Parrots Are Not the Only Birds

If one were to look at the most popular species of pet birds, then 3 groups of birds would pop to the top of the list – parrots, softbills and pigeons or doves. But there are many other kinds of birds, such as raptors. And these fall into other groups called families or orders.There are thousands of species of birds, so why are parrots and softbills the choice as pets, and how do they differ from other types of birds?

The Parrots

All parrots belong to a family called Psittacines and are often referred to by that name. They are also commonly called hookbills, which refers to the unique shape of their bills. Parrots make wonderful pets, come in a variety of brilliant colors and sizes, and are known for their intelligence and talking ability. Parrots are found around the world, in the sub tropical and tropical climates. They can be identified by their hook shaped bills, blunt tongues and feet. Parrot feet have 4 toes, 2 pointing forward and two pointing backwards.

There are over 350 species of parrots arranged in groups. Some of the most familiar are the budgies, cockatiels, loris, cockatoos, and rosellas from Australia and the South Pacific; conures, amazons and macaws from the New World, African greys, lovebirds, senegals and jardines from Africa and ringnecks from Asia.

Perching and Songbirds

This group of birds belong to the family Passiformes. They are valued for their singing ability and are relatively easy to keep. They also do not require the time and attention needed by parrots. The members of this family which mainly eat fruit, plants, nectar or insects are commonly called softbills. Most popular as pets are the canaries and finches. The mynah bird, famous for its ability to mimic, is also part of this group. Others include birds of paradise, lyrebirds, starlings, wrens, warblers, sparrows and crows.

The Passiformes contain the largest number (about 60%) of all the bird species and are found all around the world. These birds have narrow triangular tongues and feet with 4 toes, 3 pointing forward and 1 pointing back.

Pigeons and Doves

There are over 290 species of pigeons and doves, which belong to the Columbiformes family. Over 1/2 of them originate in Asia and Australia while the 2nd highest number are found in the tropics of the Americas. Doves have been widely kept as pets, while pigeons have been raced and also used as message bearers. The extinct DoDo bird was a member of this family.


There are 43 species of toucans and the arcaris in this family called Rumpastidae. The toucans are easily identified by their enormous, long beak and originate in South America.


The raptors are the hunters of the bird family. They prey on other birds or animals for food. The raptors include vultures and hawks (family Acciptriformes), falcons, (family Falconfiormes) and owls (family Strigiformes).

Fowl and Gamebirds

This group of birds, which are commonly hunted or raised for food by humans, belong to the Galliformes family. Found on all continents, except Antarctica, they include birds such as the turkey, pheasant, quail, grouse, peacock, chicken, pea fowl and guinea fowl.

Water Fowl

Water fowl are widely distributed around the world and belong to the family Anseriformes. There are over 150 species in this group which includes, ducks, geese and swans. Flamingos, herons, bitterns and cranes are cousins.

Water fowl are usually migratory birds and powerful flyers. They are thickly feathered, have waterproof plumage, and insulating down. Most also have webbed feet.

Unflighted Birds

This group of birds, which belong to the Ratites family, consists of large unflighted, ground-dwelling birds. These include the ostrich, emu, rhea, cassoway and kiwi and are found in many parts of the world.

There are other groups of birds which have not been mentioned here. If you are interested, just check your public library.

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