Field guide training: Birds – Part 1

Birds are surely some of the most flexible groups in the animal kingdom. Almost no other group of animals has filled so many different habitats and ecological niches. Our blog reveals more.


Whether it’s the cold of the Arctic or the heat of the Sahara – birds can be seen everywhere. Thus, they are hardly to be outbid by another vertebrate group in their adaptability.

In total, there are around 10,000 species in the world. Due to the strong migratory behaviour of many species, some of which migrate around the globe, it is difficult to determine the distribution of a species in just one climatic region. For example, there are birds that breed in cold Siberia and spend their winters in South Africa. In this case, both areas must be defined as habitats.

The main distinguishing feature between birds and other vertebrates is their feathers. No other group of animals has feathers. They also have wings instead of forelegs. That seems trivial, but it does not automatically mean that all birds can fly. Some species, such as the ostrich, are better adapted to life on earth than some terrestrial vertebrates.


All bird types can be classified into the two groups of the passeriformes and the non-passeriformes. Passeriformes are, apart from the family of the corvidae, rather small birds. They are terrestrial and are characterized by their feet which are adapted to sitting on branches or rocks. They have a total of four toes, of which three point forward and one backward. The very large group of songbirds whose characteristic is a singing organ also belongs to the group of the passeriformes, for example.

In non-passeriformes, often all four toes point forward. In addition, the skin on the feet has a fine net structure. The non-passeriformes are terrestrial or live in/on the water depending on the species. Some representatives of this group are for example albatrosses, penguins, flamingos, storks, seagulls or birds of prey (Accipitriformes).
Since there is an almost unlimited variety regarding nutrition and breeding behaviour, it is difficult to shortly summarize these points. Therefore, this module is only supposed to provide a rough overview of the different behaviours in the bird kingdom.

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