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12.13: Bird Classification

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    Raptor vs. landfowl. Any obvious differences?

    Of course there are. That is like comparing a turkey to an owl. And there are also flightless birds, birds that live near water, and parrots. With almost 10,000 species of birds, there are bound to be significant differences.

    Classification of Birds

    There are about 10,000 living species of birds. Almost all of them can fly, but there are several exceptions.

    Flightless Birds

    Some birds have lost the ability to fly during the course of their evolution. Several flightless birds are shown in Figure below. They include the ostrich, kiwi, rhea, cassowary, and moa. All of these birds have long legs and are adapted for running. The penguins shown in the figure are also flightless birds, but they have a very different body shape. That’s because they are adapted for swimming rather than running.

    f-d_06ee0fbc86940d401837f558942f0cc5e41c12608554da7572c332b1+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpgFlightless Birds. Flightless birds that are adapted for running include the ostrich, kiwi, rhea, cassowary, and moa. Penguins are flightless birds adapted for swimming.
    Flying Birds

    Birds that are able to fly are divided into 29 orders that differ in their physical traits and behaviors. Table below describes seven of the most common orders. As shown in the table, the majority of flying birds are perching birds, like the honeyeater described in the last row of the table. The order of perching birds has more species than all the other bird orders combined. In fact, this order of birds is the largest single order of land vertebrates.

    Order Description Example
    Landfowl: turkeys, chickens, pheasants They are large in size; they spend most of their time on the ground; they usually have a thick neck and short, rounded wings; their flight tends to be brief and close to the ground.


    Waterfowl: ducks, geese, swans They are large in size; they spend most of their time on the water surface; they have webbed feet and are good swimmers; most are strong flyers.


    Shorebirds: puffins, gulls, plovers They range from small to large; most live near the water, and some are sea birds; they have webbed feet and are good swimmers; most are strong flyers.


    Diurnal Raptors: hawks, falcons, eagles They range from small to large; they are active during the day and sleep during the night; they have a sharp, hooked beak and strong legs with clawed feet; they hunt by sight and have excellent vision.


    Nocturnal Raptors: burrowing owls, barn owls, horned owls They range from small to large; they are active during the night and sleep during the day; they have a sharp, hooked beak and strong legs with clawed feet; they have large, forward-facing eyes; they have excellent hearing and can hunt with their sense of hearing alone.

    burrowing owl

    Parrots: cockatoos, parrots, parakeets They range from small to large; they are found in tropical regions; they have a strong, curved bill; they stand upright on strong legs with clawed feet; many are brightly colored; they are very intelligent.


    Perching Birds: honeyeaters, sparrows, crows They are small in size; they perch above the ground in trees and on buildings and wires; they have four toes for grasping a perch; many are songbirds.




    • There are about 10,000 living species of birds, almost all of which can fly.
    • Flying birds are divided into 29 orders. The most common orders include landfowl, waterfowl, shorebirds, diurnal and nocturnal raptors, parrots, and perching birds.


    1. Name and describe flightless birds.
    2. Compare and contrast nocturnal and diurnal raptors.
    3. Give examples of landfowl and waterfowl.
    4. Describe parrots.
    Image Reference Attributions
    f-d_6fc024d4830aedf8a8fefa61be9c7974d7a27cd8f59a132c364bccd6+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 1] Credit: User:Bourrichon/Wikimedia Commons
    License: CC BY-NC
    f-d_06ee0fbc86940d401837f558942f0cc5e41c12608554da7572c332b1+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 2] Credit: Greater Rhea: Ron Knight; Double Wattled Cassowary: Michael Bentley; New Zealand moas: John Megahan; Masai ostrich: Christiaan Kooyman; Brown Kiwi: Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust; Penguin: Christopher Michel
    Source: Greater Rhea: ; Double Wattled Cassowary: ; New Zealand moas: ; Masai ostrich: ; Brown Kiwi: ; Penguin:
    License: Greater Rhea: CC BY 2.0; Duoble Wattled Cassowary: CC BY 2.0; New Zeland moas: CC BY 2.5; Masai Ostrich: Public Domain; Brown Kiwi: Public Domain; Penguin: CC BY 2.0
    f-d_3635758402b040ce6e89cb6d54caa6f02eaa5365978c78def815e9c3+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 3] License: CC BY-NC
    f-d_26f71a38095c1dea0a6004c79b1a05994ff33593641364e9f57a2ce8+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 4] License: CC BY-NC
    f-d_488b757185972d0c7263899dafca2e60f477158b615bf1ee00d2c659+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 5] License: CC BY-NC
    f-d_971fda84977bfb028cab05d2c76096b61309b01f3506a8c3393dd2eb+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 6] License: CC BY-NC
    f-d_e64bfec81206f8791f8d3d6f7ad0870a9d11beafad00818e9b0ffd6b+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 7] License: CC BY-NC
    f-d_ec2059870a5d3a74f025857fd88019a21d5e76f4de842a26527faf45+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 8] License: CC BY-NC
    f-d_57339b3225a602a893a2625ed589fd29bb193b2a52ce9adfc2ea445f+IMAGE_TINY+IMAGE_TINY.jpg [Figure 9] License: CC BY-NC

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