Okay, Weird Birds

A while back – actually, a considerable while back – a couple of readers asked what the weirdest bird was that WC had photographed. “Weird” is pretty subjective. So subjective that WC has dragged his feet in responding. But here are a few birds that WC, for one reason or another, WC regards as weird.

The Jabiru, a stork species of Central and South America, is social and gregarious, even engaging in cooperative foraging. It communicates its status by inflating its red and black neck sack. Compare the bird in the left with the bird on the right. In fact, “jabiru” means swollen neck” in the indigenous Tupi–Guaraní language. Communicating by inflating your neck? It’s not unique – it’s a courtship behavior in Frigatebirds – but it qualifies as odd.

Oilbirds, Ecuador

Oilbirds are not just the only members of their genus; they are the only member of their systemic family. They are a nocturnal, fruit-eating species that hunts by echolocation and a superb sense of small. Readers will think of fruit-eating bats; an impressive example of parallel evolution. Apart from the rapid clicks they use for echolocation, Oilbirds have an amazing range of vocalizations. The most common is a loud scream, remarkably like a woman’s screaming in terror. That range of attributes qualifies as weird.

Hoatzin, Amazonian Peru

Birds of the World describes Hoatzin as “basically, a flying cow.” It’s a leaf eating bird. The young have claws on their wings allowing them to climb back up to the nest when they fall out. The adults are equally clumsy; they sound roughly like an elephant as they move through foliage. Currently, like the Oilbird, The Hoatzin placed in its own unique family, but if you want to provoke a fight among ornithologists, ask them what the Hoatzin’s nearest relative is.

Great Hornbill, Thailand

There’s a whole family of hornbills; unlike the Hoatzin and Oilbirds, there are 39 (!) species of hornbills, so the weird appearance must have a valuable function. In the Great Hornbill, the casque serves as a resonating chamber. Hornbills are also unique in their nesting habits: females seal themselves into the nest cavity to incubate and brood the chicks, emerging later to finish rearing the chicks or at fledging with a new coat of feathers and new offspring in tow. The females rely on the males more than in any other species.

WC has no idea if these are the “weirdest” birds he has photographed, but they share distinctly odd characteristics, and odd will have to do.

3 thoughts on “Okay, Weird Birds

    • Being curious about WC’s comments concerning the vocalizations of the Oilbird. I did some internet sleuthing and came across “xeno-canto.org” where I found three pages of Oilbird soundfiles. Listening to them reminded me of the soundscape for David Lynch’s 1977 film, “Eraserhead”. Truly eerie.


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