There’s no lack of birds in this world. While the common consensus has long been that there are anywhere between 9,000 and 10,000 species on the planet, a study from the American Museum of Natural History suggests the number maybe twice that. That’s a lot of birds, and it suggests that there’s a lot more out there than the blue jays, cardinals, and hummingbirds that most of us are used to. More exotic species are often funny-looking or strange to us, and there are more than enough strange and unique species to stay continually shocked and amused. We can’t possibly document every strange bird species on the planet, but here are eight of the weirdest birds in the world — whether that weirdness is derived from their physiology, their habits, or a combination of the two.
#8: Philippine Eagle — Devourer of Monkeys
The Philippine Eagle easily takes the cake as one of the weirdest national birds in the world — but that’s to be expected from a bird that’s also known as the “monkey-eating eagle”. That’s literal, as macaques are one of the most popular dietary choices for this eagle. But it’s not a picky eater. With an average weight of 10 to 18 pounds and a wingspan of six and a half feet, they’re capable of taking down everything from bats to civets.
That terrifying weight — and intimidating sobriquet — earn it a spot on our list, but it’s also just a strange-looking bird. The funny mess of brown feathers on the top of its head makes it look like it’s having a bad hair day, but it’s, unfortunately, one of the rarest birds on the planet as well. It’s believed that as few as 400 pairs are left in the wild.
#7: Kakapo — A Parrot Like No Other
With an average weight of four to nine pounds and a height of two feet, the kakapo is easily the largest parrot on the planet. They’re also the only species that isn’t capable of flight. Despite that fact, the relatively stubby wings of the kakapo do serve a purpose in their environment. These wings help them maintain a sense of balance and allow them to glide from branches and treetop canopies. They’re quite strong runners and great climbers.
The kakapo is only found in New Zealand, and, likely, their unusual combination of features would only allow them to survive within this unique niche. These slow-moving birds are friendly with people and were once a favored pet among the indigenous Maori. Unfortunately, they’re also a critically endangered species.
#6: Kagu — The Ghost Bird of New Caledonia
The most immediately apparent feature of the Kagu is its plumage — an ashy white that’s earned it the nickname “the ghost of the forest”. This unique and exotic bird is only found on the island chain of New Caledonia, where it’s recognized as both a national symbol and an endangered species. That’s especially tragic considering what fascinating birds these are. Despite having large wings, these birds aren’t capable of flight. Instead, they primarily flap their wings to chase predators away from their young. It’s believed that the dark stripes on its wings can be a distraction.
Even without the power of flight, these weird birds of the world are capable navigators. Its long legs transform it into a capable runner, and it has little difficulty hopping and weaving around the thick roots and rocks throughout its home. Those large wings keep it stable when it’s at its most athletic.
#5: Tawny Frogmouth — Not to be Mistaken For an Owl
While you might mistake the facial features of the Tawny Frogmouth for that of an owl on a glance, their lack of clawed talons prevents them from being classified as these birds. Without the ability to snatch up and disable prey from the air with their feet, they instead rely on their unique beaks to catch a meal. Their large mouths are highly precise when on the hunt, but these funny birds will also passively catch a meal by simply leaving their mouths open and hoping for insects to fly in.
It’s often a successful strategy thanks to the exceptional camouflaging of the Tawny Frogmouth’s feathers. When immobile, these birds blend right into tree trunks — and they’ll often adjust their position to better resemble a branch or limb. These unique combinations of traits have made them some of the most beloved birds throughout Australia and Tasmania.
#4: Southern Cassowary — Funny Looking But Dangerous
It’s easy to laugh at the Southern Cassowary. Combine a prodigious pair of wattles, a head that looks like it’s been splashed with a random assortment of colorful paints, and a distinct helmet and you’re left with a bird that looks funny, making it one of the weirdest birds in the world. You’re less inclined to laugh when you realize that this bird is the second largest in the world and can easily reach weights surpassing a hundred pounds. In other words, they’re one of the closest examples we have to a modern dinosaur.
The Southern Cassowary has earned the dubious nickname of “Murderbird”. Each toe is topped by a claw half a foot long, and the kicking power means that these birds could eviscerate a human being with little effort. They share the dubious distinction with emus of being the only birds known to have killed a human.
#3: Burrowing Owl — Making the Most of Their Environment
Part of the mysterious allure of owls is that they perch high above us and let the winds carry their haunting vocalizations. But the Burrowing Owl is proof that animals can learn to adjust to practically any situation. In the case of the Burrowing Owl, that means adjusting to the grasslands they call home by venturing downward into the earth rather than upwards towards the sky. These birds form communities that link together their underground burrows and take turns guarding them.
While they’re known to hunt from roosting spots, the comparative lack of dense forests and canopies in their environments has also forced them to adapt. A Burrowing Owl is just as likely to be found chasing its prey on foot as it is to be found swooping down on them. These owls have been successful as well — developing a habitat that stretches from southern Alberta down to Mexico.
#2: Hoatzin — A Funky Smelling Avian
The Hoatzin looks like it was crafted together using spare parts from half a dozen random bird species, and the results make this one of the weirdest looking birds in the world. Found in the depths of the Amazon, it’s a motley assortment of colors and patterns — along with talons that jut outward from their front limbs. But if that sounds terrifying, there’s no need to be. The random selection of features that make up the Hoatzin also makes it an incredibly awkward bird.
While capable of flight, the Hoatzin performs poorly in the air — and the best escape strategy they’ve developed for their young is to roll out of the nest and into the water when a predator comes near. But the most dramatic characteristic of this dramatically bizarre bird is its stench. It has the trademark odor of manure and has earned the sobriquet of “Stinkbird” as a result. It’s recognized as one of the stinkiest animals in the world.
#1: Magnificent Frigatebird — A Throat Like a Tomato
When you initially see the bright crimson neck of the Magnificent Frigatebird, it’s easy to consider it beautiful but not all that remarkable when compared to other bird species. But you’d change your position if you saw it during mating season. That’s because males of this subtropical bird species can inflate the pouch around their neck until it looks like an enormous red balloon. And strangely enough, it seems as if this feature only exists as a mechanism for attracting mates. The pouch itself isn’t even present in females of the species.
Despite being found in both the Atlantic and Pacific, these birds aren’t capable of swimming. Fortunately, their extensive wingspan — which can reach up to eight feet in males — allows these exotic birds to fly for much longer distances than others. Males of this species are recognized as having the longest wingspan of any bird on the planet.