Q: I see the word “genus” used with parrots a lot. What does it mean?
Lydia B., Chandler, AZ
A: Genus is part of the way we categorize the different bird species. It explains how your bird fits into the grand scheme of life on our planet.
If you were to google species information on your bird, you might see the word “taxonomy” come up. Taxonomy is a system of classification that defines your bird’s place as a member of the animal kingdom. It branches off much like a family tree and gradually narrows to point directly to your bird’s species.
Let’s taxonomically classify my goffins cockatoo, Theo, so you can see where “genus” comes into play:
- KINGDOM – “Animalia” (animal). The “kingdom” includes all living organisms: animal, plant, fungi, bacteria (single-celled organisms without a nucleus) and protists (single-celled organisms with a nucleus).
- PHYLUM – “Chordata“. Phylum furthers categorizes the ranking of those in the animal kingdom. The group “chordata” includes all vertabrate animals (those with spinal chords). In the animal kingdom there are 36 animal phyla.
- CLASS – “Aves“. The aves group includes only birds and indicates that its members have feathers.
- ORDER – “Psittaciformes“. Refers specifically to parrots.
- FAMILY – “Cacatuidae“. This group includes ALL cockatoos – including the cockatiel.
- SUB FAMILY – “Cacatuinae”. This category refers specifically to the white cockatoos.
- GENUS – “Cacatua“. The genus refers to a group of birds that have certain defining characteristics in common.
- SPECIES – “goffini“. Finally we arrive at the one and only goffins cockatoo – totally unique unto itself. In order to point to the exact classification of this species, you need only two words: cacatua goffini – its “scientific name”.
- SUBSPECIES – none. Some parrots, the lesser sulphur crested cockatoos, for instance, evolve ever so slightly differently. They may fall into all of the same above categories, but one may be slightly larger or have pale cheek patches that make it still more unique. They would be further classified by way of subspecies.
Just for comparison, and fun, here is the taxonomy of a human being:
- KINGDOM – Animalia
- PHYLUM - Chordata
- CLASS – Mammalia
- ORDER – Primates
- FAMILY – Hominidae
- GENUS – Homo
- SPECIES – Sapiens
We are scientifically refered to as “homo sapiens”. That classification lets you know EXACTLY what species is in question.