Although several bird species have been shown to reflect ultraviolet (UV) light from their plumages, the incidence of UV reflectance, and therefore the potential for UV or UV–enhanced signals, across the avian tree of life is not known. In this study, we collected reflectance data from the plumages of 312 bird species representing 142 families. Our results demonstrate that all avian families possess plumages that reflect significant amounts of UV light. The ubiquity of UV reflectance indicates that all studies of avian behaviour, ecology and evolution involving plumage coloration would benefit from consideration of plumage reflectance in the UV portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Additionally, we demonstrate the existence of cryptic UV plumage patches and cryptic dimorphism among birds.