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Fun Facts - BIRDS

The Basic Bird Groups

There are some 9,700 species of birds alive today that inhabit a wide range of habitats including wetlands, woodlands, mountains, deserts, tundra, coasts and the open ocean. To better understand the immense diversity of birds, it is useful to examine the main groups of birds. Although there are several different ways experts classify birds into subgroups, on this website we recognize that there are 30 groups of birds:

Albatrosses and Petrels

Laysan albatross - Phoebastria immutabilis

Albatrosses and petrels, also known as tubenoses, are a group of seabirds that includes albatrosses, fulmars, prions, shearwaters, storm-petrels and diving petrels. Tubenoses are pelagic birds that spend long periods of time foraging over the open ocean. They have a widespread distribution and occur throughout most oceanic regions of the world. Tubenoses return to land only to breed. They select nesting sites on remote islands and on rugged coastal cliffs. There are 107 species of tubenoses.


More About Albatrosses and Petrels
• Albatrosses
• Storm Petrels
• Black-Footed Albatross
• Laysan Albatross
• Waved Albatross
• View More »

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey

Birds of prey, also known as raptors, are formidable avian predators, armed with powerful talons, hooked beaks and acute eyesight. Raptors generally have broad wings well-suited for soaring. Raptors hunt by day and feed on a variety of prey including fish, small mammals, reptiles and carrion. Raptors first appeared during the Middle Eocene. The group includes eagles, hawks, kites, falcons and old world vultures and comprises a total of 304 species.

More About Birds of Prey
• Secretary Bird
• Osprey
• Merlin
• Golden Eagle



Buttonquails are a small group of birds consisting of 15 species. They have 3 toes on each foot and lack a hindtoe. Although buttonquails resemble quails, they are not closely related to them. Buttonquails inhabit grasslands, scrublands and croplands. They are drab-colored birds and prefer running to flying. Their distribution includes Asia, Africa, Madagascar, Morocco, Algeria, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Malasyia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.


Cassowaries and Emus

Cassowaries and Emus

Cassowaries and emus together form a group of large flightless birds comprised of just four species—three cassowaries and one emu. Cassowaries inhabit New Guinea and Australia, emus are restricted to New Guinea. Although their ancestors could fly, present-day cassowaries and emus have only tiny vestigial wings that are far too weak to lift their bulky bodies into the air.Cassowaries and Emus Their feathers have become limp and shaggy and resemble coarse fur. The two groups occupy different habitats—cassowaries prefer forests while emus opt for scrublands and grasslands.

Cranes, Coots and Rails


Cranes and their relatives—the coots, rails, crakes, bustards and trumpeters—form a group that consists of 199 species. The members of this group are varied in their size and appearance, but generally have a short tail, long neck and rounded wings. The cranes are the largest birds in this group, with some species standing five feet tall. The cranes re also some of the most threatened of all bird groups. Most members of this group inhabit wetlands or lead fully aquatic lifestyles.

Cuckoos and Turacos


Cuckoos and turacos, although related and therefore grouped together, are in fact two somewhat distinct groups of birds. Both groups inhabit forests but while cuckoos have a worldwide distribution, turacos are restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. Cuckoos and turacos generally have a bulky body, small head, short beak long tail and broad wings. Cuckoos are dull colored birds but turacos have brightly colored plumage with vibrant reds and greens. There are 161 species of cuckoos and turacos.


Flamingos are an ancient group of filter-feeding birds that survive on a diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Their diet is rich in carotenoids, a class of proteins responsible for their bright pink to crimson plumage. They are highly social birds and form large flocks that feed and travel together. Flamingos inhabit tropical and subtropical regions in South America, the Caribbean, Africa, India and the Middle East. Their preferred habitat includes estuarine lagoons, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and large alkaline or saline lakes. There are five species of flamingos.



Gamebirds are a group of ground-dwelling birds that include chickens, guineafowl, turkeys, peacocks and pheasants. There are, in total, 287 species of gamebirds. Gamebirds have strong feet that they use to scratch at the ground while foraging for food. Some gamebirds have been domesticated by humans—the first of which was the jungle fowl, the ancestor of modern chickens. Other domesticated gamebirds include turkeys and guineafowl. Although in some gamebird species males and females are similar in appearance, a few species—such as pheasants and peacocks—exhibit a striking degree of sexual dimorphism.



Grebes are group of medium-sized freshwater diving birds that have worldwide distribution. There are six genera of grebes that comprise 21 species. Grebes have long necks and pointed bills. During the breeding season, grebes take part in elaborate courtship displays. Both parents are attentive to their young.


Herons, Storks and Relatives



Herons, storks and their relatives—bitterns, egrets, spoonbills and ibises—are long-legged, sharp-billed carnivorous birds that inhabit freshwater wetlands. There are about 115 species of storks and herons. Most members of the group are solitary hunters that stalk their prey slowly before striking quickly with their powerful bill. When flying, most herons and egrets coil their necks into an S shape. In contrast, storks fly with their necks extended straight out in front of their body.

Hummingbirds and Swifts

Hummingbirds and swifts are a diverse group of birds with long, narrow wings and dainty little legs and feet. Their wing bones differ in proportion from those of most other birds—the elbow joint lies close to the shoulder joint and their hand bones are long. Swifts are arial hunters that feed on insects. Hummingbirds feed on nectar they siphon from flowers. Swifts are worldwide in their distribution. Hummingbirds are restricted to North, South and Central America. There are 429 species of hummingbirds and swifts.


Kingfishers and their relatives—bee-eaters, rollers, hornbills and hoopies—are large-billed birds that feed on fish and insects. Kingfishes and their relatives are worldwide in distribution. They have a large head, powerful bills, a unique pattern of feather tracts. Most members of this group perch and wait to spot their prey and when they do, they swoop down and capture it before returning to their perch to eat it. There are 208 species of kingfishers.


Kiwis are small, flightless, nocturnal birds endemic to New Zealand. There are three species of kiwis. Kiwis forage at night on the forest floor, probing their bills into the loose debris and vegetation. They feed on earthworms and other small animals which they locate using nostrils located at the tip of their bill. Kiwis have tiny vestigial wings that are invisible under a coat of coarse shaggy feathers. Kiwis have long downward-curved bills. The closest living relatives of the kiwis are thought to be the cassowaries and emus.


Loons Loons are a group of freshwater diving birds that inhabit northern lakes throughout North America and Eurasia. There are five species of loons. Loons have the smallest wing-to-weight ration of all birds but this does not mean they are unskilled fliers. Their legs are located towards the back of their body, giving them optimum power when moving in the water but making them awkward when trying to move about on land. Loons have a streamlined profile, a long body and a dagger-like bill. There are five living species of loons.


Mousebirds Mousebirds are a small group of birds that inhabit open woodlands, scrublands and savannas in sub-Saharan Africa. They have a distinct crest and strong legs. The feed on fruit, seeds and the occasional insect. Outside the breeding season, mousebirds gather in flocks of up to 30 individuals. During the breeding season the flock dissipates and mating pairs form. There are 6 species of mousebirds.

Nightjars and Frogmouths

Frogmouths Nightjars and frogmouths together make up a group of birds consisting of 115 species. Nightjars and frogmouths are crepuscular or nocturnal birds that feed on insects that they catch in flight or by foraging on the ground. Nightjars and frogmouths are brown, black, buff and white in color and their feather pattern is often quite mottled. They blend well into their habitat—depending on species, they nest and roost on the ground or in the crooks of trees.


Ostrich The ostrich is a record-breaking bird. It's the tallest and heaviest species of all living birds. Although its bulky body means that flying is out of the question, the ostrich has adapted to life on the ground with impressive agility. Ostriches are superb runners that can sprint at speeds of up to 45 mph. The ostrich is also an endurance runner and can jog at a slick 30 mph for as long as a half an hour. There is only one species of ostrich.


Parrots Parrots are a group of gregarious and vibrantly colored tropical birds that include 352 species. Parrots live in a variety of habitats, but many species inhabit forests and open woodlands. Their range stretches across Australia, Asia, Africa and South America. Parrots are social birds that live in pairs or gather to form clamorous flocks. There are numerous endangered species of parrots. The greatest threats to parrots include habitat destruction and trapping for the pet trade.

Pelicans and Relatives - Pelecaniformes

Pelicans Pelicans and their relatives are a group of fish-eating birds that consists of 64 species. The group includes pelicans, gannets, boobies, cormorants, anhingas, tropicbirds and frigatebirds. Pelicans and their relatives are an ancient clan of birds with a fossil record that stretches back 100 million years. The members of this group are varied in their appearance but all have four toes that are connected by a web of skin. Many species have a throat pouch, a characteristic most prominent in pelicans and frigatebirds.

Penguins - Sphenisciformes

Penguins - Sphenisciformes Penguins are flightless birds that have stiff wings and distinct coloration (black or gray feathers on their backs and white feathers on their bellies). Their wing bones are fused to form flipper-like limbs and enable the birds to dive and swim with great skill. Penguins have long bills that are laterally narrow. Their legs are short and positioned at the posterior of ther body. They have four forward pointing toes. There are 17 species of penguins.

Perching Birds - Passeriformes

Perching Birds - Passeriformes

Perching birds are the most diverse of all bird groups, with over 5,200 species. Perching birds, also known as songbirds, are distinguished by their feet which have four toes, three of which point forward and one of which points backwards. Perching birds are active birds that inhabit a wide range of terrestrial habitats including forests, wetlands, grasslands, deserts and tundra. Perching birds are varied in appearance, with some species being dull in color while others are brightly colored.

More About Perching Birds
• Perching Birds - Passeriformes
• Perching Birds - The Most Specious of Birds
• Perching Bird Pictures

Pigeons and Doves - Columbiformes


Pigeons and doves are gregarious plant and seed eating birds that includes 312 species. They have a plump body, small head and a small bill. The range in color from brown to grey and blue and some species have pink, bronze or iridescent highlights. Pigeons and doves often feed in flocks. Two well-known extinct birds, the dodo and the passenger pigeon, both belonged to this group. Today, pigeons and doves face threats from hunting, habitat destruction and introduced predators.

More About Pigeons and Doves
• Pigeons and Doves - Columbiformes
• Pigeons and Doves - From Rock Pigeons to Dodos
• Endangered Grenada Dove Set to Lose Vital Habitat

Rheas - Rheiformes

Rheas - Rheiformes Rheas are a group of flightless birds that includes 2 species, both of which inhabit South America. Rheas, like ostriches, have flat breastbones that lack a keel, the bone structure to which flight muscles attached. They have long, shaggy feathers and three toes on each foot. They also have a claw on each wing that they use to defend themselves when threatened. Rheas inhabit open lands such as deserts, grasslands, and steppes.

Sandgrouse - Pteroclidiformes

Sandgrouse - Pteroclidiformes Sandgrouse are a group of 16 species of birds that inhaibt deserts, steppes, mudflats and dry ravines throughout southern Europe, Africa and Asia. Sandgrouse are rotund birds that exhibit rather cryptic coloration that enables them to blend well with their surroundings. There are 16 species of sandgrouse.

Shorebirds - Charadriiformes

Shorebirds - Charadriiformes

Shorebirds include birds such as waders, gulls and auks are a group of shore-dwelling birds. The group includes 344 species. Waders, gulls and auks are small to medium sized birds with thin bills and long legs. They prefer open coastal habitats such as shorelines and beaches. There they feed on insects, worms and other small aquatic animals by probing in the soft sediment or picking them off the ground.

Tinamous - Tinamiformes

Tinamous - Tinamiformes Tinamous are ground dwelling birds. They are generally well camouflaged birds, with patterned plumage that ranges from light to dark brown or gray. They tire easily when flying or running, so their plumage helps them to blend into their surroundings to avoid predators. There are 47 species of tinamous.

Trogons - Trogoniformes

Trogons - Trogoniformes Trogons are a group of 39 species of tropical forest birds that inhabit the Americas, southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They have a short beak, rounded wings, and a long tail. Trogons feed on insects and fruit. Trogons build their nests in tree cavities or by moving into abandoned insect nests.

Waterfowl - Anseriformes

Waterfowl - Anseriformes Waterfowl form a group of 157 species of ducks, geese, screamers, swans and their relatives. Most species of waterfowl are well-adapted for life in aquatic habitats. Many groups—such as ducks, geese and swans—have webbed feet, an elevated hind toe, and a flattened blunt-tipped bill.

Woodpeckers and Relatives - Piciformes

Woodpeckers Woodpeckers and their relatives form a group of woodland birds that, in addition to woodpeckers, includes toucans, jacamars, puffbirds, barbets and honeyguides. There are 396 species of woodpeckers and their relatives. Members of this group feed on insects or fruit. One group, the honeyguides, are specialty feeders that survive on a diet of beeswax. All woodpeckers and their relatives have strong bills and a well-cushioned brain, adaptations that enable them to peck for food for long periods each day without injury. Woodpeckers and their relatives have four toes on each foot, two that face forward and two that face backwards.

1. Birds are divided into 30 groups.
Although there are several different ways experts classify birds into subgroups, on this website we recognize that there are 30 groups of birds.

2. There are 9,865 species of birds alive today, according to the IUCN.
Of the 9,865 bird species, 1,227 species are considered threatened with extinction, 838 species are near threatened, 7,735 species are considered to be of least concern, and 65 species lack the data to determine their status. 133 species of birds are known to have gone extinct since 1500. There are also four species of birds that are classified as extinct in the wild. The last living members of those species survive only in captivity.

3. The earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx lithographica, lived about 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.
Archaeopteryx possessed a blend of reptilian and avian characteristics. It had feathers and wings but instead of a bill it had a reptilian snout. Archaeopteryx did not have a keeled breastbone, a key feature for flight, so scientists are uncertain whether it was capable of true flight or if it merely glided. A total of ten Archaeopteryx fossil specimens have been unearthed over the years. All of these fossils were recovered from the limestone deposits in quaries near Solnhofen, Germany. The first Archaeopteryx skeleton, now known as the "London Specimen", was discovered in 1861.

4. Evolutionary biologists remain uncertain as to the origin of birds.
The fossil record for early birds lacks suffcient detail for evolutionary biologists to determine with much certainty which group of reptiles gave rise to birds. Research currently supports the view that birds evolved from a group of dinosaurs known as theropods during the Mesozoic Era. Modern birds share many characteristics with theropods. Both have hollow bones, a pelvis bone that points backward, a wishbone, and a three-toed foot.

5. Feathers are unique to birds.
Feathers are a defining characteristic of the group, meaning simply that if an animal has feathers, then it is a bird. Feathers serve many functions in birds but most notable is the critical role feathers play in enabling birds to fly. In addition to helping to enable flight, feathers also provide protection from the elements. Feathers provide birds with waterproofing and insulation and even block harmful UV rays from reaching birds' skin.

6. Birds are not the only animals that are capable of flight.
Flight is not a characteristic restricted to birds. Bats, which are mammals, fly with great agility and insects, which are arthropods, were fluttering through the air several million years before birds took to the wing.

7. All birds reproduce by laying eggs.
Eggs vary in size and color depending on species. Although there is a wide range of egg colors, only two pigments contribute to the color of the shell. The first pigment is derived from hemoglobin and the second from bile. Most species lay their eggs in a nest. Nests may vary in size, shape, and construction material, but the most common nest shape is cup-shaped.

8. Many birds undertake seasonal migrations between their breeding and wintering grounds.
Many species of birds migrate to high latitudes to breed during the spring and summer. Then during the fall and winter months they migrate to regions of lower latitude. Many species follow similar routes each year when migrating. These routes are referred to as migratory flyways.

9. Birds do not have teeth.
Instead they have bills that are made of the protein keratin. Bird bills come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are adapted to the particular diet of each species. Herons, for example, have a sharp, pointed bill that enable them to capture fish. Finches on the other hand have a short, conical bill that is well-suited for cracking open seeds (Burnie and Wilson 2001, 261).

10. The largest of all birds is the ostrich.
Ostriches are flightless birds that have a large body, small head, long legs, and a long neck. Although they cannot fly, they are remarkable runners, able to run at speeds of up to 45 mph for half an hour. Adult ostriches weigh between 220 and 350 pounds and measure between 7 and 9 1/4 feet in height.