The biggest trouble I found with reading about species, genus, families and orders of birds was what type of bird is it really, and, to have an easy to understand English way of describing them. This document is my first effort at trying to achieve this. To search the text for what you require, use: Ctrl-F in any browser to bring up the inline search tool. This data has been collated from the resources of Wikipedia.
The document is formatted as such:
Common English Name of Family
Family: Name in Latin
Description of Family
The tinamous are one of the most ancient groups of bird. Although they look similar to other ground-dwelling birds like quail and grouse, they have no close relatives and are classified as a single family Tinamidae within their own order, the Tinamiformes. They are distantly related to the ratites (order Struthioniformes), that includes the rheas, emu, and kiwi. There are 47 species worldwide.
The Ostrich is a flightless bird native to Africa. It is the largest living species of bird. It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and legs and the ability to run at high speeds. There are 2 species worldwide.
The rheas are large flightless birds native to South America. Their feet have three toes rather than four which allows them to run faster. There are 2 species worldwide.
The cassowaries are large flightless birds native to Australia and New Guinea of which there are 3 species.
The Emu is the largest bird native to Australia and the only extant member of the genus Dromaius. It is the second-largest extant bird in the world by height, after its ratite relative, the ostrich. There are three subspecies of Emus in Australia. The Emu is common over most of mainland Australia, although it avoids heavily populated areas, dense forest, and arid areas.
Kiwi are flightless birds endemic to New Zealand. At around the size of a domestic chicken, kiwi are by far the smallest living ratites and lay the largest egg in relation to their body size of any species of bird in the world. There are five recognised species, all of which are endangered.
The Megapodiidae are stocky, medium-large chicken-like birds with small heads and large feet. All but the Malleefowl occupy jungle habitats, and most have brown or black colouring. There are 21 species worldwide.
Curassows, Guans and Chachalacas
The Cracidae are large birds, similar in general appearance to turkeys. The guans and curassows live in trees, but the smaller chachalacas are found in more open scrubby habitats. They are generally dull-plumaged, but the curassows and some guans have colourful facial ornaments. There are 50 species worldwide.
Guineafowl are a group of African, seed-eating, ground-nesting birds that resemble partridges, but with featherless heads and spangled grey plumage. There are 6 species worldwide.
New World Quails
The New World quails are small, plump terrestrial birds only distantly related to the quails of the Old World, but named for their similar appearance and habits. There are 32 species worldwide, all found only in the Americas.
Pheasants, Fowl and Allies
The Phasianidae is a family of birds which consists of the pheasants and their allies. These are terrestrial species, variable in size but generally plump, with broad, relatively short wings. Many species are gamebirds, or have been domesticated as a food source for humans.
The screamers are a small family of birds related to the ducks. They are large, bulky birds, with a small downy head, long legs and large feet which are only partially webbed. They have large spurs on their wings which are used in fights over mates and territorial disputes. There are 3 species worldwide.
The family contains a single species, the Magpie Goose. It was an early and distinctive offshoot of the anseriform family tree, diverging after screamers and before all other ducks, geese and swans, sometime in the late Cretaceous.
Ducks, Geese and Swans
The family Anatidae includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl, such as geese and swans. These are birds that are modified for an aquatic existence with webbed feet, flattened bills and feathers that are excellent at shedding water due to an oily coating. There are 131 species worldwide.
Divers are a group of aquatic birds found in many parts of North America (where they are known as Loons) and northern Europe. They are the size of a large duck or small goose, which they somewhat resemble in shape when swimming, but they are completely unrelated to these waterfowl. In particular, Divers' legs are set very far back which assists swimming underwater but makes walking on land extremely difficult. There are 5 species worldwide.
The penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. Most penguins feed on krill, fish, squid, and other forms of sealife caught while swimming underwater. There are seventeen species worldwide.
Albatrosses are very large, long-lived seabirds of very high aspect-ratio which frequent the Southern Ocean. Any such birds seen in N.Atlantic waters will thus be Vagrants. 21 species are recognised.
Shearwaters and Petrels
The procellariids are the main group of medium-sized 'true petrels', characterised by united nostrils with a medium septum, and a long outer functional primary. There are 75 species worldwide.
The storm-petrels are relatives of the petrels, and are the smallest of sea-birds. They feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. The flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like. There are 21 species worldwide.
The diving petrels are small auk-like birds found in the southern oceans. They feed on krill, copepods and small fish and squid. There are 4 species worldwide.
Grebes are small to medium-large sized freshwater diving birds. They have lobed toes, and are excellent swimmers and divers. However, they have their feet placed far back on the body, making them quite ungainly on land. There are 20 species worldwide.
Flamingos are gregarious wading birds, usually 3 to 5 feet high, found in both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. They are more numerous in the latter. Flamingos filter-feed on shellfish and algae. Their oddly-shaped beaks are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they consume, and are uniquely used upside-down. There are 6 species worldwide.
Tropicbirds are slender white birds of tropical oceans, with exceptionally long central tail feathers. Their heads and long wings have black markings. There are 3 species worldwide.
Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked, wading birds with long, stout bills. Storks are mute; bill-clattering is an important mode of stork communication at the nest. Their nests can be large and may be reused for many years. Many species are migratory. There are 19 species worldwide.
Ibises and Spoonbills
The Threskiornithidae is a family of large terrestrial and wading birds which includes the ibises and spoonbills. They have long, broad wings with 11 primary and about 20 secondary feathers. They are strong fliers and despite their size and weight, very capable soarers. There are 36 species worldwide.
Bitterns, Herons and Egrets
The family Ardeidae contains the bitterns, herons and egrets. Herons and egrets are medium to large sized wading birds with long necks and legs. Bitterns tend to be shorter necked and more wary. Unlike other long-necked birds suck as storks, ibises and spoonbills, members of Ardeidae fly with their necks retracted. There are 61 species worldwide.
Its plumage is a drab brown with purple iridescence on the back. The bill is long, flat, and slightly hooked. It looks similar to those of the Shoebill and the Boat-billed Heron. The Hamerkop only occurs in Africa and has only 1 species worldwide.
The Shoebill is a large bird related to the storks. It derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill.
Pelicans are large water birds with a distinctive pouch under the beak. As with other members of the order Pelecaniformes, they have webbed feet with four toes. There are 8 species worldwide.
Frigate Birds are large seabirds from the tropics with a very high aspect ratio. These birds do not swim and cannot walk well, and cannot take off from a flat surface. Any such bird seen in N.European waters will be a Vagrant. There are 5 species worldwide.
Boobies and Gannets
The sulids comprise the gannets and boobies. Both groups comprise medium-to-large coastal sea-birds that plunge-dive for fish. There are 9 species worldwide.
Cormorants and Shags
The Phalacrocoracidae is a family of medium-to-large fish-eating sea-birds that includes cormorants and shags. Plumage colouration varies with the majority having mainly dark plumage. There are 38 species worldwide.
Anhingas and Darters
Darters are frequently referred to as "snake-birds" because of their long thin neck, which gives a snake-like appearance when they swim with their bodies submerged. The males have black and dark brown plumage, an erectile crest on the nape and a larger bill than the female. The females have a much paler plumage especially on the neck and underparts. The darters have completely webbed feet, and their legs are short and set far back on the body. Their plumage is somewhat permeable, like that of cormorants, and they spread their wings to dry after diving. There are 4 species worldwide.
New World Vultures
The New World vultures are not closely related to Old World vultures, but superficially resemble them because of convergent evolution. Like the Old World vultures, they are scavengers. However, unlike Old World vultures, which find carcasses by sight, New World vultures have a good sense of smell with which they locate carrion. There are 7 species worldwide, all of which are found only in the Americas.
The Secretarybird or Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is a large, mostly terrestrial bird of prey. Endemic to Africa, it is usually found in the open grasslands and savannah of the sub-Sahara. Although a member of the order Accipitriformes, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, buzzards, vultures, and harriers, it is given its own family, Sagittariidae.
The Pandionidae family contains only one species, the Osprey. The Osprey is a medium large raptor which is a specialist fish-eater with a worldwide distribution.
Hawks, Kites and Eagles
Accipitridae is a family of birds of prey and include hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and Old World vultures. These birds have powerful hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, powerful talons, and keen eyesight. There are 233 species worldwide.
Caracaras and Falcons
Falconidae is a family of diurnal birds of prey. They differ from hawks, eagles, and kites in that they kill with their beaks instead of their feet. There are 62 species worldwide.
Bustards are large terrestrial birds mainly associated with dry open country and steppes in the Old World. They are omnivorous and nest on the ground. They walk steadily on strong legs and big toes, pecking for food as they go. They have long broad wings with "fingered" wingtips, and striking patterns in flight. Many have interesting mating displays. There are 26 species worldwide.
The mesites (Mesitornithidae) are a family of birds of uncertain affinities. They are smallish, near flightless birds endemic to Madagascar. Generally brownish with paler undersides, they are of somewhat pheasant-like appearance. There are 3 species worldwide.
The seriemas are terrestrial birds which run rather than fly (though they are able to fly for short distances.) They have long legs, necks, and tails, but only short wings, reflecting their way of life. They are brownish birds with short bills and erectile crests, found on fairly dry open grasslands. There are 2 species worldwide.
The Kagu is a crested, long-legged, and bluish-grey bird endemic to the dense mountain forests of New Caledonia. Almost flightless, it a spends its time on or near the ground, where it hunts its invertebrate prey, and builds a nest of sticks on the forest floor. There is 1 species worldwide.
The Sunbittern is a bittern-like bird of tropical regions of the Americas, and the sole member of the family Eurypygidae.
The genus is restricted to seven species distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, and two species found in Madagascar. The group's common name is derived from the short tail which has degraded fluffy feathers. There are 9 species worldwide.
The Heliornithidae are small family of tropical birds with webbed lobes on their feet similar to those of grebes and coots. There are 3 species worldwide.
Rails, Gallinules and Coots
Rallidae is a large family of small to medium-sized birds which includes the rails, crakes, coots, and gallinules. Typically they inhabit dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps, or rivers. In general they are shy and secretive birds, difficult to observe. Most species have strong legs, and have long toes which are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces. They tend to have short, rounded wings and be weak fliers. There are 143 species worldwide.
The trumpeters are dumpy birds with long necks and legs, and chicken-like bills. They are named for the trumpeting call of the males. There are 3 species worldwide.
Cranes are large, long-legged and long-necked birds. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back. Most have elaborate and noisy courting displays or "dances". There are 15 species worldwide.
The Limpkin resembles a large rail. It has drab brown plumage and a greyer head and neck. It is found mostly in wetlands in warm parts of the Americas, from Florida to northern Argentina. It feeds on molluscs, with the diet dominated by apple snails of the genus Pomacea. Its name derives from its seeming limp when it walks. There is only 1 species worldwide.
The buttonquails are small, drab, running birds which resemble the true quails. The female is the brighter of the sexes, and initiates courtship. The male incubates the eggs and tends the young. There are 16 species worldwide.
Stone-curlews and Thick-knees
The thick-knees are a group of largely tropical waders in the family Burhinidae. They are found worldwide within the tropical zone, with some species also breeding in temperate Europe and Australia. They are medium to large waders with strong black or yellow black bills, large yellow eyes and cryptic plumage. Despite being classed as waders, most species have a preference for arid or semi-arid habitats. There are 9 species worldwide.
The sheathbills are scavengers of the Antarctic regions. They have white plumage, and look plump and dove-like, but are believed to be similar to the ancestors of the modern gulls and terns. There are 2 species worldwide.
The Magellanic Plover is a rare wader found only in southernmost South America. In its build and habits it is similar to a turnstone. Its upperparts and breast are pale grey, and the rest of the underparts are white. It has short red legs, a black bill and a red eye. In young birds, the eyes and legs are yellowish in colour.
The oystercatchers are large and noisy plover-like birds, with strong bills used for smashing or prising open molluscs. There are 11 species worldwide.
The Crab Plover is related to the waders. It resembles a plover but with very long grey legs and a strong heavy black bill similar to a tern. It has black and white plumage, a long neck, partially webbed feet and a bill designed for eating crabs. Only 1 species worldwide.
The Ibisbill is a bird related to the waders, but sufficiently distinctive to merit its own family. The adult is grey with a white belly, red legs and long down curved bill, and a black face and black breast band.
Avocets and Stilts
Recurvirostridae is a family of large wading birds, which includes the avocets and the stilts. The avocets have long legs and long up-curved bills. The stilts have extremely long legs and long, thin, straight bills. There are 9 species worldwide.
Plovers and Lapwings
The family Charadriidae includes the plovers, dotterels, and lapwings. They are small to medium-sized birds with compact bodies, short, thick necks and long, usually pointed, wings. They are found in open country worldwide, mostly in habitats near water, although there are some exceptions. There are 66 species worldwide.
This usually very tame bird is found in pairs or small groups near water. It feeds by pecking for insects. It is also sometimes referred to as the Crocodile Bird because it is famous for its symbiotic relationship with crocodiles. There is only 1 species worldwide.
Painted snipe are short-legged, long-billed birds similar in shape to the true snipes, but more brightly coloured. There are 2 species worldwide.
The jacanas are a group of tropical waders in the family Jacanidae. They are found worldwide in the Tropics. They are identifiable by their huge feet and claws which enable them to walk on floating vegetation in the shallow lakes that are their preferred habitat. There are 8 species worldwide.
The Plains-wanderer or Plains Wanderer, is the only representative of its family. It is endemic to Australia and is a quail-like ground bird. The majority of the remaining population are found in the Riverina region of New South Wales.
The seedsnipes are a small family of birds that superficially resemble sparrows. They have short legs and long wings and are herbivorous waders. There are 4 species worldwide.
Sandpipers and Snipes
The Scolopacidae are a large diverse family of small to medium sized shorebirds including the sandpipers, curlews, godwits, shanks, tattlers, woodcocks, snipes, dowitchers and phalaropes. The majority of species eat small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil. Variation in length of legs and bills enable different species to feed in the same habitat, particularly on the coast, without direct competition for food. There are 89 species worldwide.
Pratincoles and Coursers
Glareolidae is a family of wading birds comprising the pratincoles, which have short legs, long pointed wings and long forked tails, and the coursers, which have long legs, short wings and long pointed bills which curve downwards. There are 17 species worldwide.
Laridae is a family of medium to large seabirds and includes gulls and kittiwakes. They are typically grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet. There are 55 species worldwide.
Terns are a group of generally general medium to large sea-birds typically with grey or white plumage, often with black markings on the head. Most terns hunt fish by diving but some pick insects off the surface of fresh water. Terns are generally long-lived birds, with several species now known to live in excess of 25 to 30 years. There are 44 species worldwide.
Skimmers are a small family of tropical tern-like birds. They have an elongated lower mandible which they use to feed by flying low over the water surface and skimming the water for small fish. There are 3 species worldwide.
The family Stercorariidae are, in general, medium to large sea birds, typically with grey or brown plumage, often with white markings on the wings. They nest on the ground in temperate and arctic regions and are long-distance migrants. There are 7 species worldwide.
A family of seabirds which are superficially similar to penguins with their black-and-white colours, their upright posture and some of their habits but which are able to fly. There are about 23 species worldwide.
Sandgrouse have small, pigeon like heads and necks, but sturdy compact bodies. They have long pointed wings and sometimes tails and a fast direct flight. Flocks fly to watering holes at dawn and dusk. Their legs are feathered down to the toes. There are 16 species worldwide.
Pigeons and Doves
Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks and short slender bills with a fleshy cere. There are 308 species worldwide.
New Zealand Parrots
The Strigopidae are endemic to New Zealand while two extinct species were found at the nearby oceanic islands like Chatham Island of New Zealand, and Norfolk Island and Phillip Island of Australia. There are 3 surviving species which are all threatened.
The family has a mainly Australasian distribution, ranging from the Philippines and the eastern Indonesian islands of Wallacea to New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Australia. A cockatoo is any of the 21 species belonging to the bird family Cacatuidae.
Parrots and Parakeets
Parrots are small to large birds with a characteristic curved beak shape. Their upper mandibles have slight mobility in the joint with the skull and the have a generally erect stance. All parrots are zygodactyl, having the four toes on each foot placed two at the front and two back. There are 335 species worldwide.
The Hoatzin is a species of tropical bird found in swamps, riverine forest and mangrove of the Amazon and the Orinoco delta in South America. It is notable for having chicks that possess claws on two of their wing digits. It is only species in the family.
The turacos, plantain eaters and go-away birds make up the bird family Musophagidae. They are medium-sized arboreal birds. The turacos and plantain eaters are brightly coloured birds, usually blue, green or purple. The go-away birds are mostly grey and white. There are 23 species worldwide.
The family Cuculidae includes cuckoos, roadrunners and anis. These birds are of variable size with slender bodies, long tails and strong legs. Unlike the cuckoo species of the Old World, North American cuckoos are not brood parasites. There are 138 species worldwide.
Barn owls are medium-sized to large owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. They have long strong legs with powerful talons. There are about 16 species worldwide.
Typical owls are small to large solitary nocturnal birds of prey. They have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak and a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye called a facial disc. There are about 199 species worldwide.
The frogmouths are a group of nocturnal birds related to the nightjars. They are named for their large flattened hooked bills and huge frog-like gape, which they use to take insects. There are 12 species worldwide.
The Oilbird is a slim, long-winged bird related to the nightjars. It is nocturnal and a specialist feeder on the fruit of the Oil palm.
The potoos (sometimes called Poor-Me-Ones) are large near passerine birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths. They are nocturnal insectivores which lack the bristles around the mouth found in the true nightjars. There are 5 species, all of which are from the South American tropical region.
Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds with long wings, short legs and very short bills that usually nest on the ground. Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is camouflaged to resemble bark or leaves. There are 86 species worldwide.
The owlet-nightjars are small nocturnal birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths. They are insectivores which hunt mostly in the air. Their soft plumage is a mixture of browns and paler shades. There are 9 species worldwide.
The treeswifts or crested swifts are aerial near passerine birds, closely related to the true swifts. They differ from the other swifts in that they have crests, long forked tails and softer plumage. There are 4 species worldwide.
Swifts are small aerial birds, spending the majority of their lives flying. These birds have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, perching instead only on vertical surfaces. Many swifts have long swept-back wings that resemble a crescent or a boomerang. There are 98 species worldwide.
Hummingbirds are small birds capable of hovering in mid-air due to the rapid flapping of their wings. They are the only birds that can fly backwards. There are 337 species worldwide.
The mousebirds are slender greyish or brown birds with soft, hairlike body feathers and very long thin tails. They are arboreal and scurry through the leaves like rodents in search of berries, fruit and buds. They are acrobatic, and can feed upside down. All species have strong claws and reversible outer toes. They also have crests and stubby bills. There are 6 species worldwide.
The family Trogonidae includes trogons and quetzals. Found in tropical woodlands worldwide, they feed on insects and fruit, and their broad bills and weak legs reflect their diet and arboreal habits. Although their flight is fast, they are reluctant to fly any distance. Trogons have soft, often colourful, feathers with distinctive male and female plumage. There are 33 species worldwide.
The Cuckoo-roller is an insectivorous medium-sized bird of the forests of Madagascar and the Comoros. Unlike the true rollers and ground rollers, where the sexes have identical appearance, the male and female Cuckoo Roller have distinctive plumages. Males are mostly velvety grey. The back, tail, and wings are dark shiny green. They have a black eyestripe. Females and young birds are mostly brown marked with darker streaks. There is 1 species worldwide.
Rollers resemble crows in size and build, but are more closely related to the kingfishers and bee-eaters. They share the colourful appearance of those groups with blues and browns predominating. The two inner front toes are connected, but the outer toe is not. There are 12 species worldwide.
The ground-roller are a small family of non-migratory near-passerine birds. They resemble the true rollers. All 5 species are found only in Madagascar.
Kingfishers are medium-sized birds with large heads, long pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. There are 93 species worldwide.
Todies are a group of small near passerine forest species of endemic to the Caribbean. These birds have colourful plumage and resemble small kingfishers, but with flattened bills with serrated edges. They eat small prey such as insects and lizards. There are 5 species worldwide.
The motmots have colorful plumage and long, graduated tails, which they display by waggling back and forth. In most of the species, the barbs near the ends of the two longest (central) tail feathers are weak and fall off, leaving a length of bare shaft, and creating a racket-shaped tail. There are 10 species worldwide.
The bee-eaters are a group of near passerine birds in the family Meropidae. Most species are found in Africa but others occur in southern Europe, Madagascar, Australia and New Guinea. They are characterised by richly coloured plumage, slender bodies and usually elongated central tail feathers. All are colorful and have long downturned bills and pointed wings, which give them a swallow-like appearance when seen from afar. There are 26 species worldwide.
Hoopoes have black, white and orangey-pink colouring with a large erectile crest on their head. There are 2 species worldwide.
The woodhoopoes are related to the kingfishers, rollers and hoopoe. They most resemble the last species with their long curved bills, used for probing for insects, and short rounded wings. However, they differ in that they have metallic plumage, often blue, green or purple, and lack an erectile crest. There are 8 species worldwide.
Hornbills are a group of birds whose bill is shaped like a cow's horn, but without a twist, sometimes with a casque on the upper mandible. Frequently, the bill is brightly coloured. There are 57 species worldwide.
Ground hornbills are large, with adults around a metre tall. Both species are ground-dwelling, unlike other hornbills. They can be very long-lived and are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa.
The jacamars are near passerine birds from tropical South America, with a range that extends up to Mexico. They are glossy elegant birds with long bills and tails, which feed on insects caught on the wing. In appearance and behaviour they show resemblances to the Old World bee-eaters, although they are more closely related to woodpeckers. There are 18 species worldwide.
The puffbirds are related to the jacamars, and have the same range, but lack the iridescent colours of that family. They are mainly brown, rufous or grey, with large heads and flattened bills with a hooked tip. The loose abundant plumage and short tails makes them look stout and puffy, giving rise to the English common name of the family. There are 34 species worldwide.
New World Barbets
The barbets are plump birds, with short necks and large heads. They get their name from the bristles which fringe their heavy bills. Most species are brightly coloured. There are 84 species worldwide.
Prong-billed and Toucan Barbets
In addition to primary forest they may occupy forest edges and secondary growth. Neither species is migratory, and young birds do not appear to disperse very far after fledging; young Toucan-barbets only disperse 0.5 km. There are 2 species worldwide.
Toucans are near passerine birds from the neotropics. They are brightly marked and have enormous, colourful bills which in some species may amount to half their body length. There are 40 species worldwide.
They are usually plump-looking, with large heads, and their heavy bill is fringed with bristles. There are 26 species living in wooded areas from Tibet to Indonesia.
They are plump-looking, with large heads, and their heavy bill is fringed with bristles. They are mainly solitary birds, eating insects and fruit. Figs and numerous other species of fruiting tree and bush are visited, an individual barbet may feed on as many as 60 different species in its range. There are 42 species worldwide.
Honeyguides are among the few birds that feed on wax. They are named for the behaviour of the Greater Honeyguide which leads large animals to bees' nests and then feeds on the wax once the animal has broken the nest open to get at the honey. There are 17 species worldwide.
Woodpeckers are small to medium sized birds with chisel like beaks, short legs, stiff tails and long tongues used for capturing insects. Some species have feet with two toes pointing forward, and two backward, while several species have only three toes. Many woodpeckers have the habit of tapping noisily on tree trunks with their beaks. There are 218 species worldwide.
New Zealand Wrens
The New Zealand wrensare a family of tiny passerines endemic to New Zealand. They were represented by six known species and two exist today. They are mostly insectivorous foragers of New Zealand's forests and are poor fliers.
The broadbills are small, brightly coloured birds that feed on fruit and also take insects in flycatcher fashion, snapping their broad bills. Their habitat is canopies of wet forests. There are 15 species worldwide.
Pittas are medium-sized by passerine standards, and stocky, with fairly long, strong legs, short tails and stout bills. Many, but not all, are brightly coloured. They are spend the majority of their time on wet forest floors, eating snails, insects and similar invertebrate prey which they find there. There are 32 species worldwide.
Ovenbirds comprise a large family of small sub-oscine passerine bird species found in Central and South America. They are a diverse group of insectivores which gets its name from the elaborate "oven-like" clay nests built by some species, although others build stick nests or nest in tunnels or clefts in rock. There are 243 species worldwide.
The antbirds are a large family of small passerine birds of subtropical and tropical Central and South America. They are forest birds, and tend to feed on insects at or near the ground. A sizable minority of them specialize in following columns of army ants to eat the small invertebrates that leave hiding to flee the ants.Many species lack bright colour; brown, black and white being the dominant tones. There are about 212 species worldwide.
The ground antbirds are a family comprising the antthrushes and antpittas. Antthrushes resemble small rails while antpittas resemble the true pittas with longish strong legs, very short tails and stout bills. There are about 63 species worldwide.
The ground antbirds are a family comprising the antthrushes and antpittas. Antthrushes resemble small rails while antpittas resemble the true pittas with longish strong legs, very short tails and stout bills. There are about 63 species worldwide.
The gnateaters are round, short-tailed, and long-legged birds, which are closely related to the antbirds. There are 8 species worldwide, all found in South America.
The tapaculos are a group of small suboscine passeriform birds with numerous species, found in South America. They are terrestrial species that fly only poorly on their short wings. They have strong legs, well-suited to their habitat of grassland or forest undergrowth. The tail is cocked and pointed towards the head. There are 56 species worldwide.
The crescentchests are a genusof birds from South America. The crescentchests are birds of arid scrub. They generally forage on the ground, but their diet has not yet been recorded. There are 4 species.
Tyrant flycatchers are passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They superficially resemble the Old World flycatchers, but are more robust with stronger bills. They do not have the sophisticated vocal capabilities of the songbirds. Most, but not all, have plain colouring. As the name implies, most are insectivorous. There are 429 species worldwide.
The cotingas are birds of forests or forest edges of tropical South America. Comparatively little is known about this diverse group, although all have broad bills with hooked tips, rounded wings, and strong legs. The males of many of the species are brightly coloured, or decorated with plumes or wattles. There are 71 species worldwide.
The manakins are a family bird species of subtropical and tropical mainland Central and South America, and Trinidad and Tobago. They are compact forest birds, the males typically being brightly coloured, although the females of most species are duller and usually green-plumaged. Manakins feed on small fruits, berries and insects. There are 57 species worldwide.
Tityras and Becards
Tityridae is family of suboscine passerine birds found in forest and woodland in the Neotropics. The approximately 30 species in this family were formerly spread over the families Tyrannidae, Pipridae and Cotingidae.
Lyrebirds are among Australia's best-known native birds. As well as their extraordinary mimicking ability, lyrebirds are notable because of the striking beauty of the male bird's huge tail when it is fanned out in display; and also because of their courtship display. There are 2 species.
Scrub-birds are shy, secretive, ground-dwelling birds. There are just two species. The Rufous scrub-bird is rare and very restricted in its range, and the Noisy scrub-bird is so rare that until 1961 it was thought to be extinct. Both are native to Australia.
The Bowerbirds are small to medium-sized passerine birds. The males notably build a bower to attract a mate. Depending on the species, the bower ranges from a circle of cleared earth with a small pile of twigs in the center to a complex and highly decorated structure of sticks and leaves. There are 20 species worldwide.
The Climacteridae are medium-small, mostly brown-coloured birds with patterning on their underparts and all are endemic to Australia-New Guinea. There are 7 species worldwide.
The Maluridae are a family of small, insectivorous passerine birds endemic to Australia and New Guinea. They are socially monogamous and sexually promiscuous, meaning that although they form pairs between one male and one female, each partner will mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such pairings. There are 25 species worldwide.
The honeyeaters are a large and diverse family of small to medium-sized birds most common in Australia and New Guinea. They are nectar feeders and closely resemble other nectar-feeding passerines. There are 174 species worldwide.
The bristlebirds are a family, Dasyornithidae, of passerine bird. There are three species and are endemic to Australia.
The pardalotes are very small, brightly coloured birds native to Australia, with short tails, strong legs, and stubby blunt beaks. This family is composed of four species in one genus, Pardalotus, and several subspecies. The name derives from a Greek word meaning "spotted". There are 4 species worldwide.
Thornbills are small passerine birds, similar in habits to the tits. There are 65 species worldwide.
The pseudo-babblers are small to medium-sized birds endemic to Australia-New Guinea. They are ground-feeding omnivores and highly social. There are 5 species worldwide.
The Orthonychidae is a family of birds with a single genus, Orthonyx, which comprises two types of passerine birds endemic to Australia and New Guinea, the Logrunners and the Chowchilla. Both use stiffened tails to brace themselves when feeding. There are 3 species worldwide.
The Satinbirds are a group of passerine birds which consists of three species found in the mountain forests of New Guinea.
Berrypeckers and Longbills
The Melanocharitidae are medium-sized birds which feed on fruit and some insects and other invertebrates. They have drab coloured plumage in greys, browns or black and white. The berrypeckers resemble stout short-billed honeyeaters, and the longbills are like drab sunbirds. There are 10 species, all of which are restricted to New Guinea.
The Paramythiidae is a very small bird family restricted to the mountain forests of New Guinea. The two species are colourful medium-sized birds which feed on fruit and some insects.
New Zealand Wattlebirds
This small bird family is endemic to New Zealand. It contains three species, only two survive and both of them, the Kokako and the Saddleback, are endangered species, threatened primarily by the predations of introduced mammalian species such as rats, mustelids and possums. A third, the Huia became extinct early in the 20th century.
The Stitchbird or Hihi is a rare honeyeater-like bird endemic to the North Island and adjacent offshore islands of New Zealand. It is the only member of the family.
Whipbirds, Jewel-babblers and Quail-thrushes
This is a family of passerine birds native to Australia and nearby areas. They are terrestrial birds which fly fairly weakly and prefer to squat or run when disturbed. They forage on the ground feeding mainly on insects and other invertebrates. In the desert, quail-thrushes also eat some seeds. There are 15 species worldwide.
Wattle-eyes and Batises
The wattle-eyes or puffback flycatchers are small stout passerine birds of the African tropics. They get their name from the brightly coloured fleshy eye decorations found in most species in this group. There are 31 species worldwide.
Woodshrikes and Allies
There are 8 species worldwide.
The helmetshrikes are similar in build to the shrikes, but tend to be colourful species with distinctive crests or other head ornaments, such as wattles, from which they get their name. There are 12 species worldwide.
This is an African group of species which are found in scrub or open woodland. They are similar in habits to shrikes, hunting insects and other small prey from a perch on a bush. Although similar in build to the shrikes, these tend to be either colourful species or largely black; some species are quite secretive. There are 50 species worldwide.
Machaerirhynchus is a genus of passerine birds currently classified with the monarch flycatchers in the family Monarchidae. The two species are known as boatbills. The genus is distributed across New Guinea and northern Queensland.
The vangas are shrike-like, arboreal forest birds, feeding on reptiles, frogs and insects. There are 15 species worldwide.
Butcherbirds and Allies
The cracticids: currawongs, bellmagpies, and butcherbirds, are similar to the other corvids. They have large, straight bills and mostly black, white or grey plumage. All are omnivorous to some degree. There are 12 species worldwide.
The Bornean Bristlehead, also known as the Bristled Shrike, Bald-headed Crow or the Bald-headed Wood-Shrike, is the only member of the passerine family Pityriaseidae. It is an enigmatic and uncommon species of the rainforest canopy of Borneo.
The woodswallows are soft-plumaged, somber-coloured passerine birds. They are smooth, agile flyers with moderately large, semi-triangular wings. There are 11 species worldwide.
The ioras are bulbul-like birds of open forest or thorn scrub, but whereas that group tends to be drab in coloration, ioras are sexually dimorphic, with the males being brightly plumaged in yellows and greens. There are 4 species worldwide.
The cuckoo-shrikes are small to medium-sized passerine birds. They are predominantly greyish with white and black, although some species are brightly coloured. There are 82 species worldwide.
The sitellas are a family of small passerine birds found only in Australasia. They resemble treecreepers, but have soft tails. There are 2 species worldwide.
Whistlers and Allies
The family Pachycephalidae includes the whistlers, shrike-thrushes, shrike-tits, pitohuis and Crested Bellbird. There are 57 species worldwide.
Shrikes are passerine birds known for their habit of catching other birds and small animals and impaling the uneaten portions of their bodies on thorns. A typical shrike's beak is hooked, like a bird of prey. There are 31 species worldwide.
Vireos and Greenlets
The vireos are a group of small to medium sized passerine birds restricted to the New World. There are about 52 species worldwide.
Orioles and Figbirds
The Old World Orioles are colourful passerine birds. They are not related to the New World orioles. There are 29 species worldwide.
The drongos are mostly are black or dark grey in colour, sometimes with metallic tints. They have long forked tails, and some Asian species have elaborate tail decorations. They have short legs and sit very upright whilst perched, like a shrike. They flycatch or take prey from the ground. There are 24 species worldwide.
The Fantails are small insectivorous birds which are specialist aerial feeders. There are 44 species worldwide.
The monarch flycatchers are small to medium-sized insectivorous passerines, which hunt by flycatching. There are 99 species worldwide.
Crows and Jays
The Corvidae family includes crows, ravens, jays, choughs, magpies, treepies, nutcrackers, and ground jays. Corvids are above average in size for the bird order Passeriformes. Some of the larger species show high levels of learning behavior. There are 120 species worldwide.
Both the Australian mudnesters are found in open habitat in eastern Australia, mostly open eucalypt woodlands and some forest that lacks a closed canopy. Both species are tolerant of human modified habitats and will occupy farmlands and suburban areas, and even parks and gardens.
The birds-of-paradise are best known for the striking plumage possessed by the males of most species, in particular highly elongated and elaborate feathers extending from the tail, wings or head. These plumes are used in courtship displays to attract females. There are 44 species worldwide.
Most species of the Petroicidae have a stocky build with a large, rounded head, a short, straight bill, and rounded wingtips. They occupy a wide range of wooded habitats, from subalpine to tropical rainforest, and mangrove swamps to semi-arid scrubland. All are primarily insectivorous, although a few supplement their diet with seeds. There are 43 species worldwide.
The picathartes, rockfowl or bald crows are a small genus of two passerine bird species forming the family Picathartidae found in the rain-forests of tropical west and central Africa. They have unfeathered heads, and feed on insects and invertebrates picked from damp rocky areas. Both species are totally non-migratory, being dependent on a specialised rocky jungle habitat.
The Rock-jumpers are medium-sized insectivorous or omnivorous birds. There are 2 species worldwide.
The Rail-babbler or Malaysian Rail-babbler is a strange, rail-like, brown and pied inhabitant of the floor of primary forest in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, as well as Borneo, distantly related to African crow-like birds. There is 1 species.
The waxwings are a group of passerine birds characterized by soft silky plumage and unique red tips to some of the wing feathers. In the Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings, these tips look like sealing wax, and give the group its name. These are arboreal birds of northern forests. They live on insects in summer and berries in winter. There are 3 species worldwide.
The silky-flycatchers are a small family of passerine birds that contains four species. The family is named for their silky plumage and their aerial flycatching techniques.
The Grey Hypocolius is a small Middle Eastern bird. They are mainly a uniform grey color, with males having a black triangular mask around the eyes, and with the shape and soft plumage of the waxwings. Only 1 species worldwide.
The Palmchat is a small, long-tailed passerine bird, the only species in the family Dulidae. The name reflects its strong association with palms for feeding, roosting and nesting. The Palmchat is the national bird of the Dominican Republic.
Mohoidae is a family of Hawaiian species of recently extinct, nectarivorous songbirds. These now extinct birds form their own family, representing the only complete extinction of an entire avian family in modern times. There were 5 species.
The Hylocitrea (Hylocitrea bonensis), also known as the Yellow-flanked Whistler or Olive-flanked Whistler, is a species of bird that is endemic to montane forests on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. It is the only species worldwide.
The Fairy Warbler or Fairy Flycatcher is a small passerine bird. It is an endemic resident breeder in southern Africa. It is the only species worldwide.
Tits and Chickadees
The Paridae are mainly small stocky woodland species with short stout bills. Some have crests. They are adaptable birds, with a mixed diet including seeds and insects. There are species 59 worldwide.
The penduline tits are a group of small passerine birds, related to the true tits. They are insectivores. There are 13 species worldwide.
The Bearded Reedling or "Bearded Tit", an Eurasian species is mainly insectivorous, especially in summer. This is the only species worldwide.
The nicators are shrike-like birds. The plumage of the genus is overall olive on the backs, tail and wings, with yellow spotting on the wings, and lighter grey or whitish undersides. There are 3 species worldwide.
Larks are small terrestrial birds with often extravagant songs and display flights. Most larks are fairly dull in appearance. Their food is insects and seeds. There are 91 species worldwide.
Bulbuls are medium-sized songbirds. Some are colourful with yellow, red or orange vents, cheeks, throat or supercilia, but most are drab, with uniform olive brown to black plumage. Some species have distinct crests. There are 130 species worldwide.
Swallows and Martins
The Hirundinidae family is a group of passerines characterized by their adaptation to aerial feeding. Their adaptations include a slender streamlined body, long pointed wings and short bills with wide gape. The feet are designed for perching rather than walking, and the front toes are partially joined at the base. There are 75 species worldwide.
Pnoepyga is a genus of wren-babbler endemic to southern and south eastern Asia. The genus contains four species.
Crombecs and African Warblers
The African warblers are a newly erected family, Macrosphenidae, of songbirds. Most of the species were formerly placed in the Old World warbler family Sylviidae. There are 18 species that inhabit sub-Saharan Africa.
Cettia Bush Warblers and Allies
Cettiidae is a newly validated family of small insectivorous songbirds ("warblers"), formerly placed in the Old World warbler family. Its members occur mainly in Asia and Africa, ranging into Wallacea and Europe. There are 34 species worldwide.
Long-tailed tits are a group of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. They make woven bag nests in trees. Most eat a mixed diet that includes insects. There are 9 species worldwide.
Leaf Warblers and Allies
Phylloscopidae is a newly described family of small insectivorous birds formerly placed in the Old World warbler family. Its members occur in Eurasia, ranging into Wallacea and Africa (and the Arctic Warbler breeding east into Alaska). Most live in forest and scrub and frequently catch food on the wing.
Reed Warblers and Allies
The species in this family are usually rather large "warblers". Most are rather plain olivaceous brown above with much yellow to beige below. They are usually found in open woodland, reedbeds or tall grass. There are 50 species worldwide.
Grassbirds and Allies
Locustellidae is a newly recognized family of small insectivorous songbirds ("warblers"). It contains the grass-warblers, grassbirds, and the Bradypterus "bush-warblers". These birds occur mainly in Eurasia, Africa, and the Australian region. There are 50 species worldwide.
The Black-capped Donacobius is a conspicuous, vocal South American bird and is found in tropical swamps and wetlands. It is the only species worldwide.
The Malagasy warblers are a newly validated clade of songbirds. They were formally named Bernieridae in 2010. The family consists of ten species of small forest birds and is endemic to Madagascar.
Cisticolas and Allies
The Cisticolidae are warblers found mainly in warmer southern regions of the Old World. They are generally very small birds of drab brown or grey appearance found in open country such as grassland or scrub. There are 111 species worldwide.
Babblers and Scimitar Babblers
The babblers or timaliids are somewhat diverse in size and coloration, but are characterised by soft fluffy plumage. There are 270 species worldwide.
Fulvettas and Ground Babblers
This is a new family that has diverged from the Babblers. There are 70 species worldwide.
These are rangy, medium-sized, floppy-tailed landbirds with soft fluffy plumage. These birds have strong legs and are quite terrestrial. This group is not strongly migratory, and most species have short rounded wings, and a weak flight. There are 64 species worldwide.
Sylviid Babblers, Parrotbills and Myzornis
The family Sylviidae is a group of small insectivorous passerine birds. The Sylviidae mainly occur as breeding species, as the common name implies, in Europe, Asia and, to a lesser extent Africa. Most are of generally undistinguished appearance, but many have distinctive songs. There are 291 species worldwide.
The white-eyes are small and are mostly of undistinguished appearance, the plumage above being generally either some dull color like greenish olive, but some species have a white or bright yellow throat, breast or lower parts, and several have buff flanks. As their name suggests many species have a white ring around the eyes. There are 96 species worldwide.
Sugarbirds and Allies
The sugarbirds are a small family of passerine birds which are restricted to southern Africa. In general appearance as well as habits they resemble large long-tailed sunbirds, but are possibly more closely related to the Australian honeyeaters. They have brownish plumage, the long downcurved bill typical of passerine nectar feeders, and long tail feathers. There are 2 species worldwide.
The Fairy-bluebirds are bubbul-like birds of open forest or thorn scrub. The males are dark-blue and the females a duller green. There are 2 species worldwide.
Goldcrests and Kinglets
The kinglets or crests are a small group of birds often included in the Old World warblers, but frequently given family status because they also resemble the titmice. There are 7 species worldwide.
Hyliota is a genus of passerine bird. The taxonomic position of the genus has been a long standing mystery. They have been formerly regarded as Old World warblers in the Sylviidae family, or related to the batises and wattle-eyes in the family Platysteiridae, bush-shrikes in the family Malaconotidae, or even Old-World flycatchers in the family Muscicapidae. An analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of the genus and possible relatives found they have no close relatives and are basal in the clade Passerida. They are now often regarded as a family in their own right, the "Hyliotidae". There are 4 species worldwide.
The wrens are mainly small and inconspicuous except for their loud songs. These birds have short wings and a thin down-turned bill. Several species often hold their tails upright. All are insectivorous. There are 80 species worldwide of which all but one are New World species.
These dainty birds resemble Old World warblers in their build and habits, moving restlessly through the foliage seeking insects. The gnatcatchers and gnatwrens are mainly soft bluish grey in colour, and have the typical insectivore's long sharp bill. They are birds of fairly open woodland or scrub, and nest in bushes or trees. There are 15 species worldwide.
Nuthatches are small woodland birds. They have the unusual ability to climb down trees head first, unlike other birds which can only go upwards. Nuthatches have big heads, short tails and powerful bills and feet. There are 24 species worldwide.
The Wallcreeper is a small bird with stunning crimson, grey and black plumage, related to the nuthatch family. There is only the one species in this Family.
Treecreepers are small woodland birds, brown above and white below. They have thin pointed down-curved bills, which they use to extricate insects from bark. They have stiff tail feathers, like woodpeckers, which they use to support themselves on vertical trees. There are 10 species worldwide.
Mockingbirds and Thrashers
The mimids are a family of passerine birds that includes thrashers, mockingbirds, tremblers, and the New World catbirds. These birds are notable for their vocalizations, especially their ability to mimic a wide variety of birds and other sounds heard outdoors. Their colouring tends towards dull greys and browns . There are 35 species worldwide.
Starlings and Rhabdornis
Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds. Their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country. They eat insects and fruit. Plumage is typically dark with a metallic sheen. There are 125 species worldwide.
Oxpeckers are endemic to the savanna of Sub-Saharan Africa. Both the English and scientific names arise from their habit of perching on large mammals such as cattle or rhinoceroses, and eating ticks, botfly larvae, and other parasites. There are 2 species worldwide.
The thrushes are a group of passerine birds that occur mainly in the Old World. They are plump, soft plumaged, small to medium-sized insectivores or sometimes omnivores, often feeding on the ground. Many have attractive songs. There are 335 species worldwide.
Chats and Old World Flycatchers
Old World flycatchers are a large group of small passerine birds native to the Old World. They are mainly small arboreal insectivores. The appearance of these birds is very varied, but they mostly have weak songs and harsh calls. There 274 species worldwide.
Dippers are a group of perching birds whose habitat includes aquatic environments in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. They are named for their bobbing or dipping movements. There are 5 species worldwide.
The Leafbirds are small, bulbul-like birds. The males are brightly plumaged, usually in greens and yellows. There are 8 species worldwide.
The flowerpeckers are very small, stout, often brightly coloured birds, with short tails, short thick curved bills and tubular tongues. There are 44 species worldwide.
The sunbirds and spiderhunters are very small passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. Flight is fast and direct on their short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed. There are 131 species worldwide.
Old World Sparrows and Snowfinches
Sparrows are small passerine birds. In general, sparrows tend to be small, plump, brown or grey birds with short tails and short powerful beaks. Sparrows are seed-eaters, and they also consume small insects. There are 35 species worldwide.
Weavers and Widowbirds
The weavers are small passerine birds related to the finches. They are seed-eating birds with rounded conical bills. The males of many species are brightly coloured, usually in red or yellow and black, some species show variation in colour only in the breeding season. There are 116 species worldwide.
Waxbills, Munias and Allies
The estrildid finches are small passerine birds of the Old World tropics and Australasia. They are gregarious and often colonial seed-eaters with short thick but pointed bills. They are all similar in structure and habits, but have a wide variation in plumage colours and pattern. There are 141 species worldwide.
Indigobirds and Whydahs
They are small passerine birds native to Africa. These are finch-like species which usually have black or indigo predominating in their plumage. There are 20 species worldwide.
The Olive Warbler is a small passerine bird. It is the only member of the family Peucedramidae.
The accentors are in the only bird family, Prunellidae, which is completely endemic to the Palearctic. They are small, fairly drab species superficially similar to sparrows. There are 13 species worldwide.
Wagtails and Pipits
The Motacillidae are a family of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. They include the wagtails, longclaws and pipits. They are slender, ground feeding insectivores of open country. There are 54 species worldwide.
Przewalski's Finch is a small bird similar in appearance to the Long-tailed Rosefinch. The tail is long and - quite unlike in typical finches - graduated, with the outer feathers much shorter than the central ones. There is 1 species worldwide.
Finches are seed-eating passerine birds, that are small to moderately large and have a strong beak, usually conical and in some species very large. All have 12 tail feathers and 9 primaries. These birds have a bouncing flight with alternating bouts of flapping and gliding on closed wings, and most sing well. There are 137 species worldwide.
New World Warblers
A group of small, often colourful passerine birds restricted to the New World. Most are arboreal and insectivorous. There are about 118 species worldwide.
Oropendolas, Orioles and Blackbirds
The Icterids are a group of small to medium-sized, often colourful passerine birds restricted to the New World. Most species have black as a predominant plumage colour, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. There are 30 species worldwide.
The Bananaquit is a small passerine bird. It has a slender, curved bill, adapted to taking nectar from flowers and is the only member of the genus Coereba and is normally placed within the family Coerebidae, although there is uncertainty whether that placement is correct.
Buntings, New World Sparrows and Allies
The emberizids are a large family of passerine birds. They are seed-eating birds with a distinctively shaped bill. In Europe, most species are named as buntings. In North America, most of the species in this family are known as Sparrows, but these birds are not closely related to the Old World sparrows which are in the family Passeridae. Many emberizid species have distinctive head patterns. There are 275 species worldwide.
Tanagers and Allies
The tanagers are a large group of small to medium-sized passerine birds restricted to the New World, mainly in the tropics. Many species are brightly coloured. They are seed eaters, but their preference tends towards fruit and nectar. Most have short, rounded wings. There are 256 species worldwide.
Longspurs and Snow Buntings
Commonly known as longspurs or snow buntings which were formerly placed in the Emberizidae family. They are a small family of passerine birds. There are 6 species worldwide.
Grosbeaks, Saltators and Allies
The cardinals are a family of passerine birds that are robust, seed-eating birds, with strong bills. They are typically associated with open woodland. The sexes usually have distinct plumages. There are 43 species worldwide.
© 2003-2016 Graham Watson. All rights reserved.
Last modified: March 16, 2016