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5 Birds with Fun Headgear

Fun Facts

Location: Northern Australia, New Guinea & surrounding islands

Habitat: Tropical forests & wetlands

Relatives: Emu, Ostrich

Height: Up to 6 ft

Weight: Males: 84 lbs, Females: 104 lbs

Lifespan: 30-40 years

Diet: Fruits

Speed: Can run up to 30 miles per hour

Agility: Can jump up to 7 ft

Cassowary

The Cassowary is the heaviest bird in Australia and the second heaviest in the world (the Ostrich holds first place). The name Cassowary comes from two Papuan words, "kasu" which means horned and "weri" which means head. The bird's horn is one of its most distinct features. Known as a "casque" or "helmet", this horn is made of a thick sponge-like material coated with keratin. The casque develops around the age of 1 or 2. It may serve as an age indicator or as protection for the bird as it uses its head to push through the forest.

There are 3 species of cassowaries:

Southern

  • Largest of the three species
  • Neck has no feathers and is bright blue
  • Double-wattled (a wattle is a piece of flesh that hangs from the throat)
  • Found in New Guinea lowland forests and Australia

Northern

  • Most endangered
  • Single-wattled
  • Casque is large and flared
  • Skin is golden or red
  • Found along the banks and swamps of New Guinea

Dwarf

  • No wattles
  • Has a round purple spot where the wattles would be
  • Most colorful of the three species

None of the three species can fly. They are solitary creatures and can only tolerate company during mating season, which is June-October. In an effort to gain a female's approval, the male will strut about and woo her with low frequency sounds called "booms". They will stay together a few weeks until she lays her eggs. Once the eggs arrive, the female will leave the male to incubate and then rear the youngsters.

While cute and cuddly looking, this bird is considered the most dangerous in the world. It is recommended you do not approach one. They are extremely shy and do not appreciate human contact. If they feel threatened, they will attack, kicking and stomping their victims with their three-toed feet, then slicing them apart with the 4 inch claw on each foot.

Cassowary

Fun Facts

Location: Central and South America

Habitat: Rainforest

Height: 15-20 inches

Weight: 11-20 oz

Lifespan: 16 years

Diet: Fruits and small animals such as frogs

Umbrellabird

The umbrellabird derives its name from the umbrella-like crest of feathers on its head. The feathers droop down over the face, extending as far as the end of the beak. All three species of umbrellabirds have this crest as well as an inflatable wattle that hangs from their throats. Flight is difficult for these birds because of their size, so they spend most of their time jumping from branch to branch.

Known as an "altitudinal migrant", the umbrellabird migrates from lower altitudes to higher altitudes to breed during the months of March-June. In an effort to impress the ladies, the males perform a dance where the wattle inflates, making the bird's rumbling sounds louder. Females lay eggs in nests perched high above the forest floor. After a month of incubation, the eggs hatch and the chicks leave the nest a few months later. Umbrellabirds are usually solitary birds except for during the breeding season.

Long-wattled umbrellabird

  • Has a long wattle reaching lengths of 14 inches
  • Females have a shorter wattle or may not have one

Bare-necked umbrellabird

  • Has a patch of bare skin along the throat and a chest that is red
  • Has a thin wattle with feathers on the end
  • Females do not have the wattle

Amazonian umbrellabird

  • Has pale eyes, whereas the other species have black eyes
  • Lives in the Amazon basin or in the foothills of the Andes
  • Males have a long-feathered wattle

Sadly, the Long-wattled umbrellabird and the Bare-Necked umbrellabird are considered threatened due to human activities such as deforestation.

Long-wattled umbrellabird - wattle inflating

Fun Facts

Height: 4-5 ft

Weight: 5-9.5 lbs

Location: Africa

Habitat: Woodlands, savanna

Relatives: Buzzards, vultures

Diet: Anything it can get its beak on. Small-medium sized mammals, reptiles, insects

Lifespan: 10-15 years

Secretary Bird

The Secretary Bird has the longest legs of any bird of prey - perfect for outrunning its dinner. It rises early for a full day of hunting and returns to its nest in the trees in the evening. It may hunt alone or in a group, traversing up to 20 miles a day on foot. Unlike other birds of prey, it only hunts on the ground.

Its body is covered with gray, white and black feathers, and a black crest of feathers adorns its head. An orange-yellow color encircles the eye area. The lower portion of its legs have strong scales, which can be useful when protecting itself against others or claiming its prey. Its feet are not particularly adept at grasping, so secretary birds use their curved beaks to pick up and carry their food.

Breeding can occur any time of the year. Males and females soar in the air, swooping and occasionally clasping talons mid-air in a ritual of courtship. Nests are constructed out of sticks and leaves and are located in acacia trees. Females lay 1-3 eggs after a 46-48 day incubation period. Several broods may be produced over the course of a year.

The Secretary Bird is quite vocal and will make a variety of noises to communicate such croaking, groaning and whistling.

Secretary Bird on the Prowl

Fun Facts

Height: 4 ft

Weight: 9 lbs

Location: East African Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa

Habitat: Freshwater marshes, near bodies of water

Diet: Grasses, insects, seeds, small animals

Lifespan: 30-40 years

Crowned Crane

The crowned crane is a tall bird that resides in the savannas of Africa. It is the national bird of Uganda.

Crowned cranes spend their days on the ground hunting, foraging, and occasionally resting in a shady spot. They prefer to hunt in pairs or groups. Unlike other species of crane, they will roost in trees in the evenings.

Their bodies may be grey or black, depending on if they are a grey-crowned or a black-crowned crane. Their wings are white with a smattering of goldish yellow and brown feathers. They have a distinctive crown of golden feathers on their heads, differentiating them from other cranes. Black-crowned cranes have red and white cheek patches, whereas the grey-crowned cranes have white cheeks.

Crowned cranes put on quite a show for each other during mating season. Their courtship dance involves a series of moves and noises: head pumping, bowing, jumping, wing flapping and loud honks. Females lay 2-3 eggs after a month incubation period, and both males and females guard the nest. They are monogomous birds, often staying together for life.

One of the biggest threats to crowned cranes is their illegal capture and trade for the pet industry. They have also suffered a loss of habitat due to human activities such as land development.

Crowned Crane

Fun Facts

Location: Northern New Guinea & surrounding islands

Habitat: Lowland swamp forests

Weight: 5 lbs

Length: 26-29 inches

Lifespan: 30-40 years

Relatives: Dodo

Diet: Fruits, insects, seeds

Victoria Crowned Pigeon

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the largest pigeon in the world. A peaceful bird, these large pigeons can be found wandering the forest floor in search of seeds, insects and their personal favorite, figs. They are rarely alone and prefer to travel in pairs or groups. They spend most of their time on the ground, though they do take to the trees when startled or in need of shelter.

A crest of lacey, blue-grey feathers sits ornately on the Victoria Crowned Pigeon's head, and gives the bird a distinct look that is hard to forget. Their bodies are similar in size to a turkey and covered with grey-blue feathers.The eyes are a stunning scarlet. Interestingly, they have no gall bladder and lack an oil gland.

Breeding occurs during the dry season, which is December-May in New Guinea. Males bow their heads, move their tails and produce a loud "moo" sound that can be heard throughout the forest. The female lays one egg, which both birds incubate for a month before hatching. The newborn birds are fed "crop milk", which is milk produced by both the female and male. The young pigeon leaves the nest after a month, though it is still cared for by the parents for several weeks after.

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is considered a vulnerable bird due to hunting and habitat destruction. These birds have been hunted for both their meat and their feathers. Today there are an estimated 1,500-7,000 remaining in the world.

Victoria Crowned Pigeon - Booming

References

Comments

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 13, 2015:

Great piece. I found this most interesting, and am surprised to know that all of these birds have such a long lifespan. What might that be attributed to?

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