Any of several small African birds belonging to the family Ploceidae (order Passeriformes) and constituting the genus Euplectes. The breeding males are black-bellied and reddish or yellow above, with rufflike head feathering and fluffy rump feathers nearly covering their stumpy tails. The male vigorously defends a bit of grassland or marsh, where his drab-streaked spouses—sometimes six or more—occupy globular nests. The 13-centimetre (5-inch) red bishop (E. orix), also called grenadier weaver, displays by flying about and clapping its wings. Red bishops have become established in southern Australia.
blackbird, in the New World, any of several species belonging to the family Icteridae (order Passeriformes); also, an Old World thrush (Turdus merula). rusty blackbird rusty blackbird Rusty blackbird (Euphagus carolinus). Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. red-winged blackbird red-winged blackbird Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. The Old World blackbird is 25 cm (10 inches) long; males are black and females brown, with orange bill and eye-rims. Common in woods and gardens throughout temperate Eurasia and established also in Australia and New Zealand, it resembles the American robin in general behaviour.
Six or seven species of large tropical seabirds constituting the family Sulidae (order Pelecaniformes or Suliformes). They vary in length from about 65 to 85 cm (25–35 inches). The red-footed booby (Sula sula) and the masked, or blue-faced, booby (S. dactylatra) are wide-ranging in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. The blue-footed booby (S. nebouxii) occurs in the Pacific from southern California to northern Peru and on the Galápagos Islands. Boobies’ bills are long, their bodies cigar-shaped, and their wings long, narrow, and angular. They fly high above the ocean looking for schools of fish and squid. When prey is sighted they plunge headlong into the water in a swift, vertical drop.
21 species of crested parrots (order Psittaciformes) found in Australia as well as in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Most are white with touches of red or yellow; some are black. All have a massive scimitar-like beak for cracking nuts, digging up roots, or prying grubs from wood; feeding is aided by a strong tongue. Cockatoos are treetop, hole-nesting birds; at times they form large, noisy flocks. Because they are showy, inventive, and affectionate, many are caged as pets. Some live more than 50 years.
Numerous birds of the family Cuculidae (order Cuculiformes). The name usually designates some 60 arboreal members of the subfamilies Cuculinae and Phaenicophaeinae. In western Europe “cuckoo,” without modifiers, refers to the most common local form, elsewhere called the common, or European, cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). Many cuckoos have specialized names, such as ani, coua, coucal, guira, and roadrunner. Members of the subfamily Neomorphinae are called ground cuckoos. The family Cuculidae is worldwide, found in temperate and tropical regions but is most diverse in the Old World tropics. Cuculids tend to be shy inhabitants of thick vegetation, more often heard than seen. Many species are named for the sounds they make—e.g., brain-fever bird (a hawk cuckoo, Cuculus varius), koel (Eudynamys scolopacea), and cuckoo itself, the latter two names being imitations of the bird’s song.
Certain birds of the pigeon family, Columbidae (order Columbiformes). The names pigeon and dove are often used interchangeably. Although “dove” usually refers to the smaller, long-tailed members of the pigeon family, there are exceptions: the domestic pigeon, a rather typical pigeon, is frequently called the rock dove and is the bird portrayed and called the “dove of peace.” The common names of these birds do not necessarily provide any information about their biological relationships.
Various species of relatively small, short-necked, large-billed waterfowl. In true ducks—i.e., those classified in the subfamily Anatinae in the waterfowl family Anatidae—the legs are placed rearward, as in swans, rather than forward, as in geese. The result is a distinctive waddling gait. Most true ducks, including a few inaccurately called geese (e.g., sheldgeese) by reason of size and build, also differ from swans and true geese in the following characteristics: males (drakes) and females (hens or ducks) exhibit some degree of differentiation in plumage and in call, males molt twice annually, females lay large clutches of smooth-shelled rather than rough-shelled eggs, and both sexes have overlapping scales on the skin of the leg. The wild mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is believed to be the ancestor of all domestic ducks, and it has undergone numerous crossbreedings and mutations since it was first domesticated in China between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago.
The falcons and caracaras are around 60 species of diurnal birds of prey that make up the family Falconidae (representing all extant species in the order Falconiformes). The family is divided into three subfamilies, Herpetotherinae, which includes the laughing falcon and forest falcons, Polyborinae, which includes the caracaras and Spiziapteryx, and Falconinae, the falcons and kestrels (Falco) and falconets (Microhierax).
several hundred species of small conical-billed seed-eating songbirds (order Passeriformes). Well-known or interesting birds called finches include the bunting, canary, cardinal, chaffinch, crossbill, Galapagos finch, goldfinch, grass finch, grosbeak, sparrow, euphonia, and weaver. Some 240 species of birds called the true finches are classified in the family Fringillidae. Other songbirds that are also commonly referred to as finches are classified in the families Emberizidae, Thraupidae, and Estrildidae.
Number of perching birds (order Passeriformes) that dart out to capture insects on the wing, particularly members of the Old World songbird family Muscicapidae and of the New World family Tyrannidae, which consists of the tyrant flycatchers. Many taxonomists expand the family Muscicapidae to include the thrushes, warblers, and babblers, treating the Old World flycatchers in two or more subfamilies, Muscicapinae (typical flycatchers) and Monarchinae (monarch flycatchers) and, in some classification systems, Rhipidurinae (fantailed flycatchers).
Frigatebirds are a family of seabirds called Fregatidae which are found across all tropical and subtropical oceans. The five extant species are classified in a single genus, Fregata. All have predominantly black plumage, long, deeply forked tails and long hooked bills. Females have white underbellies and males have a distinctive red gular pouch, which they inflate during the breeding season to attract females. Their wings are long and pointed and can span up to 2.3 metres (7.5 ft), the largest wing area to body weight ratio of any bird.
Member of an order of foot-propelled diving birds containing a single family, Podicipedidae, with about 20 species. They are best known for the striking courtship displays of some species and for the silky plumage of the underparts, which formerly was much used in millinery. The speed with which grebes can submerge has earned them such names as water-witch and helldiver, while the position of the feet near the tail is responsible for the early English name arsefoot, from which the family name was derived.
More than 40 species of heavily built web-footed seabirds of the gull and tern family Laridae (order Charadriiformes). Several genera are usually recognized for certain specialized gulls, but many authorities place these in the broad genus Larus. Conspicuous and gregarious, gulls are most abundant as breeders in the Northern Hemisphere, which has about 30 species in temperate to Arctic regions. They are mostly colonial ground nesters, and those that breed inland usually go to coasts in winter.
The Accipitridae is one of the three families within the order Accipitriformes, and is a family of small to large birds with strongly hooked bills and variable morphology based on diet. They feed on a range of prey items from insects to medium-sized mammals, with a number feeding on carrion and a few feeding on fruit. The Accipitridae have a cosmopolitan distribution, being found on all the world's continents (except Antarctica) and a number of oceanic island groups. Some species are migratory.
About 60 species of long-legged wading birds, classified in the family Ardeidae (order Ciconiiformes) and generally including several species usually called egrets. The Ardeidae also include the bitterns (subfamily Botaurinae). Herons are widely distributed over the world but are most common in the tropics. They usually feed while wading quietly in the shallow waters of pools, marshes, and swamps, catching frogs, fishes, and other aquatic animals. They nest in rough platforms of sticks constructed in bushes or trees near water; the nests usually are grouped in colonies called heronries.
About 320 species of small, often brightly coloured birds of the family Trochilidae, usually placed with the swifts in the order Apodiformes but sometimes separated in their own order, Trochiliformes. The brilliant, glittering colours and elaborately specialized feathers of many species (usually of the males only) led the 19th-century British naturalist John Gould to give many hummingbirds exotic common names, many of which are still in use—e.g., coquette, fairy, hill star, wood star, sapphire, topaz, sun gem, and sylph.
Icteridae, songbird family, order Passeriformes, consisting of about 100 species of great diversity in size, habits, and diet, found throughout the Americas. Members range in size from 16 to 54 cm (6 to 21 inches) long. They have conical bills, strong feet, and long, pointed wings. Most show black in varying degrees. The family includes such common birds as blackbirds (Agelaius), grackles (Quiscalus), orioles (Icterus), meadowlarks (Sturnella), cowbirds (Molothrus), and bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). Tropical members are the troupials (Icterus icterus), oropendolas (Psarocolius), and caciques (Cacicus).
Common name of about 18 species of large colourful parrots native to tropical North and South America. These brightly coloured long-tailed birds are some of the most spectacular parrots in the world. Macaws are classified in the genera Ara, Anodorhynchus, Cyanopsitta, Primolius, Orthopsittaca, and Diopsittaca in the family Psittacidae.
There are over 30 species of mimids in two larger and some ten small or monotypic genera. They tend toward dull grays and browns in their appearance, though a few are black or blue-gray, and many have red, yellow, or white irises. They range from 20 to 33 centimetres in length, and 36 to 56 grams in weight. Many mimids have a rather thrush-like pattern: brown above, pale with dark streaks or spots below. They tend to have longer tails than thrushes (or the bigger wrens, which they also resemble) and longer bills that in many species curve downward.
Any of about 60 to 70 species of birds that make up the subfamily Caprimulginae of the family Caprimulgidae and sometimes extended to include the nighthawks, subfamily Chordeilinae (see nighthawk). The name nightjar is sometimes applied to the entire order Caprimulgiformes. (See caprimulgiform.) True nightjars occur almost worldwide in temperate to tropical regions, except for New Zealand and some islands of Oceania. They have protective colouring of gray, brown, or reddish brown. They feed on flying insects that they catch on the wing at night.
The bird of Athena, the Greek goddess of practical reason, is the little owl (Athene noctua). Owls became symbolic of intelligence because it was thought that they presaged events. On the other hand, because of their nocturnal existence and ominous hooting sounds, owls have also been symbols associated with the occult and the otherworldly. Their secretive habits, quiet flight, and haunting calls have made them the objects of superstition and even fear in many parts of the world. In the Middle Ages the little owl was used as a symbol of the “darkness” before the coming of Christ; by further extension it was used to symbolize a nonbeliever who dwells in this darkness. Similarly the barn owl (Tyto alba) was looked upon as a bird of ill omen, and it subsequently became a symbol of disgrace. Scientific study of owls is difficult owing to their silent nighttime activity, with the result that the ecology, behaviour, and taxonomy of many species remain poorly understood.
Several shorebirds, notable for their long, flattened, orange-red bills, constituting the genus Haematopus, family Haematopodidae. Found in temperate to tropical parts of the world, oystercatchers are stout-bodied birds measuring 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 inches) long, with thick, pinkish legs; long, pointed wings; and a long, wedge-shaped bill. Their plumage varies from black and white, including a bold white wing patch, to entirely black.
Numerous seed-eating parrots of small size, slender build, and long, tapering tail. In this sense the name is given to some 115 species in 30 genera of the subfamily Psittacinae (family Psittacidae) and has influenced another parrot name, lorikeet (see parrot). To indicate size only, the name is sometimes extended to little parrots with short, blunt tails, as the hanging parrots, or bat parrotlets, Loriculus species, popular cage birds in their native area, India to Malaya and the Philippines.
Term applied to a large group of gaudy, raucous birds of the family Psittacidae. Parrot also is used in reference to any member of a larger bird group, order Psittaciformes, which includes cockatoos (family Cacatuidae) as well. Parrots have been kept as cage birds since ancient times, and they have always been popular because they are amusing, intelligent, and often affectionate. Several are astonishingly imitative of many sounds, including human speech. The family Psittacidae numbers 333 species. The subfamily Psittacinae, the “true” parrots, is by far the largest subfamily, with members found in warm regions worldwide. These birds have a blunt tongue and eat seeds, buds, and some fruits and insects. Many members of the subfamily are known simply as parrots, but various subgroups have more specific names such as macaw, parakeet, conure, and lovebird.
Seven or eight species of water birds in the genus Pelecanus constituting the family Pelecanidae (order Pelecaniformes), distinguished by their large elastic throat pouches. Pelicans inhabit lakes, rivers, and seacoasts in many parts of the world. With some species reaching a length of 180 cm (70 inches), having a wingspan of 3 metres (10 feet), and weighing up to 13 kg (30 pounds), they are among the largest of living birds.
Several hundred species of birds constituting the family Columbidae (order Columbiformes). Smaller forms are usually called doves, larger forms pigeons. An exception is the white domestic pigeon, the symbol known as the “dove of peace.”
Numerous species of plump-breasted birds of the shorebird family Charadriidae (order Charadriiformes). There are about three dozen species of plovers, 15 to 30 centimetres (6 to 12 inches) long, with long wings, moderately long legs, short necks, and straight bills that are shorter than their heads. Many species are plain brown, gray, or sandy above and whitish below. The group of so-called ringed plovers (certain Charadrius species) have white foreheads and one or two black bands (“rings”) across the breast. Some plovers, like the golden (Pluvialis species) and black-bellied (Squatarola squatarola), are finely patterned dark and light above and black below in breeding dress. These two genera are sometimes included in Charadrius.
The rails, or Rallidae, are a large cosmopolitan family of small- to medium-sized, ground-living birds. The family exhibits considerable diversity and includes the crakes, coots, and gallinules. Many species are associated with wetlands, although the family is found in every terrestrial habitat except dry deserts, polar regions, and alpine areas above the snow line. Members of the Rallidae occur on every continent except Antarctica. Numerous island species are known. The most common rail habitats are marshland and dense forest. They are especially fond of dense vegetation.
Numerous shorebirds belonging to the family Scolopacidae (order Charadriiformes), which also includes the woodcocks and the snipes. The name sandpiper refers particularly to several species of small to middle-sized birds, about 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 inches) long, that throng sea beaches and inland mud flats during migration. Sandpipers have moderately long bills and legs, long, narrow wings, and fairly short tails. Their colouring often consists of a complicated “dead-grass” pattern of browns, buffs, and blacks on the upperparts, with white or cream colouring below. They are frequently paler in autumn than in spring. Some species have distinguishing features, such as speckled breasts, white rump bands, or contrasting throat patches, but their general appearance is similar and they are notoriously difficult to identify. Most puzzling are the smallest sandpipers, known as peep, stint, or oxeyes. Most of these, formerly divided among the genera Erolia, Ereunetes, and Crocethia, are now placed in the broad genus Calidris.
Number of birds composing most of the family Sturnidae (order Passeriformes), especially Sturnus vulgaris, a 20-cm (8-inch) chunky iridescent black bird with a long sharp bill. It was introduced from Europe and Asia to most parts of the world (South America excepted). The millions in North America are descendants of 100 birds released in New York City in 1890–91. They often damage fruit and grain crops—though they also consume harmful insects—and usurp native songbirds’ nest holes. S. vulgaris feeds on the ground and flies in tight flocks; vocal year-round, it mimics other birds’ notes and utters wheezy sounds of its own. They frequently form large flocks, called murmurations, which may move in synchrony in order to avoid predators.
Stilt is a common name for several species of birds in the family Recurvirostridae, which also includes those known as avocets. They are found in brackish or saline wetlands in warm or hot climates. They have extremely long legs, hence the group name, and long thin bills. Stilts typically feed on aquatic insects and other small creatures and nest on the ground surface in loose colonies. Most sources recognize 6 species in 2 genera, although the white-backed and Hawaiian stilts are occasionally considered subspecies of the black-necked stilt. The genus Charadrius was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 with the black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) as the type species.
Hirundinidae, songbird family, order Passeriformes, consisting of swallows and martins, approximately 90 species of small, streamlined birds, noted for their strong and nimble flight. They are found worldwide except in polar regions and on certain islands.
The swifts are a family, Apodidae, of highly aerial birds. They are superficially similar to swallows, but are not closely related to any passerine species. Swifts are placed in the order Apodiformes with hummingbirds. The treeswifts are closely related to the true swifts, but form a separate family, the Hemiprocnidae.
Numerous songbirds of the family Thraupidae inhabiting chiefly tropical New World forests and gardens. In some classifications, Thraupidae contains over 400 species, whereas others assign fewer than 300 species to the group. All tanagers are confined to the Americas.
Family Threskiornithidae (ibis and spoonbills) Medium to large wading or walking birds with long neck and short tail; bill long, slender, curved downward (ibis), or straight and spatulate at the tip (spoonbills). Legs long; front toes slightly webbed at base, hind toe small and elevated.
The thrushes are a passerine bird family, Turdidae, with a worldwide distribution. The family was once much larger before biologists determined that the former subfamily Saxicolinae, which includes the chats and European robins, are Old World flycatchers. Thrushes are small to medium-sized ground living birds that feed on insects, other invertebrates and fruit. Some unrelated species around the world have been named after thrushes due to their similarity to birds in this family.
Five species of small, brilliantly coloured forest birds constituting the genus Todus of the order Coraciiformes. They occur in the West Indies. Four distinct but closely related broad-billed todies may be found on the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Hispaniola (some systems of classification group them in a single species, Todus subulatus). The fifth, the narrow-billed tody (T. angustirostris), is found only on Hispaniola. About 9 to 12 cm (3.5 to 5 inches) long, all have grass-green backs and bright red bibs. They dig tiny nest burrows in sandbanks and feed on insects, caught on the wing.
Tropicbirds are a family, Phaethontidae, of tropical pelagic seabirds. They are the sole living representatives of the order Phaethontiformes. For many years they were considered part of the Pelecaniformes, but genetics indicates they are most closely related to the Eurypygiformes. There are three species in one genus, Phaethon. The scientific names are derived from Ancient Greek phaethon, 'sun'. They have predominantly white plumage with elongated tail feathers and small feeble legs and feet.
The vireos make up a family, Vireonidae, of small to medium-sized passerine birds found in the New World (Canada to Argentina, including Bermuda and the West Indies) and Southeast Asia. 'Vireo' is a Latin word referring to a green migratory bird, perhaps the female golden oriole, possibly the European greenfinch. They are typically dull-plumaged and greenish in color, the smaller species resembling wood warblers apart from their heavier bills. They range in size from the Chocó vireo, dwarf vireo and lesser greenlet, all at around 10 centimeters and 8 grams, to the peppershrikes and shrike-vireos at up to 17 centimeters and 40 grams.
22 species of large carrion-eating birds that live predominantly in the tropics and subtropics, classified in the families Accipitridae (Old World vultures) and Cathartidae (New World vultures) in the order Accipitriformes. The 7 species of New World vultures include condors, and the 15 Old World species include the lammergeier and griffon vultures. Although many members of the two groups appear similar, they are only distantly related.
Various species of small songbirds belonging predominantly to the Sylviidae (sometimes considered a subfamily, Sylviinae, of the family Muscicapidae), Parulidae, and Peucedramidae families of the order Passeriformes. Warblers are small, active insect eaters found in gardens, woodlands, and marshes. The Old World warblers of the family Sylviidae comprise almost 350 species and are intimately related to the thrushes and the Old World flycatchers. Members of the family occur mainly from Europe and Asia to Australia and Africa, but a few of these birds, notably the kinglet (Regulus) and gnatcatcher (Polioptila), live in the Americas. Many warblers of Europe are familiar enough to have received special names, such as the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), the whitethroat (S. communis), and the chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). Reed (see photograph), bush, and swamp warblers (Acrocephalus, Bradypterus, Calamocichla, and Cettia) are mostly brown-plumaged and harsh-voiced birds. Among other well-known genera of Old World warblers are the fantail warblers (see cisticola) and longtail warblers (see prinia).
Several African birds that have long dark tails suggesting a funeral veil. They belong to two subfamilies, Viduinae and Ploceinae, of the family Ploceidae (order Passeriformes). The name is associated with Whydah (Ouidah), a town in Benin where the birds are common. In the Viduinae, each species of the genus Vidua (probably eight or nine species, including those assigned by some authorities to the genera Steganura, Hypochera, or Tetraenura) is a social parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of a particular species of weaver finch for incubation and development. Males are mostly black and have four central tail feathers greatly elongated; body length is about 10 to 13 centimetres (4 to 5 inches). Common species are the pin-tailed whydah (V. macroura), the shaft-tailed whydah (V. regia), and the broad-tailed paradise whydah (V. orientalis), perhaps a race of the paradise whydah (V. paradisaea).
About 180 species of birds that constitute the subfamily Picinae (true woodpeckers) of the family Picidae (order Piciformes), noted for probing for insects in tree bark and for chiseling nest holes in deadwood. Woodpeckers occur nearly worldwide, except in the region of Australia and New Guinea, but are most abundant in South America and Southeast Asia. Most woodpeckers are resident, but a few temperate-zone species, such as the North American yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) and the flicker (genus Colaptes), are migratory.