a web page by Don Roberson

15th edition

list last revised June 2017
this list has 253 extant families

The purpose of Bird Families of the World is as an aid to world birders who want to maximize their enjoyment of avian diversity by observing examples of as many bird families as is reasonable within the time and money available for travel, and as a study tool for all interested readers. This project began in 1999. DNA evidence has revised much of what was thought to be known about bird evolution and relationships. It has been the 'wild wild West' in recent years as new research was published but, perhaps, a greater degree of consensus is now being reached. While tracking proposed revisions to the list of bird families, I've advocated for more consistency in the use of evidence across bird groupings, and have not always followed the latest trends.

For this 15th edition, the changes highlighted below bring my list to 253 extant families.

This web project began on 9 Feb 1999 when I posted a short page on the Dulidae [Palmchat]. While the list of Bird Families has been regularly updated to accommodate new research through 14 editions, it was not until 17 years and a month [6238 days] that, with the posting of the Vireonidae [Vireos], the project finally has a web page with text and photos for every family. Many of the old pages badly need updating in both layout, text, and photos but at least the initial goal has been reached. The updating of old pages — including the Dulidae — will go on. I've used my own photos when I had them, but I'm very grateful to the many photographers around the world who've permitted me to use their wonderful shots when I needed them.               – D. Roberson, 9 Mar 2016

In putting together this list, I've been influenced by the Winkler et al. Bird Families of the World book (2015), the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) project, updated decisions of the Clements world checklist, the IOC world checklist, the American Ornithologists' Union Checklist for Middle and North America, the South American Classification Committee, and John Boyd's Avian Taxonomy in Flux. Research books include Christidis & Boles (2008) Systematics & taxonomy of Australian Birds and the Howard & Moore Checklist (4th ed., 2 vols).
[Full disclosure — I have been a volunteer junior member of the Clements team since 2011 but I continue to depart from Clements for purposes of this project.]

HIGHTLIGHTS OF CHANGES in this 15th edition

Influential new publications include major efforts which combine molecular and fossil evidence to construct a comprehensive phylogeny of birds, perhaps most importantly Prum et al. (2015). Winkler et al. (2015), the AOU, the SACC, and the IOC have now rearranged the sequence of orders and families; Clements intends to do so in 2018. According, I have now resequenced all orders and families, generally following Winkler et al. (2015) but preferring AOU and/or SACC when the families involved are primarily New World families. So my current sequence is a mishmash of 3 current phylogenies.

Barker et al. (2004) first suggested a close relationship between three ground-dweller "babblers" in central Africa and the Sugarbirds (Promeropidae) of southern Africa. Many global checklists placed the three genera [Modulatrix, Arcanator and Kakamega] within the Promeropidae, as did I. More recent genetic work, including nuclear DNA (Johansson et al. 2008), showed a strong divergence between these groups. Most recently Winkler et al. (2015) and other works confirm that the divergence is ancient, and the three skulking ground-dwellers are elevated to family level. Winkler et al. (2015) call the new family Modulatricidae. rather than Arcanatoridae as does IOC, so I tentatively do so also. This now splits the three Dapplethroats [Modulatricidae] from the Sugarbirds.

In last year's edition of this list, I adopted some of the recommendations of Barker et al. (2013) that raised various Caribbean landbirds to Family level but chose broader Family groups for others [see an essay from my 13th edition discussing the proposals in more detail). I understand that the AOU is now (2017) considering the Barker et al. (2013) splits. The Winkler et al. (2015) book on bird families adopted almost all of the proposals. Although I have concerns about the younger ages of these proposed families (e.g., 11-14 mya while most passerine families exceed a 18-20 mya cutoff for divergence from other clades), I adopted three more of the Barker et al. (2013) splits: (a) I separate Wrenthrush [Zeledoniidae] and Cuban Warblers [Teretristidae] into two Families; (b) create the Spindalises [Spindalidae] from the genera Spindalis and Nesospingus, thus leaving the Caribbean Tanagers [Phaenicophilidae] composed of the genera Phaenicophilus, Xenoligea, and Microligea; and (c) elevate the two Chat-tanagers of Hispaniola to their own family [Calyptophilidae].

Net result: + 4 families

I remain conservative about Puerto Rican Tanager, genus Nesospingus, lumping it with Spindalises [it looks rather like a female spindalis] and it is closely related, and with Yellow-breasted Chat [Icteria], awaiting more evidence as to whether it remains a New World warbler, or should be with the Icterids, or should become the youngest family of all.

There has been a trend towards higher numbers of Families in recent years — welcomed by some, criticized by others — and that has played havoc with longterm travel plans of (some) birders (like me). The newest Bird Families book [Winkler et al. 2015] has 243 families, including two I do not yet accept — Puerto Rican Tanager ["Nesospingidae'] and Crested Jay ["Platylophidae;" recent genetic evidence suggests it is related to shrikes, not jays (some call it "Jay-Shrike") but its true level of divergence from shrikes is not yet clearly understood]. My list in this edition has 253 families, twelve of which differ from the Bird Families book: Ground-Hornbills [also split by Clements, IOC], Old World Parrots & Lories [Psittaculidae; also split by Clements, IOC, AOU, SACC], Sharpbill [Oxyruncidae; split by SACC, Clements], Butcherbirds [Cracticidae split from Artamidae Woodswallows, adopted by Clements], Shrike-babblers and Silktails [both splits recommended by Jønsson et al. (2016) on evidence of ancient divergences], Erpornis, Bristle-flycatchers [Erythrocercidae; also split by IOC], Hylias, Wallcreeper [Tichodromidae; also split by Clements, IOC], Parrotbills & allies [Paradoxornithidae; also split by Clements], and Cinnamon Ibon.
In short, this Family list incorporates all of the extant families adopted by Clements, or IOC [except Bananaquit, which is a tanager; Burns et al. 2014], and the newest two proposals in Jønsson et al. (2016).
My listing is of extant bird families. The Mohoidae, an endemic family from Hawaii that included 5 species in genus Moho and one in genus Chaetoptila that had traditionally been considered honeyeaters in the Meliphagidae. Genetic evidence proved they were not honeyeaters, but that they were related to silky-flycatchers, waxwings, and other bombycillids. The Mohoidae is now extinct, so it is not possible to search for any of its members. The last remaining species was Kauai Oo, last proven alive in 1987, and now considered extinct. Thus, when comparing number of families between various list, it is important to use the list of extant families. Clements states this number explicitly; IOC apparently does not.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CHANGES in the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th and 12th editions are now available through this separate link to the 12th edition (2012). The footnotes and citations in the 13th edition are now at a separate link to the 13th edition (2015).

This site is not affiliated with the Handbook project but I highly recommend the books; click on the banner below

Every family has a link to a separate web page, with photos, that I created over the years. Some are now very dated and badly need revision.
Non-passerine families
Struthionidae Ostrich  Burhinidae Thick-knees Ardeidae Herons
Rheidae Rheas Chionidae Sheathbills Threskiornithidae Ibises & Spoonbills
Tinamidae Tinamous Pluvianellidae Magellanic Plover Cathartidae New World Vultures
Casuariidae Cassowaries & Emu Pluvianidae Egyptian Plover Sagittariidae Secretarybird
Apterygidae Kiwis Pedionomidae Plains-wanderer Pandionidae Osprey
Anhimidae Screamers Charadriidae Plovers Accipitridae Kites, Hawks & Eagles
Anserantidae Magpie-Goose Haematopodidae Oystercatchers Tytonidae Barn Owls & allies
Anatidae Ducks, Geese & Swans Recurvirostridae Stilts & Avocets Strigidae Owls
Megapodiidae Megapodes  Ibidorhynchidae Ibisbill Coliidae Mousebirds
Cracidae Curassows & Guans Thinocoridae Seedsnipes Leptosomidae Cuckoo-Roller
Numididae Guineafowl Rostratulidae Painted-snipe Trogonidae Trogons
Odontophoridae New World Quails Jacanidae Jaçanas Bucorvidae Ground-Hornbills
Phasianidae Pheasants, Partridges, Grouse & Turkeys Scolopacidae Sandpipers, Snipes & Phalaropes Bucerotidae Hornbills
Phoenicopteridae Flamingos Turnicidae Buttonquails Upupidae Hoopoes
Podicipedidae Grebes Dromadidae Crab Plover Phoeniculidae Woodhoopoes & Scimitarbills
Mesitornithidae Mesites Glareolidae Coursers & Pratincoles Meropidae Bee-eaters
Pteroclidae Sandgrouse Stercorariidae Skuas & Jaegers Coraciidae Rollers
Columbidae Pigeons & Doves Alcidae Auks Brachypteraciidae Ground-Rollers
Cuculidae Cuckoos, Coucals & Anis Laridae Gulls, Terns, Skimmers Todidae Todies
Musophagidae Turacos & allies Rhynochetidae Kagu Momotidae Motmots
Otididae Bustards Eurypygidae Sunbittern Alcedinidae Kingfishers
Steatornithidae Oilbird Phaethontidae Tropicbirds Bucconidae Puffbirds
Nyctibiidae Potoos Gaviidae Loons Galbulidae Jacamars
Podargidae Frogmouths Spheniscidae Penguins Megalaimidae Asian Barbets
Caprimulgidae Nightjars & Nighthawks Diomedeidae Albatrosses Lybiidae African Barbets & Tinkerbirds
Aegothelidae Owlet-Nightjars Procellariidae Petrels, Diving-Petrels, & Shearwaters Capitonidae New World Barbets
Hemiprocnidae Treeswifts Oceanitidae Austral Storm-Petrels Semnornithidae Toucan-Barbets
Apodidae Swifts Hydrobatidae Northern Storm-Petrels Ramphastidae Toucans
Trochilidae Hummingbirds Ciconiidae Storks Indicatoridae Honeyguides
Opisthocomidae Hoatzin Fregatidae Frigatebirds Picidae Woodpeckers
Aramidae Limpkin Sulidae Boobies Cariamidae Seriemas
Psophiidae Trumpeters Phalacrocoracidae Cormorants Falconidae Falcons & Caracaras
Sarothruridae Flufftails Anhingidae Darters Strigopidae New Zealand Parrots
Rallidae Rails Pelecanidae Pelicans Cacatuidae Cockatoos
Heliornithidae Finfoots Balaenicipitidae Shoebill Psittaculidae Lories, Lovebirds & Old World Parrots
Gruidae Cranes Scopidae Hamerkop Psittacidae New World & Gray Parrots
Passerine families
Acanthisittidae New Zealand Wrens  Platysteiridae Batises, Wattle-eyes & allies Timaliidae Tree Babblers & allies
Pittidae Pittas Aegithinidae Ioras Pellorneidae Ground Babblers & allies
Philepittidae Asities Pityriaseidae Bristlehead Leiothrichidae Laughingthrushes & allies
Eurylaimidae Asian & Grauer's Broadbills Malaconotidae Bush-Shrikes Acrocephalidae Reed Warblers & allies
Sapayoidae Sapayoa Lamprolidae Silktails Pnoepygidae Cupwings
Calyptomenidae African & Green Broadbills Rhipiduridae Fantails Donacobiidae Donacobius
Thamnophilidae Typical Antbirds  Dicruridae Drongos Locustellidae Grassbirds & allies
Conopophagidae Gnateaters Corvidae Crows, Jays & allies Muscicapidae Old World Flycatchers & Chats
Melanopareiidae Crescentchests Ifritidae Ifrita Turdidae Thrushes
Grallariidae Antpittas Monarchidae Monarchs & allies Mimidae Thrashers & Mimids
Rhinocryptidae Tapaculos Melampittidae Melampittas Buphagidae Oxpeckers
Formicariidae Antthrushes Corcoracidae Apostlebirds Sturnidae Starlings, Mynas & Rhabdornises
Furnariidae Ovenbirds, Miners, Leaftossers & Woodcreepers Paradisaeidae Birds-of-Paradise Hypocoliidae Hypocolius
Tyrannidae Tyrant Flycatchers Callaeidae New Zealand Wattlebirds Hylocitreidae Hylocitrea
Tityridae Tityras, Becards & allies  Notiomystidae Stitchbird Bombycillidae Waxwings
Cotingidae Cotingas Melanocharitidae Berrypeckers & Longbills Ptilogonatidae Silky-flycatchers
Pipridae Manakins Cnemophilidae Satinbirds Dulidae Palmchat
Oxyruncidae Sharpbill Picathartidae Rockfowl Elachuridae Elachura
Menuridae Lyrebirds Eupetidae Rail-babbler Modulatricidae Dapple-throat & allies
Atrichornithidae Scrub-birds Chaetopidae Rockjumper Promeropidae Sugarbirds
Ptilonorhynchidae Bowerbirds  Petroicidae Australo-Papuan Robins Irenidae Fairy-Bluebirds
Climacteridae Australasian Treecreepers Hyliotidae Hyliotas Chloropseidae Leafbirds
Maluridae Fairywrens & Grasswrens Stenostiridae Fairy Flycatchers Dicaeidae Flowerpeckers
Dasyornithidae Bristlebirds Alaudidae Larks Nectariniidae Sunbirds & Spiderhunters
Meliphagidae Honeyeaters & allies Hirundinidae Swallows & Martins Peucedramidae Olive Warbler
Pardalotidae Pardalotes Paridae Tits & Chickadees Prunellidae Accentors
Acanthizidae Australo-Papuan Warblers Remizidae Penduline Tits Urocynchramidae Przevalski's Pinktail
Orthonychidae Logrunners Aegithalidae Long-tailed Tits Ploceidae Weavers
Pomatostomidae Pseudo-babblers Sittidae Nuthatches Viduidae Whydahs & Indigobirds
Mohouidae Mohouids Tichodromidae Wallcreeper Estrildidae Waxbills, Munias & allies
Eulacestomatidae Ploughbill Certhiidae Treecreepers Hypocryptadiidae Cinnamon Ibon
Neosittidae Sittellas Troglodytidae Wrens Passeridae Old World Sparrows
Oriolidae Old World Orioles, Figbirds & true Pitohuis Polioptilidae Gnatcatchers Motacillidae Pipits & Wagtails
Paramythiidae Painted Berrypeckers Cinclidae Dippers Fringillidae Finches, Euphonias, & allies including Hawaiian Honeycreepers
Oreoicidae Australo-Papuan Bellbirds Panuridae Bearded Reedling Calcariidae Longspurs & Snow Buntings
Cinclosomatidae Quail-Thrushes & Jewel-Babblers Nicatoridae Nicators Rhodinocichlidae Rosy Thrush-tanager
Falcunculidae Shrike-Tit Macrosphenidae Crombecs & African Warblers Emberizidae Old World Buntings
Pachycephalidae Whistlers, Shrike-Thrushes & allies Cisticolidae Cisticolas & allies Passerellidae New World Sparrows 
Psophodidae Whipbirds & Wedgebills Bernieridae Malagasy Warblers Zeledoniidae Wrenthrush
Laniidae Shrikes Pycnonotidae Bulbuls Teretristidae Cuban Warblers
Pteruthiidae Shrike-babblers Regulidae Kinglets Icteridae Icterids
Erpornithidae Erpornis Hyliidae Hylias Parulidae New World Warblers
Vireonidae Vireos & allies Erythrocercidae Bristle-flycatchers  Phaenicophilidae Caribbean tanagers
Campephagidae Cuckooshrikes Scotocercidae Bush Warblers, Stubtails & allied cettids Spindalidae Spindalises & allies
Rhagologidae Berryhunter Phylloscopidae Leaf Warblers Calyptophilidae Chat-tanagers
Artamidae Woodswallows Sylviidae Sylvids Mitrospingidae Mitrospingid tanagers
Cracticidae Butcherbirds & allies Paradoxornithidae Parrotbills, Fulvettas & allies Cardinalidae Cardinals, Grosbeaks & allies
Machaerirhynchidae Boatbills Zosteropidae White-eyes, Yuhinas & allies Thraupidae Tanagers
Vangidae Vangas, Helmetshrikes, Woodshrikes & allies    
As a personal project, I have posted a 16 page set of my efforts
to see all the bird families (and proposed families) and to photograph
most of them; the gallery of photos
begins with an introduction

Literature cited in this introduction:

Barker, F.K., A. Cibois, P. Schikler, J. Feinstein, and J. Cracraft. 2004. Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 101: 11040–11045.

Barker, F.K., K.J. Burns, J. Klicka, S.M. Lanyon, and I.J. Lovette. 2013. Going to extremes: contrasting rates of diversification in a recent radiation of New World passerine birds. Syst. Biol. 62: 298–320.

Burns, K.J., A.J. Schultz, P.O. Title, N.A. Mason, F.K. Barker, J. Klicka, S.M. Lanyon, and I.J. Lovette. 2014. Phylogenetics and diversification of tanagers (Passeriformes: Thraupidae), the largest radiation of Neotropical songbirds. Molec. Phylo. Evol. 75: 41-77.

Dickinson, E.C., and L. Christidis. 2014. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World: Passerines Vol. 2. Aves Press, Eastbourne, U.K.

Johansson, U.S., J. Fjeldså, and C.K. Bowie. 2008. Phylogenetic relationships within Passerida (Aves: Passeriformes): A review and a new molecular phylogeny based on three nuclear intron markers, Mol. Phylog. Evol. 48: 858–876.

Jønsson, K.A., P-H. Fabre, J.D. Kennedy, B.G. Holt, M.K. Borregaard, C. Rahbek, and J. Fjeldså. 2016. A supermatrix phylogeny of corvoid passerine birds (Aves: Corvides). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 94: 87-94.

Prum, R.O., J.S. Bery, A. Dornburg, D.J. Field, J.P. Townsend, E.M. Lemmon, and A.R. Lemmon. 2015. A comprehensive phylogeny of birds (Aves) using targeted next-generation DNA sequencing. Nature 526: 569–573.

Schodde, R., and L. Christidis. 2014. Relicts from Tertiary Australasia: undescribed families and subfamilies of songbirds (Passeriformes) and their zoogeographic signal. Zootaxa 3786: 501-522.

Winkler, D.W., S.W. Billerman, and I.J. Lovette. 2015. Birds Families of the World: A Guide to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Older essays, a long list of prior literature cited, and footnotes [now discontinued]
are found at the bottom of the 13th ed of this Checklist
I thank the editors of the Handbook of the Birds of the World project; the late G. Stuart Keith, co-author Birds of Africa series; the late James Clements, author of the Clements' world checklists; Keith Barker, Frank Gill, Murray Lord, Tom Schulenberg, and Van Remsen for sharing with me ideas and concepts about the taxonomy and arrangement of a listing of bird families of the world. I appreciate their input, but all the decisions reflected in the above listing are mine, including all the errors.



  page created 9 Feb 1999, content last updated 14 June 2017  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved