Birds – Bird Families



Family Cuculidoe : CUCKOOS

Long, pigeon-shaped birds, whose backs are grayish brown with a bronze lustre and whose under parts are whitish. Bill long and curved. Tail long ; raised and drooped slowly while the bird is perching. Two toes point forward and two backward. Call-note loud and like a tree-toad’s rattle. Song lacking. Birds of low trees and undergrowth, where they also nest ; partial to neighborhood of streams, or wherever the tent caterpillar is abundant. Habits rather solitary, silent, and eccentric. Migratory.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Black-billed Cuckoo.

Family Alcedinidoe: KINGFISHERS

Large, top–heavy birds of streams and ponds. Usually seen perching over the water looking for fish. Head crested ; upper parts slate-blue ; underneath white, and belted with blue or rusty. Bill large and heavy. Middle and outer toes joined for half their length. Call-note loud and prolonged, like a policeman’s rattle. Solitary birds ; little inclined to rove from a chosen locality. Migratory.

Belted Kingfisher.


Family Picidoe: WOODPECKERS

Medium-sized and small birds, usually with plumage black and white, and always with some red feathers about the head. (The flicker is brownish and yellow instead of black and white.) Stocky, high! shouldered build ; bill strong and long for drilling holes in bark of trees. Tail feathers pointed and stiffened to serve as a prop. Two toes before and two behind for clinging. Usually seen clinging erect on tree-trunks ; rarely, if ever, head downward, like the nuthatches, titmice, etc. Woodpeckers feed as they creep around the trunks and branches. Habits rather phlegmatic. The flicker has better developed vocal powers than other birds of this class, whose rolling tattoo, beaten with their bills against the tree-trunks, must answer for their love-song. Nest in hollowed-out trees.

Red-headed Woodpecker. Hairy Woodpecker. Downy Woodpecker. Yellow-bellied Woodpecker. Flicker.



Medium-sized, mottled brownish, gray, black, and white birds of heavy build. Short, thick head ; gaping, large mouth very small bill, with bristles at base. Take insect food on the wing. Feet small and weak ; wings’ long and powerful. These birds rest lengthwise on their perch while sleeping through the brightest daylight hours, or on the ground, where they nest.

Nighthawk. Whippoorwill.

Family Micropolidoe : SWIFTS

Sooty, dusky birds seen on the wing, never resting except in chimneys of houses, or hollow trees, where they nest. Tips of tail feathers with sharp spines, used as props. They show their kinship with the goatsuckers in their nocturnal as well as diurnal habits, their small bills and large mouths for catching insects on the wing, and their weak feet. Gregarious, especially at the nesting season. Chimney Swift. Family Trochilidoe : HUMMING-BIRDS

Very small birds with green plumage (iridescent red or orange breast in males); long, needle-shaped bill for extracting insects and nectar from deep-cupped flowers, and exceedingly rapid, darting flight, Small feet.

Ruby-throated Humming-bird.

Order Passeres : PERCHING BIRDS Family Tyrannidoe : FLYCATCHERS

Small and medium-sized dull, dark-olive, or gray birds, with big heads that are sometimes crested. Bills hooked at end, and with bristles at base. Harsh or plaintive voices. Wings longer than tail ; both wings and tails usually drooped and vibrating when the birds are perching. Habits moody and silent when perching on a conspicuous limb, telegraph wire, dead tree, or fence rail and waiting for insects to fly within range. Sudden, nervous, spasmodic sallies in midair to seize insects on the wing. Usually they return to their identical perch or lookout. Pugnacious and fearless. Excellent nest builders and devoted mates.

Kingbird. Phoebe. Wood Pewee. Acadian Flycatcher. Great Crested Flycatcher. Least Flycatcher. Olive-sided Flycatcher. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. ay’s Flycatcher.

Family Alaudidoe : LARKS

The only true larks to be found in this country are the two species given below. They are the kin of the European skylark, of which several unsuccessful attempts to introduce the bird have been made in this country. These two larks must not be con. fused with the meadow larks and titlarks, which belong to the blackbird and pipit families respectively. The horned larks are birds of the ground, and are seen in the United States only in the autumn and winter. In the nesting season at the North their voices are most musical. Plumage grayish and brown, in color harmony with their habitats. Usually found in flocks ; the first species on or near the shore.

Horned Lark.

Prairie Horned Lark.

Family Corvidoe : CROWS AND JAYS

The crows are large black birds, walkers, with stout feet adapted for the purpose. Fond of shifting their residence at different seasons rather than strictly migratory, for, except at the northern limit of range, they remain resident all the year. Gregarious. Sexes alike. Omnivorous feeders, being partly carnivorous, as are also the jays. Both crows and jays inhabit wooded country. Their voices are harsh and clamorous ; and their habits are boisterous and bold, particularly the jays. De-voted mates ; unpleasant neighbors.

Common Crow. Fish Crow. Northern Raven. Blue Jay. Canada Jay.

Family Icteridoe : BLACKBIRDS, ORIOLES, ETC.

Plumage black or a brilliant color combined with black. (The meadow lark a sole exception.) Sexes unlike. These birds form a connecting link between the crows and the finches. The blackbirds have strong feet for use upon the ground, where they generally feed, while the orioles are birds of the trees. They are both seed and insect eaters. The bills of the bobolink and cow-bird are short and conical, for they are conspicuous seed eaters. Bills of the others long and conical, adapted for insectivorous diet. About half the family are gifted songsters.

Red-winged Blackbird. Rusty Blackbird. Purple Grackle. Bronzed Grackle. Cowbird. Meadow Lark. Western Meadow Lark. Bobolink. Orchard Oriole. Baltimore Oriole.


Generally fine songsters. Bills conical, short, and stout for cracking seeds. Length from five to nine inches, usually under eight inches. This, the largest family of birds that we have (about one-seventh of all our birds belong to it), comprises birds of such varied plumage and habit that, while certain family resemblances may be traced throughout, it is almost impossible to characterize the family as such. The sparrows are comparatively small gray and brown birds with striped upper parts, lighter underneath. Birds of the ground, or not far from it, elevated perches being chosen for rest and song. Nest in low bushes or on the ground. (Chipping sparrow often selects tall trees.) Coloring adapted to grassy, dusty habitats. Males and females similar. Flight labored. About forty species of sparrows are found in the United States ; of these, fourteen may be met with by a novice, and six, at least, surely will be.

The finches and their larger kin are chiefly bright-plumaged birds, the females either duller or distinct from males ; bills heavy, dull, and conical, befitting seed eaters. Not so migratory as insectivorous birds nor so restless. Mostly phlegmatic in temperament. Fine songsters.

Chipping Sparrow. English Sparrow. Field Sparrow. Fox Sparrow. Grasshopper Sparrow. Savanna Sparrow. Seaside Sparrow. Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Song Sparrow. Swamp Song Sparrow. Tree Sparrow. Vesper Sparrow. White-crowned Sparrow. White-throated Sparrow. Lapland Longspur. Smith’s Painted Longspur. Pine Siskin (or Finch). Purple Finch. Goldfinch. Redpoll. Greater Redpoll. Red Crossbill. White-winged Red Crossbill. Cardinal Grosbeak. Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Pine Grosbeak. Evening Grosbeak. Blue Grosbeak. Indigo Bunting. Junco. Snowflake. Chewink.

Family Tanagridow : TANAGERS

Distinctly an American family, remarkable for their brilliant plumage, which, however, undergoes great changes twice a year. Females different from males, being dull and inconspicuous. Birds of the tropics, two species only finding their way north, and the summer tanager rarely found north of Pennsylvania. Shy inhabitants of woods. Though they may nest low in trees, they choose high perches when singing or feeding upon flowers, fruits, and insects. As a family, the tanagers have weak, squeaky voices, but both our species are good songsters. Suffering the fate of most bright-plumaged birds, immense numbers have been shot annually.

Scarlet Tanager. Summer Tanager.

Family Hirundinidoe : SWALLOWS

Birds of the air, that take their insect food on the wing. Migratory. Flight strong, skimming, darting ; exceedingly graceful. When not flying they choose slender, conspicuous perches like telegraph wires, gutters, and eaves of barns. Plumage of some species dull, of others iridescent blues and greens above, whitish or ruddy below. Sexes similar. Bills small ; mouths large. Long and pointed wings, generally reaching the tip of the tail or beyond. Tail more or less forked. Feet small and weak from disuse. Song a twittering warble without power. Gregarious birds.

Barn Swallow. Bank Swallow. Cliff (or Eaves) Swallow. Tree Swallow. Bough-winged Swallow. Purple Martin.

Family Ampelidoe: WAXWINGS

Medium-sized Quaker-like birds, with plumage of soft browns and grays. Head crested ; black band across forehead and through the eye. Bodies plump from indolence. Tail tipped with yellow ; wings with red tips to coverts, resembling sealing-wax. Sexes similar. Silent, gentle, courteous, elegant birds. Usually seen in large flocks feeding upon berries in the trees or perching on the branches, except at the nesting season. Voices resemble a soft, lisping twitter.

Cedar Bird. Bohemian Waxwing.

Family Laniidoe : SHRIKES

Medium-sized grayish, black-and-white birds, with hooked and hawk-like bill for tearing the flesh of smaller birds, field-mice, and large insects that they impale on thorns. Handsome, bold birds, the terror of all small, feathered neighbors, not excluding the English sparrow. They choose conspicuous perches when on the lookout for prey : a projecting or dead limb of a tree, the cupola of a house, the ridge-pole or weather-vane of a barn, or a telegraph wire, from which to suddenly drop upon a victim. Eyesight remarkable. Call-notes harsh and unmusical. Habits solitary and wandering. The first-named species is resident during the colder months of the year; the latter is a summer resident only north of Maryland.

Northern Shrike. Loggerhead Shrike.

Family Vireonidoe : VIREOS OR GREENLETS

Small greenish-gray or olive birds, whitish or yellowish underneath, their plumage resembling the foliage of the trees they hunt, nest, and live among. Sexes alike. More deliberate in habit than the restless, flitting warblers that are chiefly seen darting about the ends of twigs. Vireos are more painstaking gleaners ; they carefully explore the bark, turn their heads up-ward to investigate the under side of leaves, and usually keep well hidden among the foliage. Bill hooked at tip for holding worms and insects. Gifted songsters, superior to the warblers. This family is peculiar to America.

Red-eyed Vireo. Solitary Vireo. Warbling Vireo. White-eyed Vireo. Yellow-throated Vireo.

Family Mniotiltidoe : WOOD WARBLERS

A large group of birds, for the most part smaller than the English sparrow ; all, except the ground warblers, of beautiful plumage, in which yellow, olive, slate-blue, black, and white are predominant colors. Females generally duller than males. Exceedingly active, graceful, restless feeders among the terminal twigs of trees and shrubbery ; haunters of tree-tops in the woods at nesting time. Abundant birds, especially during May and September, when the majority are migrating to and from regions north of the United States; but they are strangely unknown to all but devoted bird lovers, who seek them out during these months that particularly favor acquaintance. Several species are erratic in their migrations and choose a different course to return southward from the one they travelled over in spring. A few species are summer residents, and one, at least, of this tropical family, the myrtle warbler, winters at the north. The habits of the family are not identical in every representative ; some are more deliberate and less nervous than others ; a few, like the Canadian and Wilson’s warblers, are expert fly catchers, taking their food on the wing, but not usually returning to the same perch, like true flycatchers; and a few of the warblers, as, for example, the black-and-white, the pine, and the worm-eating species, have the nuthatches’ habit of creeping around the bark of trees. Quite a number feed upon the ground. All are insectivorous, though many vary their diet with blossom, fruit, or berries, and naturally their bills are slender and sharply pointed, rarely finch-like. The yellow-breasted chat has the greatest variety of vocal expressions. The ground warblers are compensated for their sober, thrush-like plumage by their exquisite voices, while the great majority of the family that are gaily dressed have notes that either resemble the trill of mid-summer insects or, by their limited range and feeble utterance, sadly belie the family name.

Bay-breasted Warbler. Blackburnian Warbler. Blackpoll Warbler. Black-throated Blue Warbler. Black-throated Green Warbler. Black-and-white Creeping Warbler. Blue-winged Warbler. Canadian Warbler. Chestnut-sided Warbler. Golden-winged Warbler. Hooded Warbler. Kentucky Warbler. Magnolia Warbler. Mourning Warbler. Myrtle Warbler. Nashville Warbler. Palm Warbler. Parula Warbler. Pine Warbler. Prairie Warbler. Redstart. Wilson’s Warbler. Worm-eating Warbler. Yellow Warbler. Yellow Palm Warbler. Ovenbird. Northern Water Thrush. Louisiana Water Thrush. Maryland Yellowthroat. Yellow-breasted Chat.

Family Motacillidoe: WAGTAILS AND PIPITS

Only three birds of this family inhabit North America, and of these only one is common enough, east of the Mississippi, to be included in this book. Terrestrial birds of open tracts near the coast, stubble-fields, and country roadsides, with brownish plumage to harmonize with their surroundings. The American pipit, or titlark, has a peculiar wavering flight when, after being flushed, it reluctantly leaves the ground. Then its white tail feathers are conspicuous. Its habit of wagging its tail when perching is not an exclusive family trait, as the family name might imply.

American Pipit, or Titlark.

Family Troglodytidoe: THRASHERS, WRENS, ETC.


Apparently the birds that comprise this large general family are too unlike to be related, but the missing links or inter-mediate species may all be found far South. The first subfamily is comprised of distinctively American birds. Most numerous in the tropics. Their long tails serve a double purpose—in assisting their flight and acting as an outlet for their vivacity. Usually they inhabit scrubby undergrowth bordering woods. They rank among our finest songsters, with ventriloquial and imitative powers added to sweetness of tone.

Brown Thrasher. Catbird. Mocking-bird.

Small brown birds, more or less barred with darkest brown above, much lighter below. Usually carry their short tails erect. Wings are small, for short flight. Vivacious, busy, excitable, easily displeased, quick to take alarm. Most of the species have scolding notes in addition to their lyrical, gushing song, that seems much too powerful a performance for a diminutive bird. As a rule, wrens haunt thickets or marshes, but at least one species is thoroughly domesticated. All are insectivorous.

Carolina Wren. House Wren. Winter Wren. Long-billed Marsh Wren. Short-billed Marsh Wren.

Family Certhiidoe: CREEPERS

Only one species of this Old World family is found in America. It is a brown, much mottled bird, that creeps spirally around and around the trunks of trees in fall and winter, pecking at the larvae in the bark with its long, sharp bill, and doing its work with faithful exactness but little spirit. It uses its tail as a prop in climbing, like the woodpeckers.

Brown Creeper.


Two distinct subfamilies are included under this general head.

The nuthatches (Sittinoe) are small, slate-colored birds, seen chiefly in winter walking up and down the barks of trees, and sometimes running along the under side of branches upside down, like flies. Plumage compact and smooth. Their name is derived from their habit of wedging nuts (usually beechnuts) in the bark of trees, and then hatching them open with their strong straight bills.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Red-breasted Nuthatch.

The titmice or chickadees (Parinoe) are fluffy little gray birds, the one crested, the other with a black cap. They are also expert climbers, though not such wonderful gymnasts as the nut-hatches. These cousins are frequently seen together in winter woods or in the evergreens about houses. Chickadees are partial to tree-tops, especially to the highest pine cones, on which they hang fearlessly. Cheerful, constant residents, retreating to the deep woods only to nest.

Tufted Titmouse. Chickadee.


The kinglets (Regulinoe) are very small greenish-gray birds, with highly colored crown patch, that are seen chiefly in autumn, winter, and spring south of Labrador. Habits active ; diligent flitters among trees and shrubbery from limb to limb after minute insects. Beautiful nest builders. Song remarkable for so small a bird.

Golden-crowned Kinglet. Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

The one representative of the distinctly American subfamily of gnatcatchers (Polioptilinoe) that we have, is a small blue-gray bird, whitish below. It is rarely found outside moist, low tracts of woodland, where insects abound. These it takes on the wing with wonderful dexterity. It is exceedingly graceful and assumes many charming postures. A bird of trees, nesting in the high branches. A bird of strong character and an exquisitely finished though feeble songster.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.


This group includes our finest songsters. Birds of moderate size, stout build ; as a rule, inhabitants of woodlands, but the robin and the bluebird are notable exceptions. Bills long and slender, suitable for worm diet. Only casual fruit-eaters. Slender, strong legs for running and hopping. True thrushes are grayish or olive-brown above; buff or whitish below, heavily streaked or spotted.

Bluebird. Robin. Alice’s Thrush. Hermit Thrush. Olive-backed Thrusn. Wilson’s Thrush (Veery). Wood Thrush.

Order Columboe : PIGEONS AND DOVES

Family Columbidoe : PIGEONS AND DOVES

The wild pigeon is now too rare to be included among our bird neighbors ; but its beautiful relative, without the fatally gregarious habit, still nests and sings a-coo-oo-oa to its devoted mate in unfrequented corners of the farm or the borders of woodland. Delicately shaded fawn-colored and bluish plumage. Small heads, protruding breasts. Often seen on ground, Flight strong and rapid, owing to long wings.

Mourning or Carolina Dove.