Bird Classifications

The classification of birds involves grouping of birds into categories according to physiological similarities, and more recently, by consideration of their genetic make-up. This classification is also known as taxonomy. The system of classification was created by Carl Linnaeus.

The first division of classification is into Kingdom. Birds are classified into the Kingdom Animalia (i.e. Animals). The kingdom is further divided into the Phylum. Birds are in the Phylum Chordata (Animals with a backbone). Next in classification is the Class. The Class for birds is Aves. From this stage we will be dealing purely with the classification of birds i.e. How the Class Aves is divided up.

In bird classification the Class Aves is split up into 23 orders. Birds in an order all share very similar characteristics. More than half of the Class of Aves are in the order Passeriformes (aka Passerines). The other smaller orders include: Struthioniformes (Ostriches, emu’s etc.), Galliformes (pheasants, guinea fowl etc.), Piciformes (Barbets, woodpeckers etc.) and many more.

The orders are further divided into families. There are 142 families in the Class Aves. The family designation is usually indicated by ending in -dae. For example, the order Apodiformes is divided into the families of: Apodidae (typical swifts) and Hemiprocnidae (crested swifts).

Within the families you will find the genus, of which there are 2,057 in the Class Aves. The next smallest unit of bird classification is species. In some cases the species is further divided into subspecies, this often occurs because birds of the same species living in a different geographical area may differ slightly. There are 9,702 species of birds.

The genus and species names are used when using a bird’s scientific name. The genus always begins with a capital letter and the species with a lower case letter. They should always be written as follows: Struthio camelus (Ostrich) or underlined if hand written.

Let us look at a complete example bird classification. The African fish eagle is classified as follows :

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Ciconiiformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Haliaeetus
  • Species: Vocifer

The above is just a basic explanation of the classification of birds. We trust that it has provided you with insight into this fascinating study of bird classification.

back to Species