Today birds are not as frighteningly large as their extinct cousins from prehistoric times. Prehistoric Earth was home to giant birds we wouldn’t want to call feathered friends. From the carnivorous, blind six feet tall penguin of the Eocene epoch, Anthropornis to the eight feet tall, prehistoric relation to the duck, Bullockornis that lived 15 million years ago. Thankfully we don’t encounter these carnivorous giants at our local park or on holiday these days.
What Are The 10 Largest Birds In The World? One or two larger than normal birds still exist, often in far flung places of the globe. Without further a flap lets analyze some of the giant birds that exist in the world, and explore a little about their habits, homes, diets, and other interesting traits.
1. Ostrich (Genus: Struthioniformes)
The ostrich tops our list as the largest bird in the world. This king avian can weigh up to the weight of two fully grown humans. That’s a lot of weight, right? That explains why the ostrich’s ability to fly is out of the picture. At 2.75 metres (about 9 feet) tall and weighing more than 150 kg (330 pounds) the bird is a sight to behold. Famously, it’s pole like neck takes up almost half of it’s height.
The inability of the ostrich to fly doesn’t limit its mobility. In fact, it is the fastest avian, too, with speeds of up to 43mph. This is a bird that you don’t want to run into if it’s feeling threatened, unless you can run at a rate higher than 44mph. The middle toe has evolved into a form of hoof which can injure predators like lions.
This African feathered animal was widely hunted for its feathers, that are used in ladies hats to war dresses for decorative purposes. Ostrich skin is also used for leather products, and its meat is also consumed for its high nutritional value. This king of the birds feeds on insects, seeds, locusts, grass, and even shrubs that it may find.
2. The Cassowary, (Genus Casuarius)
The second-largest bird in the world doesn’t only hold the title of being in second place but also is one of the most dangerous birds on the planet when provoked.
Females grow bigger than males. Some females may reach 2 mtrs (6.6ft), and weigh 58.5 kg (130 lbs). If the striking looking bird feels threatened the cassowary can kill dogs and even humans with it’s blade like claw, on it’s middle digit that can grow up to 5 inches.
Interesting Facts about the Cassowary
The cassowary is a great swimmer, and just like the ostrich, they are omnivorous, eating fruits, insects, and some small invertebrates. This flightless avian can also digest some toxic fruits that other animals find poisonous or harmful. After the females lay eggs, the males incubates them until they hatch and even takes care of the little cassowaries alone. The bird still exists in the forests of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, North Eastern Australia, and Maluku Islands.
3. Emu (Genus: Dromaius Novaehollandiae)
The Emu is the second largest bird in terms of weight. They can grow to 1.9 meters (6 feet) tall and may weigh more than 45 kg (100 pounds). You can easily confuse this flightless, soft feathered Australian bird with the ostrich. They have a stunning resemblance apart from the size, more muted brown color, and lower weight difference. The Emu also have three toes compared to their two-toed cousins. They are famous for the way they hop from foot to foot when excited.
The bird still exists in Papua New Guinea, Solomon islands, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Interesting facts About the Emu
Emus are members of the ratite family, which also include the other two largest birds alive today: ostriches and cassowaries. Apart from insects and fruit, the Emu will feed on animal droppings.
The Emu has some of the biggest eggs in the world, weighing up to 680 grams. Like camels, emus rarely drink water but gulps gallons of it when presented with the opportunity. These birds are lively and so are their hatched chicks. The chicks are aggressive and leave the nest a few days after hatching.
4. The Emperor Penguin (Genus: Aptenodytes Forsteri)
Penguins are flightless birds that live in icy areas around the Antarctic, with most of their time spent in water. The black lining present on their back, is a lining of waterproof feathers to help them bare the frigid temperatures of the sea.
The emperor penguin is the tallest penguin reaching 100 cm (39 in) in length and weighing from 22 to 45kg (49 to 99lb). It has lots of fat deposits underneath the skin for heat insulation. The emperor penguins lives in groups for safety and warming purposes. The female lays a single egg and leaves it behind; the male protects the egg against predators. It will stand and protect the eggs from freezing weather and ice by balancing them on their webbed feet and insulating them with feathered skin known as a brood pouch. When the females return to the breeding site to release the male, she will regurgitate their food to their newly hatched chicks.
Fantastic Facts About Emperor Penguins
The Emperor penguin can live up to 50 years and swim deeper than any other bird. Females (who hunt) may travel up to 50 miles to reach the open ocean, where they will feed on arctic fish, krill and squid.
5. Greater Rhea (Genus: Rhea Americana)
This avian goddess (it’s name is derived from the Greek goddess) weighs up to 66 pounds (27 kg) and is the largest bird in South America. They typically stand at 1.5 m (4 ft 11 inches) tall.
The Greater Rhea is an omnivore like its larger cousins, the ostrich and the Emu, meaning they eat vegetation and meat. The greater rhea’s menu is filled with eucalyptus and cereals and often is the scourge of farmers in South America for their penchant for eating crops. The Greater Rhea also eats small crawling invertebrates like pests, cockroaches, bugs, and even locusts. All these also supplement its ‘veggie’ menu.
Fantastic Facts About The Greater Rhea
Male Rheas will often form herds with other species such as deer.
The Greater Rhea, was named after the Greek mythology goddess who birthed all the Olympian gods. This goddess bird posses no harm but a female will charge any animal that comes too close to it’s hatchlings. They can be found in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, parts of Uruguay and (latterly) Germany.
6. Wild Turkey (Genus: Meleagris)
Either wild or domestic, turkeys are of the same species and among the world’s topmost, largest birds. Wild turkeys are an ancestor of the domestic turkey but are heavier than domestic turkeys. Turkeys are native to the Americas but have today spread around the whole world. The wild turkey can fly due to its reduced weight. Conversely, the domestic turkeys are flightless, maybe since they are bred to be heavy, which hinders the possibility of flight. Turkeys have featherless, heads and distinct, red throats, with red wattles that vibrate on the throat and neck.
Turkeys can weigh up to 22 pounds (males are larger than females), and just like the chicken, they feed on cereals, crawling insects, grass seeds. Turkey meat is highly desired at Christmas around the world.
Fantastic Facts About Wild Turkeys
When the male is courting or excited the skin around the beak, the wattle becomes engorged with blood and the flap under the beak expands. Males will strut when they hear the distinct sound of a female turkey.
7. Mute Swan (Genus: Cygnus)
Are they that silent, or why are the called the ‘Mute’ swan? Let’s just say this is one of the nature absurdities in naming this feathered friend. Mute swans, are not that mute at all. Swans are noisy, and when they say that swans only sing when they die it’s just a myth.
Many numbers exist in North American and European city parks. Prevalent in bays and lakes in the Pacific Northwest, Northeast, The Great Lakes and other great watery expanses, the Mute Swan was in fact introduced to America in the 1800’s.
Fantastic facts About The Mute Swan
Conservationists worry about the huge amount of water vegetation they eat as they eat it faster than it can grow. It was found they ate up to 8 pounds a day of submerged aquatic greenery,
Male Mute swans can weigh up to 26 pounds and grow 4.1 – 5.6 ft in length . That’s enough to scare away any intruder, and in case you move too close, this white plumaged bird will serve you with a hissing warning.
The mute swans mate for life and will only remate in the event of a partner’s death. Do they actually refer to mute swans when they say love birds? Well, maybe because these elegant flying fellows are staunchly monogamous and live for better or worse.
8. Great Bustard (Genus: Otis)
The great bustard is the heaviest flying avian alive today with the male weighing up to 31 pounds, and is 4 feet in length, 3 feet tall, with a 2.1–2.7m (6ft 11in–8ft 10in) wingspan. Known to many as the flying fortress, there are 20 different species of Bustard. They are found in Russia, grasslands of India, East Asia and Africa and there are attempts to reintroduce them to the UK at Salisbury after they were wiped out by hunting in the 1830’s.
Fantastic Facts About The Great Bustard
Great bustards have the greatest sexual dimorphism: The male can grow up to five times the weight of the female. Oil seed rape, insects, worms and mice are a favourite diet of the omnivorous bustard
The male bustards are polygamous and can mate with multiple females. They perform competitive, courtship displays called the ‘lek’ that attracts female for breeding.
After laying 2 to 3 eggs, the female incubates the eggs on her own for almost a month. Maybe that explains their males’ polygamous nature; perhaps he doesn’t have time for the eggs while he can help in making more eggs, with other females. The chicks’ (precocial) nature allows them to leave the nest after hatching and feed themselves almost immediately. See more at greatbustard.org
9. Albatross (Genus: Diomedea)
The wandering albatross is the largest sea bird with the widest wingspan of up to 3.7 meters (12 ft) That long wingspan helps the wandering albatross to stay airborne most of its life and only land when feeding or breeding or sleeping. They are found in regions of of the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific. Archeologists claim the bird once inhabited the North Atlantic.
This giant seascape glider breeds annually, with females, only laying one egg. The parents of the egg take turns incubating it, and upon hatching, the chick can fly in a period of about ten months.
Fantastic Facts About The Albatross
The Albatross has a tendon in each shoulder that locks their wings fully-extended, allowing the bird to glide almost endlessly without having to flap their wings.
Being a sea bird, the albatross’ menus are filled with seafood. They feed on squid, small to medium-sized fish, and even swoop and perch on boats and ships at sea, to eat the left overs of the catch of the day. Most albatrosses are harmless to humans.
IUCN, lists all Albatrosses as endangered species. This is due to combination of mostly man made factors including hunting for their feathers, being caught on fishing hooks and the introduction of alien species such as cats and rats to their traditional nesting grounds.
10. Pelican (Genus: Peliecanus)
Pelicans are known for their throat pouches around their necks that they use in catching fish and draining water from their scooped up bounty. The Dalmatian pelican weighs up to 33 pounds (5–9 kg) and has a wing span of 9 feet. That’s pretty transfixing. These free folk also eat other prey apart from fish. These large aquatic feeders can also prey on other birds. The petrifying thing about the pelicans is that they can swallow a whole pigeon.
Pelicans often inhabite inland and coastal waters, where they catch fish that swim near the surface. They are very colonial birds, breeding, traveling and even hunting in cooperative flocks. They largely inhabit the middle latitudes to the tropics.
Pelicans also have great vision and can spot a fish several stories above their catch. The collision they make with their victims is enough to render the victim dead before scooping it out of water. Pollution such as oil spills, over fishing, habitat loss and fishing lines, have combined to make the pelican a species of concern.
- You may like to read: Hooded Vultures (Cartwheeling Raptors)
- Read: The Great Bustard is Back in The UK