar, some exotic – from all around the world.

Birds are animals in the class Aves. There are over 10,000 bird species, divided between around 245 families. On this page you’ll find a selection of notable bird families to give you an idea of the amazing variety of bird life on our planet.

  • On this page, we’re going to be using taxonomic terms such as ‘class’, ‘order’ and ‘family’. You can find an explanation of these terms here: Animal Classification.

If you want information on individual bird species, such as the harpy eagle or emperor penguin, then we recommend that you check out the articles in our Species Profile: Bird category (or use the search box). This page is more concerned with the broad types of birds rather than individual species.


Types of Birds: Alphabetical List of Notable Bird Families, with Pictures & Facts

Page Index


More Bird Information at Active Wild

This page is part of our birds section. You can find more bird information on the following pages:


Albatrosses

wandering albatross
Wandering albatrosses
  • Order: Procellariiformes
  • Family: Diomedeidae

Albatrosses are large birds that spend much of their lives at sea. Albatrosses are among the world’s largest flying birds.

The wandering albatross has the longest wingspan of any bird. Its average wingspan is around 3 m (9 ft. 10 in), but there are reports of individuals whose wingspans are over 5m! Wandering albatrosses are known for covering vast distances; some individuals circle the Southern Ocean three times in one year.

Sadly, many of the 21 albatross species are endangered. One of the biggest threats to albatrosses is long line fishing – the birds take bait meant for the fish, become caught on the hooks and subsequently drown.


Birds-of-Paradise

blue bird of paradise
Blue bird of paradise (Paradisaea rudolphi)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Paradisaeidae

Birds of paradise are famous for the elaborate and brightly-colored plumage of many of the males. There are 42 species in the birds of paradise family Paradisaeidae. They are found in eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.


Bowerbirds

great bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis)
Great bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis) in its bower.
  • Family: Ptilonorhynchidae
  • Order: Passeriformes

There are between 20 and 30 species of bowerbird, with members of the family being found in New Guinea and Australia.

Bowerbirds are famous for their courtship ritual. This involves the male bird building a highly elaborate structure – called a bower – to impress the female.

The female is highly selective, and will only choose a male whose bower comes up to scratch. Once mating is complete, the male plays no part in nest construction or the rearing of the young. (The bower is not used as a nest.)


Crows and Jays

common raven (Corvus corax)
Common raven (Corvus corax)
  • Family: Corvidae
  • Order: Passeriformes

The crow family Corvidae contains not only crows but also birds such as jays, nutcrackers, ravens and magpies. Members of Corvidae are found on all continents apart from Antarctica.

Crows are among the most intelligent of all animals. Several species have demonstrated tool use and self-recognition in mirror tests.

The common raven is not only the largest member of the crow family, but also the largest passerine. It’s as big as – if not slightly bigger than – the common buzzard.


Cuckoos

cuckoo chick in nest
Cuckoo chick demanding food.
  • Order: Cuculiformes
  • Family: Cuculidae

Only just over 50 of the 140 or so species in the cuckoo family practice brood parasitism, but it’s these bad apples that have earned the family its bad reputation.

Brood parasitism involves the cuckoo laying its egg in the nest of another bird. The owners of the nest bring the cuckoo chick up as one of their own, even after it has pushed the other chicks out of the nest.


Ducks, Geese and Swans

trumpeter swan
The trumpeter swan is the world’s biggest swan.
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Order: Anseriformes

The family Anatidae comprises between 146 and 160 species. The family is diverse, containing ducks geese and swans.

Most anatids have long necks and legs set back on the body for swimming. Male and female ducks often look very different, with the males generally having colorful plumage, especially during the breeding season. Many anatids embark on long migrations to and from their breeding grounds.

The largest anatid is the trumpeter swan. It is the heaviest North American bird, and has a wingspan of around 3 m (10 ft.)


Falcons

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Falconidae

There are around 66 species in the family Falconidae, which contains the falcons, caracas and kestrels. Falcons are fast, agile flyers with pointed wings. Other characteristics include hooked beaks and acute eyesight.

Unlike raptors in the family Accipitridae, the falcons dispatch their prey with their beaks rather than with their talons. A falcon’s bill has a blunt tooth on the upper mandible for this purpose.

The peregrine falcon is the world’s fastest moving animal. It has been recorded travelling at a speed of 389 km/h (242 mph) while diving.


Flamingoes

greater flamingo
Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
  • Order: Phoenicopteriformes
  • Family: Phoenicopteridae

Flamingoes are long-legged, long-necked birds known for the distinctive pink color of their plumage. This color comes from the pigments found in the flamingos’ food.

Flamingos feed with their heads upside-down, filtering food out of the water using comb-like structures in their specially modified bills.

The greater flamingo is the largest of the six species of flamingo. It is also the most widely distributed, being found in Africa, Asia and Southern Europe.


Goldcrests and Kinglets

Goldcrest
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Regulidae

Regulidae is a family of 6 very small birds, members of which are found in North America and Europe. The 4 species found in Europe are known as either goldcrests or firecrests. The 2 North American species are known as kinglets.

Members of Regulidae have brightly-colored crests, which can be raised as part of a courtship or threat display.


Guineafowl

helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)
Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)
  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Numididae

The 6 species in the family Numididae are all found in Africa. The guineafowl are large, pheasant-like birds that feed on insects and seeds. Guineafowl live in flocks. They mate for life and nest on the ground.

The helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) is a familiar sight in urban areas of South Africa.


Gulls, Terns and Skimmers

Arctic Tern
Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea)
  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Laridae

There are around 100 species in the family Laridae, which includes the gulls, terns and skimmers. Members of the family are found on every continent, including Antarctica. They are primarily seabirds, although some gulls are also found in cities, where they nest on rooftops rather than on cliffs.

The great black-backed gull is the world’s largest gull. This impressive gull uses its size to bully other seabirds away from their food. It is also a capable hunter in its own right.

The Arctic tern makes the longest migration of any animal, travelling between the Artic and Antarctica every year.

Think about that for a second: this relatively small bird travels 90,000 km (56,000 mi) every year, and sees two summers every year: one in the northern hemisphere; one in the southern hemisphere!


Herons and Bitterns

Grey Heron
Grey Heron
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae

There are around 64 species of heron, and members of the family are found on all continents apart from Antarctica. Herons are typically medium-sized to large birds, with long legs and necks, and dagger-like bills.

The heron family includes egrets and bitterns. Unlike other long-legged & necked birds such as storks and cranes, herons fly with their necks folded rather than extended.


Hoatzin

Hoatzin
Hoatzin
  • Order: Opisthocomiformes
  • Family: Opisthocomidae

The only living member of the family Opisthocomidae is the hoatzin. This unusual and much-studied bird is found in the rainforests of South America. Around the size of a chicken, the hoatzin has a striking crest and is herbivorous. Its chicks are famous for having claws at the bend of their wings. These claws are used for climbing and disappear once the bird can fly.

The hoatzin is also well-known for its unusual digestive system. The bird’s food ferments in an enlarged crop (a chamber in a bird’s throat). The unpleasant odor given off by the food as it ferments has led to the hoatzin being nicknamed the ‘stinkbird’.


Hornbills

great hornbill (Buceros bicornis)
Great hornbill (Buceros bicornis)
  • Order: Bucerotiformes
  • Family: Bucerotidae

The hornbill family contains some of the most distinctive-looking of all birds. In many species the huge, downward-curving beaks are also brightly-colored. In some species the beak is adorned with a bony, hollow structure called a casque.

The casque’s main function varies from species to species: its uses include strengthening the bill, amplifying the bird’s call, as a weapon in fights to establish dominance, or simply as an indicator of fitness.

The great hornbill, found in India and South East Asia, is one of the best-known hornbills. Its casque is almost as long the huge bill itself.


Hummingbirds

Bee hummingbird
Bee hummingbird – the world’s smallest bird.
  • Order: Apodiformes
  • Family: Trochilidae

Hummingbirds are small, nectar eating birds found in the Americas. They are named after the noise made by their wings, which beat at incredible speeds. (The wings of some hummingbirds beat 80 times per second!)

Hummingbirds are able to hover and even to fly backwards, flitting like insects from flower to flower. This unique flying style requires large amounts of energy. During the night, hummingbirds are known to enter a state resembling hibernation known as torpor. This helps to conserve the valuable energy they need to fly.

Hummingbirds evolved from swifts around 42 million years ago.

The world’s smallest bird is the bee hummingbird. This tiny bird is found in Cuba, and weighs around 2 g (0.071 oz.).


Kingfishers

blue winged kookaburra
Blue winged kookaburra (Dacelo leachii)
  • Order: Coraciiformes
  • Family: Alcedinidae

Not all kingfishers eat fish, and many live away from water. Most, however, have large heads and strong bills. Typical behavior includes hunting from a perch and living in tunnels.

There are around 100 kingfisher species. Kingfishers are found in many parts of Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

Well-known kingfisher species include the common kingfisher, found in Britain, mainland Europe, Asia and parts of Africa, and the kookaburra, found in Australia.


Kites, Hawks, Eagles, Old World Vultures

bald eagle
Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Order: Accipitriformes

Members of the family Accipitridae include some of the best known living birds of prey, including the bald eagle, the goshawk and the buzzard.

The Accipitridae use their powerful talons to dispatch their prey. Other characteristics of the group include hooked bills and excellent eyesight, which is used to locate prey while the bird is soaring high in the sky.


Kiwis

North Island brown kiwi
North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)
  • Infraclass: Palaeognathae
  • Order: Apterygiformes
  • Family: Apterygidae

The kiwis are 5 species of flightless birds found only in New Zealand. These nocturnal birds have the smallest eyes in relation to body mass of all birds. Kiwis rely far more heavily on the senses of smell and hearing.

The kiwi’s nostrils are found at the far end of the bill (the kiwi is the only bird in which this arrangement is found). This allows the kiwi to smell for worms while is bill is buried in the soil.

Kiwis are able to survive in the wild even if blind.

Four of the five kiwis have the conservation status ‘Vulnerable’, with the fifth being rated ‘Near Threatened’.

The brown kiwi is the most common kiwi. It lays the biggest eggs in relation to body size of all birds.


Leaf Warblers and Allies

Common chiffchaff
Common chiffchaff – listen out for this bird’s distinctive ‘chuff-chaff’ call to distinguish it from other similar species.
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Phylloscopidae

The leaf warblers are 77 species of small, usually olive-green / grey, insectivorous (insect-eating) birds. They are highly active birds, flitting between the branches and hovering to catch insects.

Many leaf warblers are similar in appearance. The best way to identify them is often by learning their calls.


New World Vultures

California condor
California condor (Gymnogyps californianus)
  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Cathartidae

The New World vulture family includes condors and the vultures found in the Americas. The New World vultures are not closely related to the vultures of the Old World. Instead, they have evolved many of the same characteristics and fill the same niche. This is an example of convergent evolution.

The California condor is the largest land bird in North America. It became extinct in the wild during the 1980’s, but has since been re-introduced. The species remains critically endangered.


New Zealand Wrens

rifleman bird
Rifleman (Acanthisitta chloris) Photo by digitaltrails (Lake Sylvan – Rifleman) [CC BY-SA 2.0]
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Acanthisittidae

The New Zealand wrens are a family of small birds that are only found in New Zealand. All New Zealand wrens are tiny; the family includes the rifleman, the smallest bird in New Zealand.

The New Zealand wrens are not closely related to the ‘true’ wrens in the family Troglodytidae.


Oilbird

Oilbird
Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) Photo by Alastair Rae from London, United Kingdom (Oilbird) [CC BY-SA 2.0]
  • Order: Caprimulgiformes
  • Family: Steatornithidae

The oilbird is a large, nocturnal bird found in northern South America. Its large eyes and the sensitive bristles on its hooked bill are adaptations for its nocturnal existence.

The oilbird is one of the very few birds capable of using echolocation. The echoes made by clicks emitted by the bird allow it to navigate in the dark.


Old World Sparrows

House Sparrow
House Sparrow
  • Family: Passeridae
  • Order: Passeriformes

Members of the old world sparrow family are typically small, brown and grey birds with well-developed bills. Their diet consists mainly of seeds, and most also eat insects. A number of other species known as sparrows are not members of the family Passeridae.

The old world sparrow family’s most familiar member is the house sparrow. It is found in large numbers in many parts of the world. The species is able to live alongside humans, and is a common sight in many cities and towns.

Native to Europe and Asia, the house sparrow has also been introduced to the Americas, Australia and other places outside of its original range, making it the world’s most widely-distributed bird.


Ostriches

types of birds - ostriches
Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)
  • Infraclass: Palaeognathae
  • Order: Struthioniformes
  • Family: Struthionidae

The family Struthionidae contains just 2 species: the common ostrich and the Somali ostrich. Until 2014 the Somali ostrich was considered to be a subspecies of the common ostrich.

Both ostriches are found in Africa. In addition to being the world’s largest bird, the common ostrich is also the fastest bird on land and the bird with the largest eggs. The species also has the largest eyes of any land vertebrate.


Owls

Blakiston's fish owl
Blakiston’s fish owl (Bubo blakistoni); the world’s largest owl species. Photo by Robert tdc [CC BY-SA 2.0]
  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Strigidae

Members of the family Strigidae are also known as the ‘true owls’. Owls are found on every continent except Antarctica. The family contains around 217 species.

An owl’s wide, round face has evolved to direct sound to its ears. The ears are placed at different heights on the head – an adaptation that helps the owl to pinpoint where a sound is coming from. Owls are heavily reliant on their hearing – so much so that heavy rain (which hides the noise made by their prey) restricts their ability to hunt.

The world’s largest owl is the endangered Blakiston’s fish owl, which is found in Japan, mainland East Asia and parts of Russia.


Parrots

blue and yellow macaw (Ara ararauna)
Blue and yellow macaw (Ara ararauna)
  • Order: Psittaciformes
  • Superfamily: Psittacidae

There are around 350 species of parrot, divided between 3 families, all of which are contained in the superfamily Psittacidae.

Parrots have strong, hooked beaks for breaking open seeds and nuts. The outer two toes of each foot face backwards, while the inner two toes face forwards. This is known as a ‘zygodactyl’ arrangement, and is found in other primarily tree-dwelling birds such as toucans and woodpeckers.

Parrots are among the most intelligent of all animals.


Pelicans

Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Pelecanidae

Pelicans are large fish-eating seabirds. Their bills are almost as long as their bodies, and are equipped with deep pouches.

Pelicans feed by diving into the water, filling their bill pouches with fish and seawater. After the seawater is expelled, the fish are swallowed.


Penguins

Emperor penguin
Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)
  • Order: Sphenisciformes
  • Family: Spheniscidae

Penguins are flightless seabirds. Using their wings to ‘fly’ underwater, penguins are incredibly fast and agile when in the water. Most penguins are found in cold southern regions, but some species are found as far north as the Equator.

The world’s largest penguin is the emperor penguin. It reaches 122 cm (48 in) in height and breeds during the harsh Antarctic winter.


Pigeons and Doves

Feral Pigeon
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia domestica)
  • Order: Columbiformes
  • Family: Columbidae

Pigeons are medium-sized, well-built birds that are found on every continent except Antarctica.

To most of us, the most familiar pigeons are the feral pigeons, found in urban environments the world over.

Feral pigeons are the descendants of domesticated rock doves which were originally bred for food. Wild rock doves – a species of pigeon that lives on sea cliffs – are still present in Europe, Africa and Asia.

There is no scientific distinction between pigeons and doves; the name ‘dove’ is generally applied to the smaller members of Columbidae.


Shrikes

great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor)
Great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Laniidae

Shrikes are small birds that feed on insects and small vertebrates (including mammals, reptiles and other birds). They are known for their habit of storing surplus food by impaling it on thorns. The shrike’s ‘larder’ often contains the grisly remains of several of its victims.


Storks

white stork
White stork (Ciconia ciconia)
  • Order: Ciconiiformes
  • Family: Ciconiidae

Storks are large waterbirds with long legs, long necks, and long bills. There are 19 species of stork, and members of the family are present in most parts of the world (storks are absent from the Polar Regions and from parts of North American and Australia).

Storks are known for building large, untidy stick nests which are used year after year.

In European folklore the white stork, which often nests on rooftops, is said to deliver babies. Couples who want to start a family are supposed to leave sweets on the windowsill in order to attract the birds.


Swallows and Martins

Swallow
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Hirundinidae

There are between 80 and 90 birds in the family Hirundinidae. They are found on every continent except for Antarctica. Their long pointed wings enable them to catch insects in mid-flight.

The barn swallow – often simply known as the ‘swallow’ in Britain, is one of several migratory members of the family Hirundinidae. Each year it travels between its summer breeding grounds in Europe to its winter feeding grounds in Sub-Saharan Africa. The arrival of this bird in spring is a sign that summer is on its way.


Tanagers

western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)
Western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Thraupidae

Tanagers are small to medium-small passerines found in the Americas. With around 240 species, the tanager family Thraupidae is the second-largest bird family (only the Tyrant Flycatcher family Tyrannidae is larger).

The tanager family contains some of the world’s most vividly-colored birds.


Thrushes

Song Thrush
Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Turdidae

The family Turdidae consists of around 170 species found in most parts of the world. The family includes some of the most familiar European birds, such as the song thrush and the blackbird.

The song thrush is known for its melodic call, which features repeated phrases.


Toucans

toco toucan (Ramphastos toco)
Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco)
  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Ramphastidae

The toucan family Ramphastidae contains not just the toucans, but also the toucanets and aracaris. Birds in this family have long, brightly-colored bills. The bill is lightweight and its primary use may be to control the bird’s temperature. The toucan also uses its bill to reach for food without moving.

The toco toucan is the largest toucan, and perhaps the best-known. This distinctive bird has an extremely long orange/yellow bill.


Tyrant Flycatchers

vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus)
Vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Tyrannidae

There are over 400 species in the family Tyrannidae, making it the world’s biggest bird family. Tyrant flycatchers are found only in the Americas. Most are small, plainly birds, but there are some brightly-colored exceptions such as the vermillion flycatcher.


Woodpeckers

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae

Woodpeckers are birds adapted to woodland and forest habitats. Their feet have a zygodactyl arrangement, with the outer two toes pointing backwards, and the inner two toes facing forwards.

Woodpeckers have strong bills for foraging behind bark and making holes in tree trunks. Their bills are also used to make the characteristic drumming sound that serves as a territorial call. The tongues of woodpeckers are long and sticky for collecting insects.


Wrens

Wren
Eurasian wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Troglodytidae

Although nearly all of the world’s wren species are found in the New World, they are named after the Eurasian wren – the only wren found in the Old World. This species is closely related to the Pacific wren, found in North America.

Most wrens are, like the Eurasian wren, very small, brown birds.

Many birds not in the family Troglodytidae are also known as wrens. These include birds in the New Zealand wren and the Australasian wren families.


Types of Birds: Conclusion

We hope that you have enjoyed this look at the world’s birds. Let us know your favorite type of bird in the comments below!

You can find more information on birds on the following pages:

1 thought on “Types of Birds: A List of the Different Bird Types Alive Today with Pictures & Facts”

  1. A Gold Crest sits on our utility room door handle and flits about for ages at a time several times a day – I have a video. The same thing happened several years ago and continued throught the summer. The handle is very shiny and the fully glazed door reflective. It seems to like seeing itself. There is a Yew tree just the other side of a chain link fence and a small wooded area. Is this a common sight or could this behaviour be rare? Thank you

    Reply

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