Flightless bird

Flightless bird
Penguins are a well-known example of flightless birds

Flightless birds are birds which lack the ability to fly, relying instead on their ability to run or swim. They are thought to have evolved from flying ancestors.[1] There are about forty species in existence today,[2] the best known being the ostrich, emu, cassowary, rhea, kiwi, and penguin. It is believed by some[citation needed][who?] that most flightless birds evolved in the absence of predators on islands, and lost the power of flight because they had few enemies — although this is likely not the case for the ratites (the ostrich, emu and cassowary), as all have claws on their feet to use as a weapon against predators.

Two key differences between flying and flightless birds are the smaller wing bones of flightless birds[3] and the absent (or greatly reduced) keel on their breastbone. The keel anchors muscles needed for wing movement.[2] Flightless birds also have more feathers than flying birds.

New Zealand has more species of flightless birds (including the kiwis, several species of penguins, and the takahe) than any other country. One reason is that until the arrival of humans roughly a thousand years ago, there were no large land predators in New Zealand; the main predators of flightless birds were larger birds.[4]

Some flightless varieties of island birds are closely related to flying varieties, implying flight is a significant biological cost.

The smallest flightless bird is the Inaccessible Island Rail (length 12.5 cm, weight 34.7 g). The largest (both heaviest and tallest) flightless bird, which is also the largest living bird, is the Ostrich (2.7 m, 156 kg), although some extinct species grew to larger sizes.

Flightless birds are the easiest to take care of in captivity because they do not have to be caged. Ostriches were once farmed for their decorative feathers. Today they are raised for meat and for their skins, which are used to make leather.

There were also other families of flightless birds, such as the now extinct Phorusrhacidae, that evolved to be very powerful terrestrial predators.


List of recent flightless birds

The following are flightless birds during or after the Holocene period.


Anseriformes (Waterfowl)

Chendytes lawi

Galliformes (Wildfowl)

Podicipediformes (Grebes)

Pelicaniformes (Pelicans, Cormorants, et al.)

Sphenisciformes (Penguins)

Coraciiformes (Kingfishers, Hornbills, et al.)

Ciconiiformes (Herons, Ibis)

Gruiformes (Cranes, Rails)

Charadriiformes (Gulls, Terns, Auks)

  • Great Auk (extinct)
  • Diving Puffin (extinct)

Falconiformes (Birds of prey)

  • Terrestrial Caracara (extinct)

Psittaciformes (Parrots)

Columbiformes (Pigeons, Doves)

Caprimulgiformes (Nightjars)

Strigformes (Owls)

Passeriformes (Perching Birds)

See also


  1. ^ "New Zealand Ecology - Moa". TerraNature. http://www.terranature.org/moa.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  2. ^ a b "The Bird Site: Flightless Birds". Archived from the original on 2007-07-13. http://web.archive.org/web/20070713081647/http://www.nhm.org/birds/guide/pg019a.html. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  3. ^ Nudds, R. L. and Slove Davidson, J. 2010. A shortening of the manus precedes the attenuation of other wing-bone elements in the evolution of flightlessness in birds, Acta Zoologica 91, 115–122.
  4. ^ "New Zealand's Icon:Flightless". Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. http://web.archive.org/web/20070818122353/http://www.savethekiwi.org.nz/AboutTheBird/NewZealandsIcon/KiwiCharacteristics/Flightless.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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