There are nearly 10,000 species of birds on planet Earth.
They range in size from the tiny bee hummingbird to the behemoth African ostrich, but not all of the biggest birds in the world can fly.
In this article, we will discuss the 10 largest flying birds in the world and their awesome abilities.
The wandering albatross is the biggest bird in the world, at least in terms of its wingspan.
Wandering albatrosses can achieve a wingspan of up to 17 feet 5 inches (3.4 meters), and have been tracked flying as much as 75,000 miles (120,000), three times around the earth over the Southern Ocean, in a single year.
The wandering albatross mates for life.
Every other year, the parents stop at one of the rocky islands of the South Atlantic, such as South Georgia, and the female lays a single egg in a nest made of peat moss that is 3 feet (a meter) wide at the top.
The parents guard the egg for 11 weeks until it hatches. Then they share feeding duties until the chick is ready to fly off on its own.
If you read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge in school, you know the legend of the wandering albatross.
Able to fly circles around sailing ships for days at a time, the wandering albatross was the harbinger of good luck. Killing an albatross, however, could bring disaster.
The Andean condor is the biggest raptor on the planet. It has the second-broadest wingspan of any bird, up to 10-1/2 feet (3.2 meters), empowering it to glide gracefully high above the Andes Mountains (which is its home).
Andean condors are closely related to vultures. Instead of hunting for food, they feed on dead animals.
They can eat as much as 16 pounds (7.2 kilograms) of rotting flesh in a single meal.
Condors are also one of the longest-lived birds on the planet. They often live up to 50 years in the wild, and can reach 80 years old in captivity.
The Dalmatian pelican, native to the Balkan peninsula of Europe, is not just the largest species of pelican but also one of the most massive flying birds in the world.
With a wingspan of as much as 11 feet (over 3 meters), these birds are high flyers. They have been observed at the altitude usually occupied by low-flying jets, about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters).
Dalmatian pelicans have a big appetite to fuel their huge bodies.
A Dalmatian pelican catches and eats about 4 pounds (1900 grams) of fish every day.
They use their enormous bill to scoop up not just fish but also the water they are swimming in and then lean forward to strain out the water before they swallow the fish.
Also known as the whale-headed stork, the shoebill is one of Africa’s tallest and strangest birds.
It stands up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, and spends most of its time alone in its territory of about 600 acres (250 hectares) in a swamp or marshland.
It waits patiently for fish and frogs to swim by, capturing them in its enormous bill almost every time it strikes.
The length of an adult shoebill from tail to beak can range from 39 to 55 inches (100 to 140 cm).
Wingspan can range from 7 feet 7 inches to 8 feet 6 inches (230 to 260 cm).
Baby shoebills have small bills when they are newly hatched, but it grows quickly to reach an adult size of up to 9-1/2 inches (24 cm).
Shoebills hold their wings flat when they fly. They flap their wings very slowly, just 150 times a minute, and like to glide from spot to spot on their hunting grounds.
Birdwatchers love shoebills, because they are easy to watch and friendly with humans, allowing birdwatchers to come as close as 6 feet (2 meters) to snap photos.
Kori bustards are the largest flying bird in Africa, This native of Namibia has a wingspan of 7 feet 7 inches to a full 9 feet (230 to 275 cm).
They can stand up to 4 feet (1.3 meters) tall. Males of the species can weigh as much as 40 pounds (18 kilograms), making them the world’s heaviest flying animal.
Female kori bustards are just one-third to one-half the size of males.
Kori bustards live in dry areas with short grass, because they need a long run to take off the ground into flight.
When they are approached by humans, they first try to escape detection by holding their heads back as far as they can, creating a profile a lot like the Roadrunner in the Bugs Bunny cartoon series.
Then they will run to try to escape predators or intruders into their territory. They will eventually take flight, gliding slowly on their enormous wings.
Himalayan Griffon Vulture
The Himalayan griffon vulture plays an important role in Tibetan culture.
It consumes the bodies of the dead, taken to a secret location after funeral ceremonies.
Himalayan griffon vultures are the biggest vultures in East Asia.
They have a wingspan of 8 feet 5 inches to 10 feet (256 to 310 cm), and can weigh as much as 30 pounds (13.7 kilograms).
These birds spend most of their daytime lives resting on top of rocks. They wait for thermal updrafts to carry them high into the air to scan the area for food.
Himalayan griffon vultures cannot sustain flight without updrafts created by the heat of the sun.
Although Himalayan griffon vultures are more famous for consuming dead people, they get most of their nutrition from dead yaks.
They eat only the muscle meat, leaving the guts for crows and other vultures.
Trumpeter swans are native to quiet lakes, large shallow ponds, and undisturbed marshlands of southern Canada and the northern states of the United States.
They live mostly west of the Mississippi, although a few trumpeter swans have managed to fly as far away as England and northern Mexico.
They are the heaviest flying bird in the world, and the world’s largest waterfowl.
Trumpeter swans have the longest bill of any waterfowl, twice as long as the bill of a goose, 4.1 to 4.7 inches (1-5 to 120 mm) long.
The largest male trumpeter ever measured had a length of 6 feet (183 cm), a wingspan of 10 feet 2 inches (310 cm), and a weight of 38 pounds (17.2 kilograms).
Another smaller but stockier swan weighed in at 51 pounds (23 kilograms), but was probably too heavy to fly.
Adult trumpeter swans are vegetarians, feeding on water plants day and night.
Young trumpeter swans supplement their diet with frogs, snails, and small fish.
Although adult trumpeter swans are not predators, they are fierce fighters when their young are threatened.
Marabou storks wade through marshlands in sub-Saharan Africa.
They are often called “undertaker birds” because of their appearance when viewed from the rear.
They have skinny white legs, wings covered with black feathers that resemble an undertaker’s cloak, and sometimes a head covered with “hair.”
The comparison of the Marabou stork to an undertaker (a popular WWE wrestler) is appropriate.
Marabou storks are scavengers. They will feed on anything, from dead elephants to termites to the kitchen scraps they find in garbage dumps.
Their diet may not be appetizing to humans, but it is enough to fuel big bodies.
One Marabou stork had a verified wingspan of 12 feet (3.7 meters), giving it the broadest wings of any bird in the world.
There is an unverified report of another Marabou stork having an even longer wingspan, 13 feet 4 inches (4.1 meters).
Although Marabou storks have huge wings, they are not one of the world’s heaviest birds. Many Marabout storks weigh less than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).
A harpy eagle is big enough to plunge down to the ground at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) to kill a deer, a porcupine, or an opossum with its 5-inch (13 cm) claws for its next meal.
Named after a half-human, half-bird creature in Greek mythology, the harpy eagle is one of the heaviest eagles found anywhere.
Males can weigh up to 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms), while females can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kilograms).
Harpy eagles are found in the rain forests of southern Mexico, most of Central America, and the northern half of South America.
Their wings are relatively short, just 5 feet 9 inches to 7 feet 4 inches (176 to 224 cm), making it easier for them to fly between trees.
Also read: What do Eagles Eat?
California condors are the largest land bird in North America.
They have the longest wingspan of any bird in North America, averaging over 9 feet (3 meters). They are nearly as heavy as trumpeter swans.
The California condor’s large flight muscles are anchored to a small sternum, so they fly mainly by soaring rather than by flapping their wings.
Despite this limitation, Condor condors can reach considerable heights, as far as 15,100 feet (4,100 meters) above the ground. They like to fly next to rock cliffs, using thermals to stay in the air.
Adult California condors have no natural predators, but they were hunted to extinction in 1987.
There were California condors in zoos and bird sanctuaries, however, and they have been reintroduced to two condor refuge areas in California.
Protected from predators, these big birds are almost as long-lived as their cousins in South America.
They can live up to be up to 50 years old in the wild, and up to 80 years old in captivity.
What Are the World’s Largest Birds That Can’t Fly?
Just in case you were wondering why some of the world’s biggest birds didn’t make our list, here’s the explanation.
Some of the world’s biggest birds can’t fly at all, but they are so big that they don’t need to.
These birds may be great runners and formidable fighters, but the best they can do flying is to lift from the ground occasionally as they run:
- Ostrich – The largest bird on earth, the ostrich, can’t fly, but it can use its wings to take advantage of the wind as it runs at speeds of up to 43 miles per hour (70 km per hour). Its wings can span 9 feet (2.7 meters) and it can weigh as much as 288 pounds (130 kilograms). Ostriches are so large and fast that they are not bothered by predators such as lions and jackals. An ostrich can kill a lion with a single swipe of its clawed feet.
- Southern Cassowary – The tallest bird on earth, this denizen of the rain forests in New Guinea can stand up to 6 feet (nearly 2 meters) tall. It has a 4-inch (10 cm) clawed middle toe which it can use to deal a fatal blow to predators, including humans.
- Rhea – The rhea is the smaller South American cousin of the ostrich. These birds are peewees next to their African ostrich cousins, but they can still grow up to 5 feet (1.6 meters) tall and weigh up to 70 pounds (34 kilograms). Females lay up to 40 eggs every breeding season, but males are responsible for sitting on the nest to incubate them.
- Emperor penguin – Of the 18 species of penguins, Emperor penguins are the largest. They can stand up to 4 feet (120 cm) tall and weigh up to 90 pounds (40 kilograms). They have several layers of scale-like feathers that can withstand winds up to 70 miles per hour (31 meters per second) before they are ruffled.
- Great bustard – Great bustards are the largest land bird in Europe. They stand up to 4 feet (1.3 feet) tall over the grasslands where they live, making them an easy target for hunters. Great bustards were hunted to extinction in England in 1832, but they have been reintroduced from Russia. There is now a self-sustaining colony of about 100 of these birds in the UK.
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