a web page by Don Roberson

18th edition

list last revised March 2023
this list has 260 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. Since then, molecular evidence has revised much of what was thought to be known about bird evolution and relationships. It was a wild ride for nearly two decades as new research was published but, today, a much higher degree of consensus has been reached. While tracking proposed revisions to the list of bird families, I've advocated for more consistency in the use of evidence across bird families.

This March 2023 update, called the 18th edition, provides only minor revisions. This is because the current set and sequence of bird families has more or less stabilized after two decades of genetic research into avian phylogeny and evoluation. The small changes highlighted below — one addition, one subtraction — leave my list of bird families at 260 extant families.

This project was not entirely academic. Another purpose was personal: to help me structure personal travel in search of a still-living member of every bird family. I had time and money to average about one foreign birding trip a year, and I wanted to make sure that we would try to find all those birds that might be split at the Family level. I also wanted to know something about the birds I was seeking, and writing pages on every family required research — I learned a lot. It took 40 years but, on 15 Nov 2022, at this shallow lagoon on the Stoebel Plateau in Patagonia, Argentina (below left), with cold glacierial winds howling at 40 knots (we are physically leaning into the wind), my wife Rita Carratello and I saw my final bird family: Magellanic Plover (below right). Absent unexpected future taxonomic revisions, I've now seen a member of every bird family still existing on Earth.
An 18 page set on my efforts to see all the bird families, and to photograph most of them, begins with an introduction. Set out below on this page is a taxonomy of the Bird Families of the World, with links to a separate page for each bird family. You'd have to check out 260 pages to see photos of every bird family. Alternatively, you can view at least one photo of at least 241 families in my personal bird family gallery.
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 17 editions, it was not until 17 years and a month [6238 days] that, with the posting of the Vireonidae [Vireos], this project finally had a web page with text and photos for every family. At that time, many of the old pages badly need updating in both layout, text, and photos but at least my initial goal had been reached. I've updated many old pages in the last few years, but some still need work. Pages with a white background are now old pages (more than a dozen years old) and badly need revision; pages updated 5-10 years ago have a light green background; pages with a forest green background (like this one) have been created or updated within the last half–decade. I've used my own photos when I had them, but I'm grateful to the many photographers around the world who've permitted me to use their wonderful shots when I needed them.  – D. Roberson, 20 May 2021

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 and continuing Birdlife International lists, updated decisions of the eBird/Clements world checklist, the IOC world checklist, the American Ornithological Society's Check-list of North American Birds for Middle and North America (often called the AOU or AOS list in these pages), the South American Classification Committee checklist, 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 was a volunteer junior member of the Clements team (2011-2018) but I continue to depart from Clements for purposes of this project.]

HIGHTLIGHTS OF CHANGES in this 18th edition

I make only two family changes in this 18th edition: one addition and one deletion. The addition is family Elanidae, following Starikov & Wink (2020) who opine, based on molecular evidence, that "mitochondrial and nuclear markers . . . combined with morphological, cytogenetic, and ecological date" warrant the elevation of the Elanin kites to family Elanidae. These involve the Elanus and Chelictinia kites, and Pearl Kite Gampsonyx swainsonii. Their data suggest these kites diverged from the rest of Accipitridae ~21 million years ago. This divergence date is quite similar to divergence dates in families within the Charadriiformes, for example (see Cerny & Natale 2022 for one recent time-dating hypothesis).
    The deletion is to follow Christidis & Boles (2008), and all updated global checklists, in merging the Australo–Papuan Butcherbirds and allies into the woodswallow family Artamidae. Behaviorally, woodswallows (genus Artamus) and the two peltops (Peltops) are distinctive sit-and-wait predators of flying insects, compared to the more corvid-like omnivores — characteristics that make them easily separable — but a series of studies have shown that together they are a strongly supported clade within the Corvoidae (summarized in Winkler et al. 2015).

Net result: no change in total families from the 17th edition [still 260 extant families]

    As noted previously, there has been a trend towards higher numbers of Families in recent years. Following recent decisions by the AOS-NACC, IOC, Clements, Birdlife International, and Winkler et al. (2015) — outlined in my 17th edition —I finally accepted as a fait accompli the elevation to Family level of all the New World nine-primaried passerine families first proposed in Barker et al. (2013). This was with reluctance, as I had hoped ornithologists could reach some reasonable standard by which families could be measured, perhaps something like a divergence date of 18-20 million years ago (mya), at least for passerine families. This hasn't happened. Even the monotypic Yellow-breasted Chat [Icteriidae] was moved near the Icterids and elevated to Family level, making it the youngest family of all bird families at only ~11 mya. It also created a formal Family name [Icteriidae] that will be confused with that of the Orioles and allies [Icteridae]. It remains disappointing that a lack of consistent in application of thought and a discussion (or lack thereof) or divergence times in deciding what is, or is not, a Family.
    There remains uncertain about some avian relationships. Last edition, I resurrected the Skimmer family [Rynchopidae] was because the current SACC retain the Skimmers as a family, and do not merge them with the Laridae (Gulls and Terns). Some data suggest that noddies and White Tern are not within the traditional Terns (and might be entitled to Family status), so it is wisest to retain the Rynchopidae as a Family awaiting more research. In this way my list of bird families included all the families currently accepted by either AOS or SACC. Since then, Cerny & Natale (2022) continued to place gulls in Laridae and skimmers in Rynchopidae, but they also moved all terns to Rynchopidae. It will take some time to determine whether gulls, terns, and skimmers are best placed in one Family or divided into 2 or 3 families.

The newest Bird Families book [Winkler et al. 2015] had 243 families. My list in this edition has 260 families, 17 more than the Bird Families book: Skimmers [split by SACC, see above], Ground-Hornbills [also split by Clements, IOC], Elanin Kites (Starikov & Wink (2022), Old World Parrots & Lories [Psittaculidae; also split by Clements, IOC, AOU, SACC], Sharpbill [Oxyruncidae; split by SACC, Clements], Royal Flycatchers [split by AOU], 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], White-crowned Shrikes (Fuchs et al. 2019), the Alcippe Fulvettas (Cai et al. 2019), Hylias, Wallcreeper [Tichodromidae; also split by Clements, IOC], Parrotbills & allies [Paradoxornithidae; also split by IOC and others], and Cinnamon Ibon (based on ancient divergence). In short, this list incorporates all of the extant families adopted by Clements, AOU, SACC, or IOC [except Bananaquit and/or Scrub Warbler].
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

Non-passerine families
Struthionidae Ostrich  Pluvianellidae Magellanic Plover Ardeidae Herons
Rheidae Rheas Burhinidae Thick-knees Threskiornithidae Ibises & Spoonbills
Tinamidae Tinamous Pluvianidae Egyptian Plover Cathartidae New World Vultures
Casuariidae Cassowaries & Emu Recurvirostridae Stilts & Avocets Sagittariidae Secretarybird
Apterygidae Kiwis Ibidorhynchidae Ibisbill Pandionidae Osprey
Anhimidae Screamers Haematopodidae Oystercatchers Elanidae Elanin Kites
Anserantidae Magpie-Goose Charadriidae Plovers Accipitridae Hawks & Eagles
Anatidae Ducks, Geese & Swans Pedionomidae Plains-wanderer Tytonidae Barn Owls
Megapodiidae Megapodes  Thinocoridae Seedsnipes Strigidae Owls
Cracidae Guans Rostratulidae Painted-snipes Coliidae Mousebirds
Numididae Guineafowl Jacanidae Jaçanas Leptosomidae Cuckoo-roller
Odontophoridae New World Quail Scolopacidae Sandpipers Trogonidae Trogons
Phasianidae Pheasants, Grouse & Turkeys Turnicidae Buttonquail Upupidae Hoopoes
Phoenicopteridae Flamingos Dromadidae Crab Plover Phoeniculidae Woodhoopoes
Podicipedidae Grebes Glareolidae Coursers & Pratincoles Bucorvidae Ground-Hornbills
Columbidae Pigeons & Doves Stercorariidae Skuas & Jaegers Bucerotidae Hornbills
Mesitornithidae Mesites Alcidae Auks Todidae Todies
Pteroclidae Sandgrouse Rynchopidae Skimmers Momotidae Motmots
Otididae Bustards Laridae Gulls & Terns Alcedinidae Kingfishers
Musophagidae Turacos Rhynochetidae Kagu Meropidae Bee-eaters
Cuculidae Cuckoos Eurypygidae Sunbittern Coraciidae Rollers
Podargidae Frogmouths Phaethontidae Tropicbirds Brachypteraciidae Ground-rollers
Caprimulgidae Nightjars Gaviidae Loons Bucconidae Puffbirds
Nyctibiidae Potoos Spheniscidae Penguins Galbulidae Jacamars
Steatornithidae Oilbird Diomedeidae Albatrosses Lybiidae African Barbets
Aegothelidae Owlet-nightjars Oceanitidae Austral Storm-Petrels Megalaimidae Asian Barbets
Apodidae Swifts Hydrobatidae Northern Storm-Petrels Capitonidae New World Barbets
Hemiprocnidae Treeswifts Procellariidae Petrels & Shearwaters Semnornithidae Toucan-barbets
Trochilidae Hummingbirds Ciconiidae Storks Ramphastidae Toucans
Opisthocomidae Hoatzin Fregatidae Frigatebirds Indicatoridae Honeyguides
Sarothruridae Flufftails Sulidae Boobies Picidae Woodpeckers
Rallidae Rails Anhingidae Darters Cariamidae Seriemas
Heliornithidae Finfoots Phalacrocoracidae Cormorants Falconidae Falcons
Aramidae Limpkin Pelecanidae Pelicans Strigopidae New Zealand Parrots
Psophiidae Trumpeters Balaenicipitidae Shoebill Cacatuidae Cockatoos
Gruidae Cranes Scopidae Hamerkop

Psittaculidae Lories & Old World Parrots

Chionidae Sheathbills   Psittacidae New World & Gray Parrots
Passerine families
Acanthisittidae New Zealand Wrens  Aegithinidae Ioras Regulidae Kinglets
Calyptomenidae African & Green Broadbills Malaconotidae Bushshrikes Tichodromidae Wallcreeper
Eurylaimidae Asian & Grauer's Broadbills Lamprolidae Silktails Sittidae Nuthatches
Sapayoidae Sapayoa Rhipiduridae Fantails Certhiidae Treecreepers
Philepittidae Asities Dicruridae Drongos Polioptilidae Gnatcatchers
Pittidae Pittas Paradisaeidae Birds-of-Paradise Troglodytidae Wrens
Thamnophilidae Antbirds  Ifritidae Ifrita Elachuridae Spotted Elachura
Melanopareiidae Crescentchests Monarchidae Monarchs Cinclidae Dippers
Conopophagidae Gnateaters Corcoracidae Apostlebirds Buphagidae Oxpeckers
Grallariidae Antpittas Melampittidae Melampittas Sturnidae Starlings
Rhinocryptidae Tapaculos Platylophidae Crested Shrikejay Mimidae Thrashers
Formicariidae Antthrushes Eurocephaliidae White-crowned Shrikes Turdidae Thrushes
Furnariidae Ovenbirds & Woodcreepers Laniidae Shrikes Muscicapidae Muscicapids
Pipridae Manakins Corvidae Crows, Jays & allies Bombycillidae Waxwings
Cotingidae Cotingas Cnemophilidae Satinbirds Ptilogonatidae Silky-flycatchers
Tityridae Tityras & Becards Melanocharitidae Berrypeckers & Longbills Dulidae Palmchat
Oxyruncidae Sharpbill Callaeidae New Zealand Wattlebirds Hylocitreidae Hylocitrea
Onychorhynchidae Royal Flycatchers Notiomystidae Stitchbird Hypocoliidae Hypocolius
Tyrannidae Tyrant Flycatchers Petroicidae Australasian Robins Promeropidae Sugarbirds
Menuridae Lyrebirds Picathartidae Rockfowl Modulatricidae Spot-throat & allies
Atrichornithidae Scrub-birds Chaetopidae Rockjumper Dicaeidae Flowerpeckers
Ptilonorhynchidae Bowerbirds  Eupetidae Rail-babbler Nectariniidae Sunbirds & Spiderhunters
Climacteridae Australasian Treecreepers Hyliotidae Hyliotas Irenidae Fairy-bluebirds
Maluridae Fairywrens & Grasswrens Stenostiridae Fairy Flycatchers Chloropseidae Leafbirds
Meliphagidae Honeyeaters Paridae Parids Peucedramidae Olive Warbler
Dasyornithidae Bristlebirds Remizidae Penduline Tits Urocynchramidae Pinktail
Pardalotidae Pardalotes Alaudidae Larks Ploceidae Weavers
Acanthizidae Thornbills Panuridae Bearded Reedling Estrildidae Waxbills & Munias
Pomatostomidae Pseudo-babblers Nicatoridae Nicators Viduidae Whydahs & Indigobirds
Orthonychidae Logrunners Macrosphenidae African Warblers Prunellidae Accentors
Cinclosomatidae Quail-thrushes Cisticolidae Cisticolas Hypocryptadiidae Cinnamon Ibon
Campephagidae Cuckooshrikes Acrocephalidae Reed Warblers Passeridae Old World Sparrows
Mohouidae Mohouids Locustellidae Grassbirds Motacillidae Pipits & Wagtails
Neosittidae Sittellas Donacobiidae Donacobius Fringillidae Fringillid Finches
Psophodidae Whipbirds & Wedgebills Bernieridae Malagasy Warblers Calcariidae Longspurs
Eulacestomatidae Ploughbill Pnoepygidae Cupwings Rhodinocichlidae Rosy Thrush-tanager
Oreoicidae Australo-Papuan Bellbirds Hirundinidae Swallows Emberizidae Old World Buntings
Falcunculidae Shrike-tits Pycnonotidae Bulbuls Passerellidae New World Sparrows
Paramythiidae Painted Berrypeckers Phylloscopidae Leaf Warblers Calyptophilidae Chat-tanagers
Pteruthiidae Shrike-babblers Hyliidae Hylias Phaenicophilidae Hispaniolan Tanagers
Erpornithidae Erpornis Erythrocercidae Bristle-flycatchers Nesospingidae Puerto Rican Tanager
Vireonidae Vireos Cettiidae Cettid Bush Warblers & allies Spindalidae Spindalises
Pachycephalidae Whistlers Aegithalidae Long-tailed Tits Zeledoniidae Wrenthrush
Oriolidae Old World Orioles Sylviidae Sylvids Teretristidae Cuban Warblers
Machaerirhynchidae Boatbills Paradoxornithidae Parrotbills Icteriidae Yellow-breasted Chat
Artamidae Woodswallows & Butcherbirds Zosteropidae White-eyes Icteridae Icterids
Rhagologidae Berryhunter Timaliidae Tree Babblers Parulidae New World Warblers
Platysteiridae Batises & Wattle-eyes Alcippeidae Alcippe Fulvettas Mitrospingidae Mitrospingid Tanagers
Vangidae Vangas, Woodshrikes & allies Pellorneidae Ground Babblers Cardinalidae Cardinals & Grosbeaks
Pityriaseidae Bristlehead Leiothrichidae Laughingthrushes Thraupidae Tanagers

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. Phylog. Evol. 75: 41-77.

Cai, T., A. Cibois, P. Alström, R.G. Moyle, J.D. Kennedy, S. Shaoh, R. Zhang, M. Irestedt, P.G.P. Ericson, M. Gelang, Y. Qu, F. Lei, J. Fjeldså. 2019. Near-complete phylogeny and taxonomic revision of the world’s babblers (Aves: Passeriformes). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 130: 346-356.

Cerný, D., and R. Natale. 2022. Comprehensive taxon sampling and vetted fossils help clarify the time tree of shorebirds (Aves, Charadriiformes). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 177: xx–xx.

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.

Fuchs, J., P. Alström, R. Yosef, and U. Olsson. 2019. Miocene diversification of an open-habitat predatorial passerine radiation, the shrikes (Aves: Passeriformes: Laniidae). Zoologica Scripta 48: 571–588.

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. Molec. 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.

Ohlson, J.I., M. Irestedt, P.G.P. Ericson, and J. Fjeldså. 2013. Phylogeny and classification of the New World suboscines (Aves, Passeriformes). Zootaxa 3613: 1-35.

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.

Starikow, I.J., and M. Wink. 2020. Old and Cosmopolite: molecular phylogeny of tropical–subtropical kites (Aves: Elaninae) with taxonomic implications. Diversity 12: 327–342.

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 24 Mar 2023  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved