A sneak peek into the remarkable world of unique and bizarre birds.
Some birds look weird and some behave weirdly, but there is usually a good explanation. It can help the birds find a mate, eat a specific food or avoid predators. Weirdness can be key to a bird’s survival and lucky for us it is also fun to discover and beautiful to see.
Weird Birds show 57 colorful birds displaying their strange bodily adaptations. It features:
- Gorgeous photographs that show the birds in sharp, clear detail
- Informative captions that explain the purpose of the birds’ bizarre features
- Fascinating details about the lives of these intriguing creatures
01. Black Skimmer
The skimmer may have the strangest beak in the world. The bird flies very low, just above a pond or river, and pushes its abnormally long lower beak (called a mandible) through the surface of the water. When it hits a fish or other prey, it clamps the upper mandible down and has its meal. All weird beaks have a distinct and usually fascinating purpose.
02. Booted Racket-tail
The tail of the male Booted Racket-tail allows this tiny bird to make its speedy flight incredibly fascinating. As the bird flies from flower to flower, the large circles at the end of its two long tail feathers follow along on beautiful display. This hummingbird is found in the Andes of South America.
03. Brown-winged Kingfisher
There are over 90 species of kingfishers and most of them have really big beaks for the size of their bodies. Many species catch fish with these spear-like beaks and some are able to dive from the air to over 6 feet beneath the water’s surface to find food. But some kingfisher species do a lot of hunting away from water where they catch insects, frogs, toads, lizards and even small mammals.
04. Blue-footed Booby
Blue-footed Boobies have a complex courtship display that focuses on showing off their brilliantly blue feet. During the courtship, they lift their feet in an exaggerated walk and flaunt them for all the females to see.
05. Luzon Bleeding-heart Pigeon
Sometimes the coloring of a bird makes it look different. This well-named pigeon appears to have been shot in the chest! The male Luzon Bleeding-heart puffs out his breast at a female to display his “heart” during courtship. There are four closely-related species of bleeding-heart pigeon that also display red (or sometimes orange) patches on their breasts.
06. Brown Eared-Pheasant
Many male pheasants are spectacular-looking birds while the females are duller and plain. But with all three species of eared-pheasants, both the males and females look the same and that means they both have the characteristic big white moustaches. This species is found in northern China.
This rainforest bird not only looks weird, it sounds weird. The male makes a loud sound that is somewhat similar to a cow mooing, giving these birds their other common name: Calfbird. The males group together and compete for attention from the females with their calls. So, if you hear what sounds like a herd of cows up in a tree on your next rainforest walk, you may have come across some Capuchinbirds.
08. Bulwer’s Pheasant
The impressive tail display of a male Bulwer’s Pheasant is enhanced with its wacky royal blue wattles and horns. These blue adornments are usually small and inconspicuous, but during the mating display the male extends the wattles and horns to impress his potential mate.
09. Southern Screamer
Though it looks more like an overgrown chicken, the Southern Screamer of South America is actually more closely related to geese and ducks. It has partially webbed feet and can swim rather well. It gets its name from the loud, far-carrying scream that it makes.
10. Red Crossbill
The awesome beak of the Red Crossbill is used to open pine cones to get at the seeds inside. Some of these birds are righties and some are lefties depending on how their beak is crossed. Birds with their lower mandible curved to the left, usually hold the pine cone with their right foot and vice versa. This likely makes their foraging as efficient as possible.
11. Southern Cassowary
This large flightless rainforest bird is the second heaviest bird in the world after the ostrich. And the female cassowary is larger and more colorful than her mate: she can weigh up to 130 pounds. Not only that, after she lays her eggs she leaves the male to incubate them and raise the young on his own.
Male frigatebirds can inflate their throat sacs into huge red balloons that really impress the female frigatebirds. The male inflates his sac and moves it back and forth at females that fly by. They also do a special call during this display that sound a bit like a science fiction ray gun!
13. King Eider
Related to the Common Eider, which is famous for providing us with soft down used in pillows and quilts, the male King Eider distinguishes himself with his bulbous and colorful head. Only a handful of the world’s bird species breed as far north as this Arctic duck, which can nest on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island.
14. Southern Ground Hornbill
Note the contrast between the Southern Ground Hornbill’s grotesque facial skin and its elegant long eyelashes. This turkey-sized hornbill hunts by walking through the African savannah and grabbing insects, snakes, lizards and small mammals with its large beak.
15. Resplendent Quetzal
The intense beauty of this bird has been noticed by many cultures in many eras. It was revered as sacred by the Aztecs and Maya, who used its beautiful, long tail feathers (taken from live-caught birds that were then released) in ceremonial headdresses. It is Guatemala’s national bird and also the name of Guatemala’s currency.
16. Red Bird-of-Paradise
The Birds-of-Paradise are a family of birds that include some of the world’s most beautiful and bizarre creatures. Incredibly ornate feathers on the males of different species are used during elaborate courtship displays. The Red Bird-of-Paradise uses his long feathers to frame his upside down display.
The most flamboyant of the sandpipers, the breeding male Ruff lives up to his name with a profusion of elongated neck and head feathers. These feathers can be white, black or rufous brown. The males group together and show off their magnificent feathers to females that come to choose a mate.
18. Inca Tern
Both male and female Inca Terns have curly face feathers. This seabird is found on the west coast of South America where it breeds on islands and rocky cliff faces. Those that nest on islands are threatened by rats and cats introduced to the islands by humans.
Named for the shape of its beak, this heron-like bird appears to be carrying a wooden Dutch shoe on its face. The Shoebill uses this massive beak to catch a wide variety of prey including fish, amphibians, snakes, young ducks, small mammals and even baby crocodiles.
20. Roseate Spoonbill
There are six species of spoonbill in the world, but the Roseate Spoonbill is the only one that is bright pink. All of them have beaks shaped like a spoon that they use to catch prey. The swollen end of the beak is opened slightly and moved back and forth in the water until it touches a fish or other prey. Then the beak snaps shut and the spoonbill swallows its catch.
This bird is also called the snakebird because of its long neck. This neck allows the Anhinga to submerge itself in the water with only its head showing. It then slowly paddles forward and goes underwater completely to hunt for fish that it spears with its sharp beak.
22. Greater Sage-Grouse
This male grouse seems to be showing off his ample bosom, but really he has inflated two sacs on his throat just like the frigatebird does. Like the Ruff, the grouse uses these sacs to compete with other males to win the attention of a female. He uses them to make a strange echoing sound that carries across his prairie home to any females in the area.
23. Scarlet Ibis
The Scarlet Ibis is one of 26 different ibis species and all of them have a droopy beak. They eat a wide variety of prey including insects, crabs, shrimp and fish. Scarlet Ibis have been known to follow feeding ducks and grazing cows to eat the insects that these animals scare out of hiding.
24. Sacred Ibis
Another member of the ibis family, the Sacred Ibis is found in much of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. This species eats even more different food items than most ibises and can even be found foraging for scraps at garbage dumps.
25. Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Bee-eaters live up to their name by eating many flying insects including stinging ones such as wasps and bees. Before they swallow a wasp or bee, they rub it on a branch to get rid of the stinger and squeeze out the insect’s venom.
26. American Flamingo
Flamingoes are one of the most recognizable of birds. They often have pink plumage and they have been immortalized as a plastic lawn ornament. Real flamingoes feed by dipping their bent beaks upside down in the water and filtering out the tiny organisms that serve as food and that also give them their pink coloration. Though they look more like a heron or a stork, flamingoes may actually be more closely related to grebes.
27. Asian Paradise-Flycatcher
A male Asian Paradise-Flycatcher has an incredibly long tail. When the male is young, its tail is short like that of a female, but when it becomes an adult, its tail grows so much that it more than doubles the bird’s total length. This species can be found in many color variations and some individuals are almost all white with black heads.
28. Atlantic Puffin
The clown of the seabird world, the Atlantic Puffin’s very colorful beak has tiny spines along the inside part of the upper mandible. These spines, as well as those found on the bird’s tongue, allow the puffin to carry up to 50 small fish back from the sea to the burrow containing the puffin’s young.
29. Indian Peafowl
The male Indian Peafowl, more commonly known as the peacock, probably has the most awe-inspiring tail of any animal on the planet. He spreads and shimmers this many-eyed tail in an elaborate courtship to woo a mate.
There are 16 species of large, long-tailed parrots called macaws. These colorful birds, often used as symbols of the rainforest, are sometimes seen in large, noisy flocks. Unfortunately, the macaw’s impressive size and colors has made it a target for poaching for the pet trade.
31. North Island Brown Kiwi
Like the ostrich, this is another flightless bird. But, while the ostrich lays the smallest egg in relation to body size of any bird (about 2%), the female kiwi lays an egg that weighs an incredible one quarter (25%) of her total body weight!
32. Chestnut-eared Aracari
Aracaris are small toucans that live in Central and South America. Their main diet is fruit and they often regurgitate the seeds. One study found that 96% of these seeds were viable, showing that aracaris are probably important seed dispersers in the rain forest.
This is the largest bird in the world. It can weigh over 400 pounds and stand over 6.5 feet tall. The ostrich does lay the largest egg in the world (about the same as 24 chicken eggs), but it is the smallest bird egg in relation to the bird’s body size.
34. Greater Rhea
While ostriches live in Africa, rheas live in South America. They are not as big as ostriches, but at 5 feet tall, they are still large birds. Up to 12 female rheas lay their eggs in one nest and a single male incubates them. There can be up to 60 eggs in a single nest!
35. King Penguin
Penguins are one of the most distinctive bird groups in the world. They don’t fly, but use their wings to swim underwater instead. They can swim over 20 miles per hour to catch fish, squid and crustaceans. Their speed also gives them a chance of outmaneuvering predators such as Killer Whales, Leopard Seals and sharks.
36. Humboldt Penguin
Penguins and other seabirds that live in salt water have to be able get rid of the excess salt that builds up in their systems. These birds have salt glands located above their eyes that extract the excess salt from their bodies and dribbles it as a liquid out of the birds’ nostrils.
37. Royal Flycatcher
Most flycatchers are rather dull, but this species has a spectacular crest of colorful feathers. The crest is usually folded up behind the bird’s head and its exact function has yet to be discovered. When caught by scientists, the bird unfolds its crest and moves his head from side to side very slowly, suggesting that the crest may be used in some kind of threat display.
38. Helmeted Guineafowl
The bald heads, upright casques and wrinkly wattles of the Helmeted Guineafowl make these chicken-like birds very eye-catching. But these adornments are not just for beauty. All of the bare skin helps the guineafowl regulate its brain temperature in a variety of different African climatic conditions.
This family of birds is found in Africa and southern Asia. Their massive beaks are characteristic of all members of the family. Some species, like the birds shown here, have beaks that are decorated with large, colorful casques. Like the South American toucans, some hornbill species are probably important seed dispersers of many different fruit-bearing trees. For protection, most female hornbills seal themselves and their eggs into tree cavities with a mixture of mud and feces. A small opening is left in the mud wall so the male can feed the female and young until it is time to break them out.
40. Golden Pheasant
The male Golden Pheasant of China has a strange display tactic. When he wants to impress a female pheasant, he runs up to her and fans one side of his gold and black neck ruff up in front of her face. He then turns and does the other side. The male repeats this behavior in hopes that the female will accept it as a mate.
41. Eurasian Eagle-Owl
Almost everything about an owl is weird, mostly because it is one of the only bird groups in the world that is primarily nocturnal. Owls have adapted to their night-time hunting schedule with huge light-sensitive eyes, incredibly acute hearing and very quiet flight that helps them sneak up on their prey in the dark.
42. Palm Cockatoo
Besides having a very impressive “hairdo”, the Palm Cockatoo has a talent that is unique in the bird world. The male is a drummer. He fashions a drumstick out of a branch and then bangs it against a hollow tree trunk so the sound echoes through his territory. This musical solo is used to attract a mate.
43. Brown Pelican
Pelicans use their large, net-like beaks to capture fish and then strain out the water before they swallow their catch. Many species do this as they swim around on the water surface. Brown Pelicans, however, can catch their fish by flying above the water and then doing a spectacular plunge beak-first into an unsuspecting school of fish.
44. Domestic Chickens
Domestication by humans has producedour most important food bird: the chicken. By selecting for certain traits, we have taken the ancestral Red Junglefowl and produced birds that are heavier and lay more and bigger eggs. There are hundreds of breeds of chicken around the world. Some are better for producing eggs, some for producing meat and some are fancy breeds that are bred for how ornamental they look. As you can see by looking at the birds on these two pages, we have also produced some very funny-looking chickens!
45. Eurasian Hoopoe
This odd-looking bird has an even odder way of defending itself as a nestling. If it feels threatened, it will spray feces at the potential predator. If that doesn’t work, it may hiss, poke the predator with its beak or excrete a stinky substance from its preen gland.
46. Wattled Jacana
While some birds are known for their plumage or their beaks or their songs, jacanas are known for their very long toes. These toes help them spread out their body weight when walking. This allows jacanas to walk on floating vegetation without sinking. They can walk across the surface of a pond on lily pads while they forage for insects, small fish and seeds.
47. Marabou Stork
Not only does this bird look like an overgrown, long-billed vulture, it eats like one, too. The Marabou Stork frequently competes with vultures for parts of the carcasses of dead animals. It also eats refuse at garbage dumps, fish and insects.
48. Tawny Frogmouth
This night bird has a huge mouth that allows it to eat almost anything that can fit inside. It usually hunts from a perch and drops down onto insects, worms, frogs, lizards and even small birds and mammals.
49. Sword-billed Hummingbird
The award for longest beak in relation to body size goes to the Sword-billed Hummingbird. This long beak allows it to gather nectar from very deep flowers. Unfortunately, such a long beak makes preening a bit of a problem, so this hummingbird does a lot of its feather maintenance with its feet.
The Sunbittern is quite well camouflaged until it feels threatened and does its frontal display by spreading both of its wings and facing the threat. This makes it look much bigger than normal and may scare the intruder away with the large, colorful eye-like pattern on its wings.
51. Toco Toucan
This toucan has the largest beak of any toucan species. While it is an awkward appendage to haul around, the toucan uses it in a variety of ways. The beak can be used to gather fruit, excavate a nest hole in decaying wood, or steal an egg or nestling from the deep pouched nest of a neighboring bird.
Probably the strangest-shaped raptor in the world, the Secretarybird looks more like a stork than an eagle. But it does still use its feet to catch its prey. This species walks along the African savannah looking for snakes, lizards, insects and small mammals. When it finds one, it stomps on its prey with its strong feet and then, in most cases, swallows it whole.
53. Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
This brilliant creature is the national bird of Peru. The bright orange male Andean Cocks-of-the-Rock display in groups. At these courtship arenas, the males try to be the best at energetic flapping, bowing and jumping as well as loud calling, all in the hopes of attracting one of the female onlookers.
54. White-headed Vulture
It is thought that most vultures have featherless heads because it is easier to keep them clean. As carrion eaters, they often stick their heads into carcasses while feeding. Whatever the reason, the bald birds do seem a bit sinister-looking.
55. Temminck’s Tragopan
The shiny blue and red of this bird’s lappet is what the Temminck’s Tragopan uses as a badge of masculinity during his courtship display. He extends the lappet down his breast and inflates two blue horns on his head. He then does some quick head-bobbing and wing flaps and finishes off by standing as tall as he can with his wings extended.
56. Wild Turkey
Turkeys are well-known birds, but have you ever really stopped to look closely at one? The red and blue facial skin in conjunction with the multiple wattles, warts and bumps is quite bizarre. This head in combination with the chest tuft, huge fan-like tail and rotund body surely make this one of our weirdest birds.
57. Vulturine Guineafowl
Another species of guineafowl, the Vulturine Guineafowl is found in dry areas of eastern Africa. It gets its name from having a naked head like that of a vulture. This head, with its Friar Tuck haircut, seems much too small for the bird’s body and its suit of stripes and spots make this a very comical-looking bird indeed.