20 Awesome Birds You've Never Heard Of
Birds Throughout History
Today, the bird is the word. From America's own majestic bald eagle to the adorable penguins living in the frigid climate of Antarctica, birds have evolved in many sizes and shapes. Some species have endured millions of years, surviving ice ages and climate changes, and despite their mostly-small sizes, a few display astonishing degrees of intelligence.
Whether you're a pet enthusiast or can't tell your pigeons from your magpies, all can appreciate the elegance and sky-dominance of these creatures. Even avian enthusiasts may be surprised to discover some new faces as we countdown twenty unknown yet impressive bird species!
20. Great Cormorant
Habitat: Several locations, especially Europe and North America's Atlantic Coast
Also known as the great black cormorant, this bird can be distinguished by its piercing green or blue eyes. Although most are unfamiliar with it, it's commonly found on many continents across the globe. Some Norwegian cultures view these sea-faring birds as signs of good fortune and hold them in a near-sacred regard; contrastingly, many British fishermen curse them for their fish-stealing ways.
19. Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher
This specific species of the kingfisher family (remember, it goes kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) displays striking bright colors across its plumage. Found throughout Asia and India, these tiny critters prefer to nest in streams hidden deep within dense forests. They average just over five inches in size, meaning an American dollar bill is longer than them.
Although kingfishers in general are relatively obscure, you're probably acquainted with the more-renowned kookaburra, whose birdcall sounds remarkably like human laughter.
18. Greater Rhea
Habitat: South America
No, greater rhea isn't what happens when you eat too much Mexican food. These large flightless birds resemble emus and ostriches, but belongs to their own distinct genus. Still, just like other large birds, rheas are farmed for their meat and eggs, and they're sizable enough that only a few top carnivores, like cougars, can prey on them.
If you get annoyed by the squawking and chirping of noisy animals, try farming big bird here, whose species display unusual degrees of silence.
17. Blue Lorikeet
Habitat: French Polynesia
Lorikeets are a specific type of parrots by their small sizes and brush-tipped tongues. Just over seven inches long, blue lorikeets display brilliantly-blue feathers across tiny stature. Coupled with a white crest and orange beak, they're simply pretty birds.
Adding to their charm, this bluebird doesn't feed on other animals, preferring nectar, pollen, and seeds.
16. Jersey Giant Chicken
Habitat: North America
Sure, we're all familiar with chicken (especially my stomach), but have you ever seen a species this large? With their prominent black color and size rivaling that of a turkey, Jersey Giants are well-liked for the large amounts of meat that can be obtained per bird. They didn't really dwell among the wild; they were first domestically bred (by crossing other species) in New Jersey, hence the name.
Don't like the black feathers? White and blue variations of the Jersey Giant also exist, and of all today's entries, these are the easiest birds to find for sale. Fun to play with, funner to eat.
15. Pygmy Parrot
Habitat: Australia (New Guinea)
You've likely heard of pygmy owls, but probably haven't encountered their minuscule parrot counterparts. While not the most colorful of their kind, pgymy parrots' diminutive sizes belie quick flight speeds. As cute as they are, they have yet to be successfully domesticated, as any attempt to coup up these birds in cages results in a quick death. Because of this, they're poorly understood, and we could benefit from new methods of researching them from afar.
Still, sometimes we just have to sit back, enjoy nature, and let these energetic guys exist in their natural environment.
14. Roseate Spoonbill
Habitat: North and South America
By far my favorite species of spoonbill, roseates are easily distinguished by their gaudy red-pink-white gradients, resembling the most common shades of roses. Their distinctive beaks account for the "spoon" in their name and help them consume all sorts of fish.
Similarly to the flamingo, the intensity of their pink feathers depends on their diet and how much of the pigment canthaxanthin they ingest.
13. Tufted Puffin
Habitat: Various northern islands
Although we tend to forget about them, most of us have heard of puffins, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover this distinctive species who stand out with their unique yellow tufts and sharper beak (compared to the Atlantic puffin). They also make for good partners—mating pairs stay together for long periods of time, and both parents help raise their young. Unlike penguins, they have mastered both sky and sea, being capable of flying and swimming.
As adorable as tufted puffins are, they must constantly maintain a lookout for hungry foxes and owls.
12. Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
Habitat: Islands in Southeastern United States
Woody Woodpecker brought the broad category to our attention, but most woodpeckers escape mainstream recognition. Of all species, I prefer the ivory-billed woodpecker for its large size and black-red colors. Like its brethren, it uses its powerful beak to tear and shred tree bark to eat the insects lurking beneath, and it prefers to roost in dense swamplands.
Or perhaps I should say "preferred"; this animal is listed as critically endangered, possibly extinct, and anyone who can lead a biologist to a live specimen stands to earn thousands of dollars.
11. Pesquet's Parrot
Habitat: Australia (New Guinea)
What can I say—I'm a sucker for exotic black-red birds, particularly unique ones who dominate their own genus. With a somewhat vulture-like appearance and comparatively hooked bills, Pesquet's parrots appear more intimidating than other species, but aren't threatening to humans. In fact, we're more a danger to them, as we excessively hunt them for their beautiful feathers.
Thankfully, parrots are intelligent creatures and can live to ripe old ages (even 100!) in the right conditions, which will hopefully ensure their continued survival.
Which bird do you prefer?
10. Blakiston's Fish Owl
Habitat: Asia, particularly Northeastern China and Japan
We're all well-acquainted with owls, but you may not recognize their largest member: Blakiston's fish owl. With its rather chunky build, these birds use wood-like camouflage to blend in with trees and foliage. However, they rarely need to, as adult individuals carry enough heft to deter most predators; in fact, many scientists dub them Blakiston's eagle owl for their genetic markers and impressive sizes.
Although many cultures consider owls wise due to their appearances, they're not quite as smart as the most clever of birds like parrots or crows.
9. Parakeet Auklet
Habitat: North Pacific climates like Alaska
Puffins may be cute, but meet their fierce-eyed auklet counterparts who can both fly and swim. With their piercing gazes, auklets look a bit scary, but they're small and have little contact with humans. They're also thriving and aren't anywhere near extinction. Hey guys, you leave us alone, we'll leave you alone. You may be small, but you have more intense gazes than actual birds of prey like hawks.
Common Potoo Song
8. Common Potoo
Habitat: Central and South America
Ironically, despite its name, odds are good you've never heard of this birdbrain. Like most teenagers, they're nocturnal creatures, and the grey-brown colorings greatly disguise them in forests. Perching on logs, they hunts insects similarly to shrikes and flycatchers, and thankfully, they're still abundantly found in the wild.
Check out the short but hauntingly beautiful songs of the common potoo, renowned for their eerie nature.
7. Wandering Albatross
Habitat: Southern (Antarctic) Ocean
Despite being one of the best-documented birds, albatrosses receive little fanfare. They're a widespread bunch most known for wielding the largest wingspan of any living bird, spanning up to eleven and a half feet. The large wings enable them to glide for long periods of time without flapping, conserving energy and allowing long-range travels. Hey if you can answer your call-of-the-wild wanderlust passion without shelling out hundreds of bucks at overpriced hotels, good on you, albatrosses. Seriously, Marriott, are your rooms really worth that much?
They may harness the longest wingspan, but albatrosses aren't the tallest extant flying bird, an honor belonging to the Sarus crane species.
6. Glossy Black Cockatoo
Habitat: Eastern Australia
A bird after my own heart, the glossy black cockatoo balances a harsh black coat with an unusual friendliness. They're also quiet, and have been known to surprise people who stumble upon them without realizing they were there. Picky eaters, glossy blacks feed on the cones of seeds found in she-oak trees. Like human adolescents, they have mysterious eating habits, ignoring nearby plants full of seeds to further scavenge a preferred individual tree.
Plus, these cool cockatoos raise their young for over a year, acting as abnormally devoted parents. Keep it up, love birds.
5. Western Grebe
Habitat: Pacific North American coast
A group with its own entire order, grebes come in many shapes and sizes. While most can fly, they're better at swimming, and—yikes, just look at the bloodthirsty red eyes of the Western grebe. And we thought the auklets were bad. Luckily, great crested grebes, pictured second in the above thumbnail, offer a much more sleek (i.e. less demonic) appearance.
The evolutionary history of grebes isn't well understood, but they seem to be most closely related to flamingos.
4. Raggiana Bird-Of-Paradise
Habitat: Australia (New Guinea)
Australia sure does house some gorgeous raptors, this one being the national bird of Papua New Guinea. Unlike some flying beasts, raggianas are polygamous, but who can resist their intricate tail patterns and red-orange hues? They're fairly small birds, spanning barely over a foot long, and males can be distinguished from females by their white tail feather.
In addition to their dynamic feathers, some birds-of-paradise have vibrant emerald-green throats, further adding to their color palette.
3. Superb Lyrebird
Crikey, yet another Australian creature. One of the world's largest songbirds, superb lyrebirds possess complex tail feather arrangements of various colors, and their foraging behavior plays a crucial role in their ecosystem.
Take your pick for what's most notable about these awesome creatures: their tail patterns or their stupendous ability to mimic sounds, including other bird calls, car alarms, and even chainsaws.
2. Steller's Sea Eagle
Habitat: Northeastern Asia
The heaviest if not largest of its kind, Steller's sea eagle delights bird enthusiasts with its snow-touched black plumage. Females are larger than males, and both genders emit a deep barking cry. As opposed to most eagles, who hunt small mammals, our sea eagle here prefers fish. Fully-grown fledglings aren't known to be hunted by any animal, relaxing them near the top of their food chain.
As formidable as Steller's sea eagle is, it could never overwhelm our strongest bird yet...
1. Phorusrhacidae (Terror Bird)
Habitat: South America
Hey, we never said the bird has to come from modern days. Some may recognize this enormous dinosaur-like raptor from animated movies or cartoons set around the Cenozoic era, where they ran rampant across the land. Fossil records show these apex predators ranged from 3 to 9 feet tall, but despite their size, they were savvy enough to mostly prey on smaller mammals like rabbits, ensuring minimum injuries during the chase.
Although their huge size prevented flight, terror birds could run at extreme speeds, and their intimidating appearance rightly earned the carnivores their "terror bird" moniker.
Which bird do you prefer?
Hopefully you've enjoyed exploring these obscure birds as much as I've enjoyed researching them. Nature offers thousands of animals for us to savor (many in our bellies), but we must always remember to respect these creatures and treat them as humanely as possible.
As we continue our hippie quest to coexist peacefully among all types of birds, vote for your favorite avian, and I'll see you at our next countdown!
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Jeremy Gill