Monday, July 6, 2020

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A Brief Overview of Bird Taxonomy

Carl Linnaeus - the father of scientific classification.

Carl Linnaeus - the father of scientific classification.

Even for the beginning birder, it is soon apparent that a universal system of naming the different birds you encounter is necessary. Fortunately, bird taxonomy is the system used to do so. This may be an unknown or unclear term for those new to the hobby, and a refresher for more experienced birders. In either case, this article will hopefully shed more light on what bird taxonomy is, and why it is so valuable. Though taxonomy is a term used in classifying all living things in nature including flora and fauna, many of the same principals apply. However, in this article we will primarily focus on birds.

What is Taxonomy?

Names are important for clear communication and fully understanding who or what another person is talking about. However, people in different places or cultures often have different names for the same thing. From a scientific perspective, this casual naming is problematic. To resolve this, a Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus first suggested an international system of naming in the 1750’s. With the goal of better understanding and communication, Linnaeus developed a classification system where each species would be divided into sets and subsets depending on how closely it relates to other species. This system has been improved slightly over the years. However, Linnaeus’ system is still the foundation for the current taxonomic system we use today.

How Does Bird Taxonomy Work?

Every living and even extinct organism is classified through taxonomy. It is similar in design to a family tree. First, the organism is placed into one of five kingdoms. Those are plants, fungi, animals, Protoctista, and bacteria. From the kingdom, every organism is then further divided into other groups, each becoming more precise than the next. Each group breaks down into even smaller groups until the organism is classified by species.

Let's look at the American Robin as an example. A robin would be part of the animal kingdom because it is most like others in that particular kingdom. Next, the Robin is placed in a phylum, which is the direct line of descent within a kingdom. The Robin would be put into the category of Chordata, which means animals with backbones. The Robin would then be placed into a smaller grouping called a class. The Robin would be put in the Aves class, which consists of all animals with feathers - birds. A smaller subsection called an order comes next. For the robin, it is placed in a class called Passeriformes. This group describes birds that perch. From the order, the robin is classified in a family. Specifically, the Turdidae family that describes all thrushes. Continuing through the taxonomic process, the Robin is then placed into a genus. The American Robin is in the genus Turdus, which means thrushes that are similar. Finally, the Robin is then given a name. The last level that names the organism is called a species. The scientific name for the American Robin is Turdus migratorius.

American Robin - Turdus migratorius

American Robin - Turdus migratorius

What Does It Mean To Me?

There are many reasons that taxonomy is necessary. From the scientist to the beginning birder, it gives every bird a name that is known universally, and ensures proper identification. When you see a bird in the wild, its characteristics will provide you the information needed to determine its species. You can list your sighting and ensure that the correct bird was discovered. Furthermore, it allows you to understand the interconnectedness of living organisms. It shows the relationships between other species and ancestors. This can be a great help for scientists to use your data to follow trends in nature and understand them.

Birding Software and Taxonomic Lists

If you use birding software to list your birds, it is critical that the software use taxonomic lists. There are several taxonomic lists provided by the top birding organizations, as well as scientific organizations as well. Robust birding software will even allow you to create your own taxonomic lists as well. These lists are invaluable to help identify each bird you see and list it correctly. With birding software, you can share your sightings with the scientific community to assist them in research and following trends in nature. Using taxonomic lists with your birding software enables you to be a part of the scientific study. Your data is valuable because your sightings are listed by species and understood universally.

Birder's Diary

Birder’s Diary is the World's premier listing software for birder's and naturalists, for good reason. For over 20 years, Birder's Diary has been leading the industry in both technology, products, and services. The software uses the top taxonomic lists making it great not only for birders, but for anyone passionate about trees, plants, reptiles, mammals, butterflies, and many other forms of natural beauty. It is much more than a mere listing program allowing you to attach photographs, compare sightings, create a family report, and generate reports. For more information, please browse our features page on our website, or contact us at We also offer a free 30-day trial of our software with no commitment necessary. Birder's Diary warmly welcomes you to the beautiful sport of birding and look forward to helping you make the most of your new hobby.