There are more than 10,000 types of birds in the world, and it might surprise you to know that many of them cannot fly.
You might find this strange because we usually associate birds with flying, but it starts to make sense when you think about birds like ducks or the ostrich.
Here are ten interesting facts about birds that are not known for their flying abilities.
The largest group of flightless birds is called “ratites.”
Ratites are a big group of birds that can’t fly. There are more than 60 different types, like the kiwi, ostrich, rhea, emu, and Cassowary. These birds can’t fly because their breastbones are flat and don’t have a big bump called a keel. Without the keel, they can’t build the strong chest muscles needed for flying. Their wing bones are smaller than birds that can fly, which makes them not suited for flying.
New Zealand has the most flightless birds.
New Zealand has more flightless bird species than any other country. Some of these birds include the Kakapo parrot, kiwis, penguins, and takahe. These flightless birds thrived on the island because there were few land predators before humans arrived. The only threats to them were larger flying birds. Unfortunately, some flightless bird species in New Zealand are now extinct.
Penguins are not part of the ratite family.
Penguins are different from ratites because their bodies are built like birds that can fly, even though they can’t fly themselves. Penguins have a keel and a breastbone like flying birds, which gives them strength even though they don’t have large wings for flying. This is why penguins can swim and glide in the water.
There are two species of flightless teal.
The Auckland teal and Campbell teal are the only two kinds of teal that can’t fly. The Campbell teal was found on the Campbell Islands but disappeared because of rats. Thankfully, another group was found on a nearby island, and it’s now in critical danger.
The Auckland teal is sometimes mixed up with the brown teal, but it’s smaller and can’t fly.
The Inaccessible Island rail is the tiniest flightless bird.
The Inaccessible Island rail is the smallest flightless bird in the world. It lives on Inaccessible Island in the Atlantic Ocean. These birds grow to be around 5.1–6.1 inches (13 to 15.5 centimeters) in size. Their name comes from the island where they live, which is hard for humans to reach. This bird has survived because the island has no predators and is difficult for people to access. Over time, the bird evolved to lose its ability to fly as it adapted to its environment.
Flightless birds can be speedy on the ground.
Some birds can’t fly, but they are super speedy on the ground. The fastest-running birds are the ostrich and the Cassowary. Many people believe the Roadrunner is the fastest, but it can reach speeds of only 26 mph (42 kph). The Cassowary and ostrich are even faster, with an average ground speed of around 31 mph (50 kph).
The Galapagos Islands have the world’s only non-flying cormorant.
The flightless cormorant is the only cormorant species that can’t fly. It’s often called the Galapagos cormorant because it was first found in the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Islands have many rare and special animals. The cormorant gave up flying a long time ago. Its wings are much too small for flying, about a third of the size they’d need. Scientists say that a changed gene made their wings shrink over time.
The Cassowary is the world’s second-heaviest bird.
Cassowaries may seem ancient, but they are actually relatively recent species, and there are three types of them. The heaviest ones are the Southern and Northern cassowaries. They can weigh between 97-103 lbs (44-47 kg), making them the second-largest birds after ostriches. Their substantial weight is a key reason why these birds can’t fly.
Birds became flightless due to DNA changes.
Numerous studies aimed to understand why some birds can’t fly anymore. Research indicates this change took thousands of years. Scientists believe DNA changes, particularly mutations in regulatory DNA, played a role. These mutations resulted in flatter breastplates and smaller wingspans. For some birds, they stopped flying because of their environments, lack of predators, and lots of food. When a bird’s habitat provides everything it needs, and flying isn’t necessary, this trait of flight gradually disappears through evolution.
The Kakapo is the world’s only flightless parrot.
The Kakapo parrot is a rare bird found in New Zealand and is in danger of disappearing. This interesting bird is often called the owl parrot because it’s active at night. Kakapos live on the ground and have big feet. They can’t fly because their wings are too short. They are also the heaviest parrots, and their weight makes flying tricky because they can’t take off gracefully.