Estimates of the incidence of major classes of parental care by birds are drawn from classical studies that preceded both the publication of a massive secondary literature and the revolution driven by molecular approaches to avian phylogeny. Here, I review this literature in the light of new phylogenetic hypotheses and estimate the prevalence of six distinct modes of care: use of geothermal heat to incubate eggs, brood parasitism, male only care, female only care, biparental care and cooperative breeding. Female only care and cooperative breeding are more common than has previously been recognized, occurring in 8 and 9% of species, respectively. Biparental care by a pair bonded male and female is the most common pattern of care but at 81% of species, the pattern is less common than once believed. I identify several problems with existing hypotheses for the evolution of parental care and highlight a number of poorly understood contrasts which, once resolved, should help elucidate avian social evolution.