Amidst the diverse traits of planet Earth’s some 10,000 bird species, nature left space for whimsy. Some bird adaptations, strange rituals, and odd dietary habits defy explanation.
But these make birds some of the most engaging members of the animal kingdom. Here are 10 of the weirdest-looking, most oddly-behaving birds on the planet:
1. Long-Wattled Umbrellabird
The long-wattled umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger), native to the rainforests of Columbia and Ecuador, is so named for the long, mohawk-like crest that hangs down over its beak. But even more bizarre is the 17-inch feathered “wattle” that hangs from its chest, almost the length of the bird’s body itself.
Favoring a diet of nuts, insects, and lizards, the bird can fan its wattle feathers at will during mating rituals, explains Bird Spot, but retracts the decorative column during flight.
2. Magnificent Frigatebird
Indeed magnificent, the frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) is a remarkable sight thanks to its inflatable red throat, or “gular” pouch, which can be puffed up like a balloon during mating season.
Native to the Caribbean and the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the Americas, this bird’s 7.5-foot (approx. 2.3-meter) wingspan gives it the largest wing-surface-to-body-weight ratio of all birds, according to Just Birding. They cannot swim or launch flight easily, however, but they are experts at soaring and swooping to catch sea fish and squid.
With a penchant for stealing, this bully bird also harasses other birds for partially consumed food, shaking them by their tails until they regurgitate.
3. Great Potoo
Straight out of a horror movie, the great potoo (Nyctibius grandis) plays the perfect mournful soul with its bulging yellow eyes and melancholy call. Yet these nocturnal birds are actually bold and resolute, disguising themselves in plain sight by mimicking the branches of trees.
Native to Central and South America, these little gray masters of camouflage mate for life.
4. Helmeted Hornbill
The helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) looks almost like a little dinosaur, and sadly, could one day be just as extinct; its ivory is worth three times as much as elephant ivory to collectors.
Found on the Malay peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo, these birds are excellent seed propagators. The bird’s solid red “helmet” is utilized in battle with other males, and its call is said to resemble manic laughter.
5. North Island Brown Kiwi
A bulbous-looking flightless bird, the North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx australis) is the national bird of New Zealand and can live up to 50 years. Besides their stout and rather adorable appearance, what makes these birds so unusual-looking, explains Bird Spot, is the presence of nostrils at the end of their beaks as opposed to the top, like other species.
The kiwi uses its highly sensitive nostrils to forage for invertebrates. Females lay the largest eggs of all birds, relative to body size, and chicks, often born with feathers, take a full five years to reach adult size.
6. Great Curassow
Another Central and South American native, the great curassow (Crax rubra) may seem approachable with its funky-looking permed crest, but the ’80s-esque “hairdo” belies an aggressive temperament.
The black-colored male stands out with a bright yellow bulb on its bill; the female is delicately speckled and multicolored. Both forage together in groups for fallen fruit, insects, and leaves.
7. Rhinoceros Hornbill
Inhabiting the mountainous rainforests of Southeast Asia, the rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) is so called for its most prominent feature: the horn on its nose, resembling that of the bird’s namesake.
The bird’s large bill and curled orange horn are used to amplify its call, but even more bizarre than this amplified song is the male’s habit of barricading the female inside a tree trunk after she lays her eggs.
Blocking the entry with mud, manure, and food, the male feeds the female through a small hole in the blockage. Both parents peck away at the seal once their fledglings are ready to leave the nest.
8. Greater Sage-Grouse
The male North American greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) boasts a fanned tail and odd-looking inflatable yellow breast sac with which he will score a mate performing a spring “lek,” or mating display. He then leaves the female to lay and raise her chicks alone.
Entirely herbivorous, this bird is strangely proportioned with a plump body, large tail, and tiny head.
9. Philippine Eagle
The endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), otherwise known as the haring ibon, is one of the largest eagles in the world, growing up to 3.35 feet (approx. 1 meter) in length. Penance for killing one is up to 12 years in jail, reports Just Birding.
Their punky, spiked hairdo belies a formidable dietary preference: this bird eats monkeys, squirrels, reptiles, baby pigs, and small dogs, given the opportunity.
Last but certainly not least, the hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) is another mohawk-sporting stunner, this time with a blue-colored face and a foul stench to go with it.
Found in northern and central South America, this bird has been nicknamed both stink-bird, and skunk-bird, and can be found lurking in groups in the humid swamps and mangroves of the Amazon basin.
The hoatzin’s notorious smell is a result of fermenting vegetation in the bird’s foregut.
Which of these bizarre birds sparks your curiosity the most?