Taxonomy Helper

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)


    Kingdom: Animalia
    Division: Chordata
    Subdivision: Vertebrata
    Class: Aves

NBII Bird Conservation Site

Visit the NBII Bird Conservation Web site,, for more about bird species and the diverse factors affecting them.

The site features species information and lists, population and habitat data, and conservation initiatives such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Birds Focal Species Strategy.

The NBII helps you stay informed about upcoming ornithology conferences and meetings and find NBII Bird Conservation projects including partnerships with groups like Ducks Unlimited,  the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Nature Conservancy.

For information about birds in the Southeast, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Birds, Southeast Region Web site.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Spotlight

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Archilochus colubris

Description: Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny birds at 4 inches long. The back and head are iridescent green, the underparts are white. Males have a brilliant red metallic throat and a forked tail. Females have a dull grayish throat, white tips on their wings and a square-tipped tail.

Life History: Ruby-throated hummingbirds are solitary. Adults only come into contact for the purpose of mating. The primary food sources of ruby-throated hummingbirds are floral nectar and small insects. They consume twice their body weight in food each day. Adult ruby-throated hummingbirds are vulnerable to predation by raptors, while blue jays predate nestlings. However, the most common predator of ruby-throated hummingbirds is probably house cats.

Habitat: The Ruby-throated Hummingbird can be found in deciduous and pine forests and forest edges, orchards, and gardens. During the winter, ruby-throated hummingbirds live in tropical deciduous forests, citrus groves, forest edges, hedgerows, along rivers and marshes, and in old fields.

Distribution: Ruby-throated hummingbirds are found in North and Central America. They breed throughout the eastern United States and in southern Canada where there is eastern and mixed deciduous forest. They winter in southern Mexico, Central America (as far south as Costa Rica), and in the West Indies.

Status: The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is not threatened and has not been given a special status. However, it is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, and like all hummingbirds, is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.


Animal Diversity Web

Cornell University

Birds (class Aves)

What are Birds?
Birds of the southeastern U.S. include vertebrates of the taxonomic class Aves including animals such as Waterfowl (order Anseriformes), Hummingbirds (order Apodiformes), Herons and Storks (order Ciconiiformes), Doves and Pigeons (order Columbiformes), Kingfishers (order Coraciiformes), Cranes and Rails (order Gruiformes), Perching Birds, (order Passeriformes), Woodpeckers (order Piciformes), Parrots (order Psittaciformes), and Owls (order Strigiformes). Thought of as "warm-blooded," birds are endotherms, meaning they are able to regulate their own body temperature independently of the temperature of their surroundings. Bird characteristics include feathers, wings, and a reproduction strategy of laying and incubating eggs. In Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, birds are represented by numerous taxonomic orders listed below [source:,].

Whooping Crane (Grus americana) [Photo: Ryan Hagerty, U.S. FWS]

Cranes and Rails (order Gruiformes)

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) [Photo: Dave Herr, U.S. Forest Service]

Doves and Pigeons (order Columbiformes)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) [Photo: Steve Farrell, U.S. FWS]

Herons and Storks (order Ciconiiformes)

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) [Photo: Dave Herr, U.S. Forest Service]

Hummingbirds (order Apodiformes)

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) [Photo: Dave Herr, U.S. Forest Service]

Kingfishers (order Coraciiformes)

Barn owl (Tyto alba) [Photo: C.F. Zeillemaker, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]

Owls (order Strigiformes)

Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis ) [Copyright: Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, used with permission]

Parrots (order Psittaciformes)

Prairie warbler (Dendroica discolor) [Photo: Steve Maslowski, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]

Perching Birds, (order Passeriformes)

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) [Photo: G. Michael Haramis, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center]

Waterfowl (order Anseriformes)

Red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) [Photo: Dave Menke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]

Woodpeckers (order Piciformes)

Ecological Importance of Birds
Birds play several important roles in ecosystems. As consumers, they help regulate populations of smaller animals they prey upon, disperse plant seeds, and pollinate flowering plants. As prey items, birds and bird eggs are consumed by a variety of larger predators.

Birds of the Southeastern United States
Bird populations in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee vary seasonally because some birds are permanent residents while others are merely passing through during their seasonal migrations. Birds which migrate south of the U.S. are neotropical migratory birds, overwintering predominantly in Mexico and Central America. Endemic species, those that are found nowhere else in the world, are rare in the United States. In the Southeast, only the Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is an endemic species.

In Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee, bird inhabitants (both seasonal and year-round) number as follows: in Alabama, there are 345 species; in Mississippi, there are 303 species; in Tennessee, there are 292 species; in Kentucky, there are 287 species (Stein, Kutner & Adams, 2000).

For more about birds, refer to the "Bird Web Resources" page listed on the navigation menu at left.

  • Integrated Taxonomic Information System [on-line database]. Available (Accessed May 2008).
  • NatureServe. 2008. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed: May, 2008).
  • Stein, B.A., Kutner, L.S., & Adams, J.S. (Ed.). (2000). Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ecological Role of Birds

    Birds provide important ecological services that contribute to maintaining ecosystem processes and some of the necessary conditions on which humans and other organisms depend. These services range from food provisioning to modification of habitats and resource flows in biological communities. Bird declines can have negative impacts on ecosystems, and their sensitivity to environmental change often lends them as useful indicators of environmental quality.

    For overviews on the ecological role of birds, see the articles by Whelan and colleagues (2008) and by Sekercioglu (2006). Examples of ecological services and functions birds perform include:

    Featured Bird Conservation Resource

    Bird Conservation Node
    [Image: NBII]

    The NBII Bird Conservation Node provides electronic access to North American bird population and habitat data maintained by a broad coalition of federal, state, and non-governmental partners. These data resources are vital to the planning and evaluation of science-based bird conservation strategies. Assembling these resources is an important step toward coordination of bird conservation.

    The NBII Bird Conservation Node is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and the U.S. Geological Survey Center for Biological Informatics.

    Great Egret Spotlight

    Great Egret
    Photo courtesy of Charles Lee

    Great Egret
    Casmerodius albus

    Description: One of the seven species of white herons, the Great Egret is tall, extremely slender, and long-necked with white plumage, black legs and feet, and a yellow bill. It is larger than any other heron except the Great Blue.

    Life History: During the breeding season, both males and females exhibit long black plumes. Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period as aggression among nestlings is common, and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings. The Great Heron feeds alone and hunts fish, frogs, snakes, and crayfish in shallow water. The longevity record for a wild Great Egret is nearly 23 years.

    Habitat: The Great Egret is found in tropical and temperate wetlands. As wetlands are destroyed, the Great Egret becomes threatened.

    Distribution: The Great Egret is found on every continent except Antarctica. In the Americas, it breeds from Canada to Argentina and Chile. Wintering populations can be found as far north as waters remain ice-free in North America. Generally this ranges from Oregon south along the West Coast, and along Mexico down to Panama, as well as throughout much of the southern United States, and up the Eastern Seaboard, sometimes into New York and Massachusetts during warmer years.

    Status: Although the Great Egret is not currently threatened, it is listed as a "Species of Concern" in Florida due to its vulnerability to wetland destruction and the possible loss of habitat and natural watercourses.


    Cornell University

    National Audubon Society

    Brown Pelican Spotlight

    Brown Pelican
    Photo courtesy of Rochester Institute of Technology

    Brown Pelican
    Pelecanus occidentalis

    Description: The Brown Pelican is dark and bulky with a wingspan of 6.5 feet. The throat pouch suspends from the lower half of the hooked bill and can hold 3 gallons of water and fish.

    Life History: The Brown Pelican lives in flocks and flies in groups. Unlike most birds, which warm their eggs with the skin of their breasts, pelicans incubate their eggs with their feet, essentially standing on the eggs to warm them. This incubation method made them vulnerable to the effects of the pesticide DDT, because the DDT made the eggshells thin, and the incubating parents frequently cracked their eggs. Brown Pelicans dive from the air for fish. They also eat crustaceans.

    Habitat: The Brown Pelican is found along ocean shores and bays. They are rarely seen inland

    Distribution: The Brown Pelican is a permanent resident of the coastal marine environment from central North America southward to northern South America. It breeds in scattered locations along the Atlantic coast from Maryland southward around Florida, and westward to southern Texas and Mexico; and on the Pacific Coast from southern California down to South America. The largest U.S. colony is on California's West Anacapa Island.

    Status: The Brown Pelican is listed as endangered, except on the Atlantic coast, Florida, and Alabama. Pesticide poisoning, especially by DDT, caused huge declines in Brown Pelican status. After the ban on DDT, the Brown Pelican population recovered. The total population in the United States now exceeds historical figures.


    Cornell University

    National Audubon Society

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