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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.

Flightless 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.

turkey

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.

ducks

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.

puffin

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.

hawk

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.

cockatoo

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.

honeyeater

Summary

  • 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.

Practice

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What are the two types of living birds?
  2. Which birds are the flightless birds?
  3. Describe characteristics of the flightless birds.
  4. How fast can an ostrich run?
  5. Give five examples of modern birds.
  6. How do modern birds differ from each other?

Review

1. Compare and contrast nocturnal and diurnal raptors.

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