Discover 11 Modern-Day Birds That Look Like Dinosaurs

southern cassowary with blurred background
studioxy/Shutterstock.com

Written by Mike Edmisten

Updated: June 5, 2023

Share on:

Advertisement


All birds descend from dinosaurs. While reptiles such as crocodiles and alligators may appear to be the most dinosaur-like creatures today, birds are actually the closest living connection to dinosaurs. 

Birds are the descendants of theropods (two-legged dinosaurs). This group included the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex as well as smaller Velociraptors. Some birds still look quite a bit like their prehistoric ancestors. Here are eleven modern birds that still resemble dinosaurs.

1. Southern Cassowary (​​Casuarius casuarius)

Cassowaries are ratites, a group of large, flightless birds that includes ostriches, emus, kiwis, and others. The southern cassowary may be the closest living relative to dinosaurs on Earth. This primitive bird is a descendant of the Corythoraptor jacobsi, a helmeted dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period. The southern cassowary also sports a helmet-like structure atop its head called a casque. 

Southern Cassowary walking along the beach.

The southern cassowary is a primitive bird that looks like it walked right out of prehistoric times.

The calls of the southern cassowary are also reminiscent of what its dinosaur ancestors may have sounded like. The video below demonstrates the booming, rumbling call of this bird. If you never thought a bird’s call could strike fear, imagine walking through the rainforests of New Guinea when you hear this.

Your phone’s speaker won’t do this justice. Instead, listen to the rumblings of the cassowary on a set of quality speakers with a subwoofer for a better idea of what hearing this bird in the wild would be like. It is the lowest call of any bird alive today. Parts of the southern cassowary’s call are so low they are barely above the threshold of human hearing.

The southern cassowary also features large, powerful legs and feet equipped with sharp claws. There are stories of cassowaries killing people through powerful kicks coupled with slicing claws. It’s hard not to see the cassowary’s connection to a dinosaur when examining its legs and feet.

Southern cassowaries live mostly in the tropical forests of Australia and New Guinea. They also live at Paluma Range National Park, the Kulla (McIlwraith Range) National Park, and the Jardine River National Park in Australia.

There are two other cassowary species in addition to the southern cassowary: the northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus) and the dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti).

2. Shoebill Stork (Balaeniceps rex)

The shoebill stork is also known as the whalebill and the whale-headed stork. These strange and somewhat fearsome-looking birds certainly look like modern-day dinosaurs.

The massive bill which gives this bird its name is one of the largest bills of all living birds. The shoebill is able to catch large prey and swallow it whole. This bird’s favorite prey is large fish such as catfish, tilapia, bichirs, and lungfish. If fish aren’t available, the shoebill stork will also prey on water snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, mollusks, and even young crocodiles. 

Fossil evidence suggests shoebill storks may have existed as long as 30 million years ago. Today, you can see this dinosaur-like bird in the dense marshlands and freshwater swamps of East African nations such as Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Zambia.

The Shoebill Stork, also known as Whalehead or Shoe-billed Stork, is a very large stork-like bird.

The shoebill stork is a rather strange-looking bird that seems like it came from a different age.

3. Kiwi (Apteryx spp.)

The kiwi is the unofficial national bird of New Zealand. Five species of kiwi live only in New Zealand.

new zealand

Kiwis are New Zealand birds that have almost fur-like feathers.

The kiwi is a primitive-looking bird with a round body and a very long, sharp beak. It is the smallest of the ratites. The brown kiwi is the largest kiwi species. It is roughly the same size as a domestic chicken. The bird’s plumage almost looks more like fur than feathers. 

The kiwi’s call, especially that of the female, sounds almost prehistoric. Not only does the kiwi look and sound like something out of prehistory, but it also shares its DNA with the one and only Tyrannosaurus rex!

4. Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

The ostrich is the largest bird in the world, growing up to nine feet tall and weighing upwards of 300 pounds. This massive bird looks prehistoric in almost every possible way. There are numerous similarities between the modern ostrich and the Ornithomimus, an ostrich-like dinosaur. Like the ostrich, the Ornithomimus had an elongated neck and feathers only on its main body.

Male common ostrich, Struthio camelus, searching for food and patrolling the area

The ostrich almost seems as big as a dinosaur!

Ostriches may be flightless, but they can run with amazing speed. A mature ostrich has a 16-foot stride and can run up to 43 mph!

In an interesting evolutionary twist, the ostrich is the only bird with two toes. Every other bird has three or four toes. The ostrich’s feet certainly look like something straight out of Jurassic Park

The ostrich’s enormous eggs look like a dinosaur could have laid them. At well over three pounds, it is the largest egg in the world.

Ostrich (Struthio camelus) inspects its eggs in the nest. Wild life animal.

Ostrich eggs are the largest eggs in the world.

5. South Island Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri)

The takahē is the largest rail, a family of small to medium-sized flightless birds with short wings, large feet, and long toes. This rare New Zealand bird has red legs and a large, strong red beak. Its head has a noticeable dinosaur-like shape. Its clawed feet also have a distinct Velociraptor vibe.

This bird not only looks like a dinosaur but was thought to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. It was once believed to be extinct. (The North Island takahē, sadly, is extinct.) After 50 years of presumed extinction, the takahē was famously rediscovered in 1948. There are just over 400 individuals known to exist today.

Birds that can't fly: Takahe

Like dinosaurs, the South Island takahē was once thought to be extinct.

6. Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

The turkey’s connections with dinosaurs may not be as evident initially because many of us are so familiar with the bird. It is, after all, the mainstay of the Thanksgiving table in the United States. Ben Franklin even lobbied to name the turkey the U.S. national bird rather than the bald eagle.

But, putting all that familiarity aside, have you ever really looked at a turkey? It is a rather bizarre bird with plenty of prehistoric resemblances. 

Turkeys are descended from meat-eating theropods such as the Velociraptor and T. rex. That’s right. Your Thanksgiving turkey is a T. rex relative! It is especially seen in the turkey’s dinosaur-like legs.

Do you break the wishbone after Thanksgiving dinner? That is another dinosaur similarity. Turkeys and most other modern birds have wishbones, but so did the T. rex and Velociraptor.

Wild turkey

Turkeys are familiar to many of us, but these birds are descended from carnivorous theropods.

7. Chicken (​​Gallus gallus)

The chicken is another domestic bird that has direct ties to the T. rex. In 2003, a T. rex femur bone was discovered. Collagen from that bone was genetically analyzed and compared to the DNA of 21 modern animals. The proteins found in the T. rex DNA were most similar to the chicken.

A chicken’s foot and the foot of a T. rex are structurally similar. They both have scaly, hand-like feet. Each has three fingers, and the middle finger is the longest. Each also has a fourth digit on the opposite side.

Chickens were domesticated over 10,000 years ago, but the humble chicken still holds onto its wild, prehistoric roots. The next time you see a chicken, remember you are looking at one of the closest living connections to the mighty T. rex!

Barnevelder rooster isolated

Chickens are descended from the

T. rex

!

8. Hornbill (Bucerotidae)

There are 60 species of hornbills, and some of them look like they could have flown straight out of an episode of The Flintstones.

helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil)

The helmeted hornbill looks flat-out prehistoric!

Like the cassowary, hornbills have a casque. Unlike the cassowary, the casque sits on top of the bird’s bill, not atop its head.

The helmeted hornbill has the largest casque of all hornbills. The casque can account for ten percent of the male helmeted hornbill’s total body weight. This hornbill species is also one of the most prehistoric-looking of all the hornbills.

The casque amplifies the loud calls of the hornbill, which vary quite differently among the 60 hornbill species.

The helmeted hornbill’s call builds to a laugh-like sound.

The trumpeter hornbill sounds a bit like a fussy baby.

Hornbills are found in ​​much of sub-Saharan Africa, India, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands. 

9. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

The great blue heron is another descendant of theropod dinosaurs. One look at the feet of this large water bird reveals the connection to the Velociraptors of prehistory.

Great blue herons have a massive, seven-foot wingspan. They live in marshes and along rivers and shorelines from southern Canada to northern South America.

These predatory birds mostly eat fish. They will also predate reptiles, insects, other birds, and occasionally even small mammals.

Great Blue Heron chick with mouth open at the Venice Area Audubon Bird Rookery in Venice Florida USA

A great blue heron chick, such as this one in Florida, looks like a modern-day dinosaur.

10. Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

The emu is the second-largest bird in the ratite group, trailing only the ostrich. And like the ostrich, the emu is a strange-looking bird that might seem to be more at home among the dinosaurs than in our modern world.

It’s like long legs and three-toed feet would make a Velociraptor proud. The bluish skin on its neck and head also looks more dinosaur-like than birdlike. 

Emus can grow up to six feet tall and weigh well over 100 pounds. These large omnivorous birds eat seeds, fruit, insects, and small reptiles. They are found in every state in Australia except Tasmania.

Australian flightless bird the emu

Doesn’t a strutting emu just remind you of a Velociraptor?

11. Crane (Gruidae)

There are 15 species of cranes. These tall birds live on every continent except South America and Antarctica. The whooping crane is the tallest bird in the United States, standing five feet tall with a seven-foot wingspan. 

Their long legs and elongated necks are certainly reminiscent of their dinosaur ancestors. All species of cranes except two (Blue and Demoiselle cranes) have bare skin on their faces, which adds to the prehistoric appearance of these large birds.

Most cranes nest in wetlands shallows. Their omnivorous diet is highly adaptable to whatever is available. Cranes can consume seeds, nuts, acorns, leaves, and berries. They will also eat insects, birds, small reptiles, small mammals, snails, worms, frogs, and small fish.

Types of Crane birds - Common Crane

The crane’s long legs and neck are reminiscent of their prehistoric dinosaur roots.

“Dinosaur” Birds

Many of us see birds every day. They are so commonplace in our daily lives that we often don’t consider how remarkable these creatures are. Every bird we see is a descendant of dinosaurs. Some just look more like their prehistoric ancestors than others.


Share this post on:
About the Author

Mike is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on geography, agriculture, and marine life. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University and a resident of Cincinnati, OH, Mike is deeply passionate about the natural world. In his free time, he, his wife, and their two sons love the outdoors, especially camping and exploring US National Parks.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.