Can all birds fly? That is a good question, especially considering that most bird species have wings or what could pass as wings. However, not all birds can fly. Over 60 species of birds have, through evolution, lost their ability to fly.
Even if you do not know of many bird species that cannot fly, you surely know that your backyard chicken isn’t exactly an expert flier. The chicken is just one bird that cannot fly. In this article, I will talk about other flightless birds. Read on.
Flightless Bird Species Of The World
Here are our top 40 flightess bird species.
The kiwi bird is one of the most popular flightless birds; it is a brown chicken-sized bird, and every species in the Kiwi family cannot fly. The Kiwi has vestigial wings, and its feathers are more like hairs. The feather on the Kiwi is also very soft, which further supports the fact that it wasn’t meant to carry the Kiwi in the air.
The nostril of the Kiwi is on the tip of its bill, which is a very unusual feature for a bird. Kiwis are the smallest ratites. The size of the Kiwi egg is surprisingly large compared to the size of the Kiwi. A Kiwi’s egg is about 20% of the female Kiwi body weight.
2. Common Ostrich
The common ostrich is a flightless bird with very tiny wings. However, what the ostrich lacks in flight, it makes up for in speed. The ostrich is the fastest animal on two legs, and they can clock speeds of up to 45 mph. The common ostrich is native to Africa. The wings on ostriches aren’t used for flight but for steering and balance as the bird runs.
The ostrich’s strong legs enable them to run for large distances, and an ostrich’s kick can kill a grown adult human. The ostrich’s little wing aids in balance maintenance when sprinting, and their wings also aid in steering.
3. Somali Ostrich
The Somali ostrich is another species of bird that cannot fly. The Somali ostrich is also known as the blue-necked ostrich, which is native to the horn of Africa. The skin of this ostrich is blue, which has earned it its other name–Blue necked ostrich. The tail feathers of the Somali ostrich are white, and their neck lacks the broad ring of the common ostrich.
The Somali ostrich can be found in Ethiopia, most parts of Kenya, and Southern Djibouti. The Somali ostrich prefers bushy and thick vegetated areas where it can browse, whereas the common ostrich likes to graze in open savannahs.
4. Asian Ostrich
The Asian Ostrich was also a flightless bird, and I use the term “was” because this ostrich is now extinct. This ostrich species lived during the Neogene period on the Indian subcontinent, and analysis found that this extinct bird was a member of the genus Struthio.
The Asian Ostrich was large, just like their Somali cousins. There are speculations that the toes of the Asian Ostrich were short.
5. Tasmanian Emu
The Emu is the second tallest bird in the world, coming second to its close cousin– The ostrich. Emus are native to Australia, covering the country’s mainland. There are about three species of Emus, and all of them are flightless birds. The feather on the Emu is soft, and their plumage is brown. The Emu has a long neck which they use for foraging.
The Tasmanian Emu is an extinct subspecies of the Emu, and just like its name suggests, it was found in Tasmania. It is assumed that the Tasmanian Emu had a white forehead and an unfeathered neck.
The cassowary is a flightless bird that belongs to the genus Casuarius. The cassowary is also listed as ratities because they are birds without a keel on their sternum bone. The cassowary is native to Aru Island, New Guinea, and Northeast Australia. There are about three subspecies of the cassowary, which I will also talk about as we progress.
Cassowaries eat a variety of plant foods, including shoots and grass seeds, in addition to fungi, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. Cassowaries are extremely suspicious of people, but if provoked, they may cause significant, possibly deadly, damage to people.
7. King Island Emu
The King Island Emu is an extinct subspecies of the Emu native to King Island. It is said that the closest relation of the King Island Emu was probably the Tasmanian Emu because they all belonged to the same population.
The King Island Emu had dark plumage and was the smallest of all the other Emus. The King Island Emu was black and brown and had naked blue skin on its neck.
The King Island Emu had similar behaviour to their mainland brothers. The King Island Emu gathered in flocks when it was time to forage or breed.
8. Kangaroo Island Emu
The Kangaroo Island Emu, with the scientific name Dromaius novaehollandiae baudinianus, is also a flightless subspecies of the Emu. These birds were restricted to the Kangaroo Islands of South Australia. The Kangaroo Island Emu was easily differentiated from the mainland Emus because they were smaller.
9. Dwarf Cassowary
From the name of the dwarf cassowary, you can guess the height of this bird. The dwarf cassowary, also known as the little cassowary, is the smallest of the three species of the cassowary. And, just like other members of the cassowary group, the dwarf cassowary is a flightless bird. In terms of length, the dwarf cassowary is about 3.25 and 4.92 ft, weighing about 39-57 lbs.
The plumage of the dwarf cassowary is hard and stiff, with pink cheeks and red patches that can be seen on its blue neck. Even though the dwarf cassowary is a small bird, it is still equipped with powerful feet with dagger-like claws. No matter what you do in life, do not provoke a cassowary, even if it is a dwarf.
10. One-Wattled Cassowary
The one-wattled cassowary is a flightless bird that has a stocky build. This flightless bird is native to New Guinea and a member of the superorder Paleongnathae. Like the dwarf cassowary, the plumage on the one-wattled cassowary is hard and black. It also has a hard casque and blue facial skin on the top of its head.
The female of this cassowary species weighs about 58 kg, while males weigh 30-37kg. Like other cassowaries, the one-wattled cassowary has powerful feet equipped with dagger-like claws. The diet of these rugged birds consists of frogs, snakes, lizards, rats, mice, etc.
11. Double-wattled Cassowary
There is the one-wattled cassowary, and there is also the double-wattled cassowary. The double-wattled cassowary is a large flightless bird widely distributed in Indonesia, northeastern Australia, and Papua New Guinea. You will find these shy birds inhabiting tropical rainforests, occasionally mangrove stands and savannah forests.
The southern cassowary has two red wattles (which is how it earned its name, the double-wattled cassowary) about 17.8 cm long that hang around its throat. The southern cassowary also has a stiff, bristly black plumage, a blue face, a long neck, and red on the casque.
12. Greater Rhea
The greater Rhea is a flightless bird that is native to South America. The greater Rhea can be found in Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, and Bolivia. The greater Rhea weighs about 20 to 27 kilograms and will inhabit a wide variety of areas, such as wetlands, savannas, and grasslands.
The greater Rhea holds the number one place for being the largest bird in South America, and when it is in the wild, it has a life expectancy of 10.5 years. The greater Rhea isn’t a noisy bird except when they are mating and make a booming sound.
13. Great Spotted Kiwi
Endemic to the South Islands of New Zealand, the great spotted Kiwi is a member of the ratities. Of course, the great spotted Kiwi is on this list because it is a flightless bird and holds the number one spot as the largest Kiwi. The great spotted Kiwi makes its habitat in the rugged topography of the great alpine, which is inaccessible to mammalian predators. This has caused the great spotted Kiwi to remain unaffected by the attacks of these predators.
Even though they are not owls, the great spotted Kiwi is nocturnal in its behaviour. When they are in areas that lack predators, these kiwis will come out during the day. Did you know that the great spotted Kiwi has a very good sense of smell which is unusual in birds?
14. Little Spotted Kiwi
The little spotted Kiwi is the opposite of the great spotted Kiwi in size. They are small flightless birds belonging to the Apterygidae, weighing 0.9 to 1kg. The little spotted Kiwi is native to New Zealand, but they are now restricted to small offshore islands which are protected. In terms of length, the little spotted Kiwi measures about 14-18 inches.
The feather of the little spotted Kiwi is a pale mottled grey with fine moulting. These birds’ feathers always look shaggy, as if they just got out of a fight. The legs of these small birds are grey, and their bills are ivory.
15. Lesser Rhea
The lesser Rhea is a flightless bird that is native to South America. When it stands, the lesser Rhea stands at an impressive 36-39 inches, weighing about 15 to 28.6 kg. The lesser Rhea is a good runner, thanks to its larger wings. The lesser Rhea can reach speeds of up to 37 mph which helps it outrun its predators.
The lesser Rhea is a herbivore, but it occasionally eats lizards, beetles, and grasshoppers. The favourite food of the lesser Rhea is the saltbush and fruit from cacti. The lesser Rhea is a quiet bird except for when they are babies or mating. The baby lesser Rhea gives off a mournful whistle
16. Northern Brown Kiwi
The northern brown Kiwi is widespread in most parts of the Northern Islands of New Zealand. You are more likely to spot the northern brown Kiwi than any other Kiwi because they are the most common. This small Kiwi species is known for laying the largest egg size regarding body size.
The brown Kiwi of the North Island has shown incredible adaptability; it can survive on scrubby farmland, exotic pine plantations, and native forests, but it prefers dense subtropical and temperate forests. The diet of the northern Kiwi is mainly invertebrates.
17. Okarito Kiwi
Another member of the Apterygidae is the Okarito Kiwi. As their name implies, the Okarito Kiwi is native to the Okarito forest on the west coast of New Zealand’s south islands. Unlike the north brown Kiwi, which is 30,000 strong, the Okarito Kiwi has only 600 individuals.
The female Okarito Kiwi will usually lay three eggs in three different nests, which she and a male mate and then incubate. Similar to eggs observed in the Kiwi species, the egg of the Okarito Kiwi is large and is about 20% of the female’s body weight. The Okarito Kiwi is also monogamous.
18. Southern Brown Kiwi
The southern brown Kiwi is also known as the common Kiwi, native to South Island and New Zealand. The southern brown Kiwi is 18-22 inches long and weighs about 1.6-3.9 kg. The bill of the southern brown Kiwi is long and slightly curved downwards. The colour found on this Kiwi is a rufous one with some streaks.
Like most Kiwi species, the southern brown is a nocturnal bird that uses vocal communication to defend its territory. An interesting ability of the Kiwi is that it can sing duets with other kiwis, with the male-sounding “Keee Keee” while the female has a hoarse “kurr kurr.”
19. Campbell Teal
The Campbell teal is a small, flightless and nocturnal bird. These birds are endemic to the Campbell Island group of New Zealand. The plumage resembles the Auckland teal; it is dark sepia with an iridescent green sheen on the head and back, a chestnut breast on the male, and dark brown all over the female. Tussock grassland, where Poa tussock grass, ferns, and mega herbs predominate, is its natural habitat.
When petrel species(tube-nosed birds in the order of Procellariiformes) make burrows and pathways, the Campbell teal will use them to look for food, such as insects and amphipods.
20. Auckland Teal
The Auckland teal is native to the Auckland Islands, south of New Zealand. The Auckland teal is now restricted to parts of Auckland Island that don’t have predators, even though they were once everywhere. The plumage on the Auckland teal is brown with a speck of green on its neck. The females of these teal species are darker than their male counterparts.
During the day, the Auckland teal will hide from predators and come out at night when the predators are gone. The Auckland teal tussock fields, mega herb shrubland, and even coastal waters can be found. Similar to their Campbell cousins, Auckland teals feed on insects and amphipods.
21. Falkland Steamer Duck
The Falkland steamer duck is another island-dwelling flightless bird. These ducks are found on the Islands of Falkland. The steamer ducks are so named because of their unusual swimming style, which involves them flapping their wings and feet like an old paddle steamer. It’s interesting to note that Cobb’s wren and the Falkland steamer duck are the only two bird species native to the Falkland Islands.
The Falkland steamer duck has a wingspan of 84 to 94 cm and a length between 61 and 74 cm. The males of this duck species weigh between 3300 and 4800 g, while the females weigh between 2900 and 4196 g. When they form a pair, the Falkland steamer duck raises what seems to be a nuclear family involving a female, male, and chicks. However, when they are not breeding, they may gather in groups of up to 300.
22. Magellanic Steamer Duck
The Magellanic Steamerduck is another flightless bird that is native to South America. These ducks can be found on coasts and coastal islands from southern Chile to Tierra del Fuego. The Magellanic Steamerduck is the biggest species of Steamerduck, weighing up to 7kg! The length of one of these can go as far as 26-33 inches, and they have a wingspan of 33-43 inches.
The Magellanic Steamerduck wings are too small to fly. However, this duck’s wings allow it to paddle as it swims rapidly across the water’s surface. The Magellanic Steamerduck is about the same weight as the largest wild geese in the world.
23. White-headed Steamerduck
The white-headed Steamerduck is endemic to Argentina and is a flightless bird. The whitehead is the most recently recognized among all the steamer duck species. They were officially recognized in 1981 because they are found in very limited areas and small numbers. The white-headed Steamerduck can be found in the stretch of coast around the Golfo San Jorge in Southern chutbut
The male white-headed Steamerduck has black nails and a bright yellow or orange bill. Their nails are black, while their webs and feet are orange-yellow. Their bodies and bellies make up the majority of the rest of their plumage. The male’s bill changes to a duller yellowish-orange colour while he is moulting.
The heads and necks of adult female Chubut steamer ducks are brown, and a thin white line runs from the back of the eye to the foreneck.
24. Junin Grebe
The Junin Grebe is a strange-looking black, and white bird found only on lake Junin. Lake Junin is in the highlands of Junin, western Peru. Junin Grebes are also known as Junin flightless Grebe. When the Junin isn’t breeding, they prefer to swim in open waters. The current population of the Junin Grebe is about 250. That is very low.
The Junin Grebe has a black back, dark grey neck, and crown. It has a slender grey bill and white lower regions of the face, throat, and underparts. The eyes, which are bright red, are the most striking feature. Breeding adults have silvery grey feathers on their heads, whereas juveniles and non-breeding adults do not.
25. Titicaca Grebe
The Titicaca Grebe is native to the altiplano of Peru and Bolivia. You can deduce from their name that the Titicaca Grebe has its main population on Lake Titicaca. However, they may occasionally be found on lake Uru Uru, Rio Desaguadero, and Poopo. The population on these latter lakes is less plentiful than that on Lake Titicaca.
The Titicaca Grebe feeds mainly on fish, especially the Orestias pupfish found in Lake Titicaca drainage. The Titicaca is a mid-sized Grebe weighing about 600 grams while measuring 28 to 45 cm in length.
26. Flightless Cormorant
The flightless cormorant is native to the Galapagos. The flightless cormorant is so named because it is the only cormorant that has lost its ability to fly. With a length of 89-100 cm (35-39.5 in), a weight of 2.5-5.0 kg (5.5-11.0 lb), and wings that are roughly one-third the size needed for a bird of its proportions to fly, the flightless cormorant is the largest extant member of its family.
The flightless cormorant has webbed feet like a duck which it uses to propel itself through the water. The flightless cormorant will eat fish, small octopuses, and other marine creatures as it wades through the water. If you see the flightless cormorant, you may mistake it for a duck. However, the flightless cormorant has short and stubby wings, which are absent in ducks.
Every species (about 18 of them)of penguins is flightless. Penguins come in various sizes and forms, and there are around 18 different species. But these waddling birds all have the same distinctive black-and-white colouring. Penguins can hide from predators like orcas and leopard seals thanks to their black-and-white colouring.
Spheniscidae is the family name for penguins, and these birds have a lifespan of up to 15-20 years in the wild. The typical penguin is 16–45 inches long and weighs 2-88 pounds. The gentoo penguin, the third-largest penguin in the world, has a maximum swimming speed of 22.3 mph, and the Penguins’ streamlined bodies enable them to reach their top speed.
Most penguin species live below the equator, but certain species can be found in warmer regions. The Gentoo is one of many penguin species residing in and around Antarctica’s frigid continent. Penguins can endure the chilly winter months because of their blubber, which is made up of their densely packed, oily feathers.
28. New Caledonian Rail
Very little is known about the New Caledonian rail. However, we know they are flightless birds, and their scientific name is Cabalus lafresnayanus. The colour of these rails is drab and can be found on the Island of New Caledonia in the Pacific.
The plumage of the new Caledonian Rail is brown with grey underparts. The bill of these birds is curved slightly downwards.
The diet of the new Caledonian Rail includes earthworms and invertebrates.
The new Caledonian Rail is nearly impossible to spot; however, there are reports that they exist in small numbers in the higher montane forests.
29. Pink-legged Rail
The Pink-legged rail is a flightless bird that belongs to the family Rallidae. These birds are native to the islands of New Britain, and they will call the tropics and subtropical moist lowland forests home. They may also be spotted in subtropical and tropical montane forests. The Pink-legged rail is in danger of extinction due to habitat loss.
30. Makira Moorhen
The Makira moorhen also belongs to the family Rallidae. The Makira moorhen can be found in the Solomon Islands in tropical or sub-tropical lowland forests.
The Makira moorhen is so critically endangered that it is sometimes considered extinct. Loss of habitat and being eaten by feral cats have been some of the undoings of these Rallidae family birds.
31. Lord Howe Woodhen
Endemic to lord Howe Islands off the coast of Australia is lord Howe woodhen. They are flightless birds belonging to the Rallidae family. The Lord Howe woodhen is a small olive-brown bird currently classified as endangered. The tails of these woodhens are small and short, and their bills are curved downwards.
Woodhens typically live as couples and lifelong partners. Due to their territorial nature, they will emerge from the forest’s understory to investigate odd noises. A mated pair will defend a territory of about three hectares, with the young being ejected from this territory once they reach adulthood.
32. Henderson Island Crake
The Henderson Island Crake is a flightless bird native to Henderson Island in the southeast Pacific Ocean. Henderson Island makes its habitat in the tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests.
The Henderson Island Crake is omnivorous and will eat the undersides of fallen leaves, spiders, moths, snails, small insects, and more. The low survival rate of the Henderson Island Crake chicks is one reason why these birds are low in population.
33. Guam Rail
The Guam rail is popularly known in the United States territory of guan as the Koko bird. These birds belong to the Rallidae family and are endemic to the United States territory of Guam. The Guam rail is today bred in captivity as efforts are being made to introduce them back to the wild.
The efforts to reintroduce the gaum rail back to the wild have yielded fruits because they have now moved from extinct to critically endangered. Yes, I know that to a layperson, critically endangered may not seem like much good news, but to those who made efforts to save the Guam bird from extinction, it is excellent news.
Both sexes have similar feather colours and patterns, but males can frequently be identified by their larger size. The back and head of the Guam rail are brown, and it also has dark brown legs and a beak, a dark blackish breast with white barring.
34. Gough Moorhen
The Gough moorhen is a flightless bird that shares similarities to the common moorhen. However, the Gough moorhen can be told apart from the common moorhen because it has a stocky build and short wings. The Gough moorhen has a bill with yellow tips, giving the bird a distinctive look.
The Gough island moorhen is well protected on the Island of Gough because the Island is used as a reserve.
35. Giant Coot
The giant coot is a partially flightless bird, and I say this because the immature giant coot can fly.
The giant coot is native to South America and found in lakes in Central Peru.
The Giant coot measures about 48-64 cm in length and comes in second place as the largest extant member of the Rallidae family. The adult male giant coot is considered to be flightless, and a fully grown giant coot has reddish legs and black-tipped beaks.
36. Drummer Rail
The drummer rail, also known as the invisible rail, is a flightless bird native to the Islands of Halmahera in Northern Maluku. The drummer rail can be found inhabiting sago swamps close to forests. The legs, long, thick bill, and bare skin around its eyes are all bright red, and most of its plumage is a dark slate grey.
It makes a low drumming noise while calling and beats its wings. It is difficult to tell a lot about the drummer rail because of the thick vegetation it calls home( which makes it very difficult to observe their behaviour).
37. Calayan Rail
The Calayan Rail is native to the Calayan Islands and is the only member of the genus Aptenorallus. Although the Calayan Rail is not a very large bird, it still holds its own in terms of weight and size. The Calayan Rail has a grey-dark overall plumage with brown upper parts and a dark face.
The legs and bills of these Calayan Island dwelling rails are orange-red. The vocalizations of the Calayan Islands rails are loud and nasal sounding.
The Kakapo is one bird you do not want to encounter at night. The Kakapo is a very weird-looking bird with a face that looks like an owl and a parrot. They are endemic to New Zealand and belong to the family strigogodiea. The Kakapo is the only flightless parrot species and is also nocturnal. It also holds the number one spot as the heaviest parrot in the world.
The Kakapo parrot weighs about 1.5 to 3kg. The Kakapo is a flightless bird with finely blotched yellow-green feathers, a distinctive facial disc, and forward-facing eyes with surrounding discs of particularly textured feathers in the form of owls. They also have a huge grey beak, short legs, enormous blue feet, and short wings and tails.
39. New Guinea Flightless Rail
The New Guinea flightless rail is a flightless bird species found in the Rallidae family, and they can be found in Indonesia and Papa New Guinea. The natural habitat of these flightless birds is subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests, and they may also be found in subtropical and tropical montane forests.
40. Samoan Moorhen
The Samoan moorhen is a partially flightless bird native to the Samoan Islands of Savai’i. The Samoan moorhen has been considered to be critically endangered and even extinct. To the Samoan, the bird was known as one that jumps because of its habitat of jump-running for cover when it got startled.
The Samoan moorhen was about 25 cm and had a dark-blue plumage on its head. The dark blue plumage could also be seen on these extinct moorhens’ heads, necks, and breasts. The eyes and legs were red, which gave the Samoan moorhen a distinctive look because of how the red eyes contrasted against its dark-blue plumage.