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Six bird groups that you may not be familiar with

spectacled eider male

If you have not spent a lot time birding there a few family groups with which you might not be familiar.  Here are six that we have selected based on their range or behaviors.


6. Goat Suckers: Length to 12 inches

Goat suckers are in the family Caprimulgidae.  Many species in this group were once thought to suck the milk from goats, but that is not the case.  They do have wide mouths and typically hunt for insects at dusk or at night.

The most widespread (in the U.S.) of this group of birds is the Common Nighthawk,  often seen flying above lights at ball fields or mall parking lots.  The group includes the Whip-poor-will and the small Common Poorwill, the only bird known to go into true hibernation.

They are also often referred to as nightjars.


Chuck-wills-widow. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


5. Eiders: Length to 24 inches

Eiders are a small group of ducks typically found in the far north.  They are know for the often-strange plumages of the males, in contrast to the mottled brown plumage of most of the females.

male spectacled eider

Male Spectacled Eider. Photograph © Alan Wilson.


4. Limpkin: Length 26 in.

The Limpkin is only found in Florida and in the U.S. it is the only member of its family group.  It somewhat resembles an egret or ibis but is more closely related to our next very secretive group, the rails.


Limpkin. Photograph © Sam Crowe.


3. Rails: 6 to 15 in.

Rails are secretive birds usually found in marshes. Often best identified by call.  The AOU has recently split the King and Clapper Rails into multiple different species.

black rail

Black Rail. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


2. Storks: Length 40 inches.

Storks are large, somewhat crane-like birds.  In the U.S. the Wood Stork is the only regularly occurring stork.  It is found in Florida, and limited areas of South Carolina and along the Gulf coast states in late summer.

wood stork

Wood Stork. Photograph © Greg Lavaty


1. Shrikes: Length 9-10 inches

There are two shrike species found in the U.S.  They resemble the mockingbird in both size and plumage pattern.  Their behavior is like a small hawk or falcon.  They have a hooked beak and will take large insects and even other small birds.  They are sometimes know as the butcher bird for their habit of hanging their prey on a thorn or barbed-wire fence.

loggerhead shrike

Loggerhead Shrike. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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