Top 15 Largest Living Bird Species

Birds form one of six basic animal groups, with the others being amphibians, fish, invertebrates, mammals and reptiles. They are endothermic vertebrates, characterized by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton. They reproduce by laying of hard-shelled eggs (eggs fertilize inside the female). The fossil record indicates that birds are the last surviving group of dinosaurs. So, they are also termed avian dinosaurs.

Birds (Aves) range in size and weight from the 5 cm (2 in) and 1.6-2 grams bee hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) and 104-156 kg (229-344 lbs) ostrich. Here are the top 15 largest (by body weight) living bird species.

15. Dalmatian pelican (up to 15 kg / 33 lb)

Dalmatian pelican
Dalmatian pelican. Photo: wikipedia

The Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is among world’s heaviest flying bird species. It measures 160 to 183 cm (5 ft 3 in to 6 ft 0 in) in length, 7.25–15 kg (16.0–33.1 lb) in weight and 290–345 cm (9 ft 6 in–11 ft 4 in) in wingspan. It breeds from southeastern Europe to India and China.

14. Andean condor (up to 15 kg / 33 lb)

Andean condor
Andean condor

Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) can reach a weight of 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb) for males and 8 to 11 kg (18 to 24 lb) for females. Overall length can range from 100 to 130 cm (3 ft 3 in to 4 ft 3 in). It also has a very large wingspan, up to 3.3 m (10 ft 10 in), exceeded only by the wingspans of four seabirds and water birds (the wandering albatross, southern royal albatross, great white pelican and Dalmatian pelican).

Andean condor plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the South American Andean regions. It is a national symbol of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuelan Andes states. It is the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador.

13. Trumpeter swan (up to 17.2 kg /38 lb)

Trumpeter swan
Trumpeter swan adults usually measure 138–165 cm (4 ft 6 in–5 ft 5 in) long, though large males can exceed 180 cm (5 ft 11 in) in total length. The weight of adult birds is typically 7–13.6 kg (15–30 lb), but the largest known male trumpeter had a weight of 17.2 kg (38 lb). Photo: whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com

Trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is one the heaviest flying bird species in the world. They are native to North America, and the heaviest birds living in there. They also have a very large wingspan, which can exceed 3 meters (10 feet). The largest known male trumpeter attained a length of 183 cm (6 ft 0 in), a wingspan of 3.1 m (10 ft 2 in) and a weight of 17.2 kg (38 lb).

At one point in the history, the trumpeter swan was dragged to near extinction: in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were hunted heavily. By 1933, fewer than 70 wild trumpeters were known to exist in remote hot springs in or near Yellowstone National Park, and the extinction seemed inevitable. But during an aerial survey of Alaska’s Copper River in the 1950s, several thousand trumpeters were discovered. This population provided critical genetic stock and with careful reintroductions by wildlife agencies, the Trumpeter Swan Society population gradually increased to over 46,000 birds by 2010.

12. Great bustard and Kori bustard (up to 18 kg / 40 lb)

Great bustard
Great bustard

The Great bustard (Otis tarda) and Kori bustard are probably the heaviest living flying animal. The Great bustard can be seen in central/south Europa and temperate Asia. But Portugal and Spain now contain about 60% of the world’s Great bustard population. A male Great bustard is typically 90–105 cm (2 ft 11 in–3 ft 5 in) tall, with a length of around 115 cm (3 ft 9 in) and has a 2.1–2.7 m (6 ft 11 in–8 ft 10 in) wingspan. The male can range in weight from 5.8 to 18 kg (13 to 40 lb). Females are much smaller, weighing from 3.1 to 8 kg (6.8 to 17.6 lb).

The Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) is native to Africa. The male kori bustard is 120 to 150 cm (3 ft 11 in to 4 ft 11 in), stands 71–120 cm (2 ft 4 in–3 ft 11 in) tall and may have a wingspan about 230 to 275 cm (7 ft 7 in to 9 ft 0 in). Male birds may typically weigh between 7 and 18 kg (15 and 40 lb). Females weighs an average of 4.8 to 6.1 kg (11 to 13 lb), with a full range of 3 to 7 kg (6.6 to 15.4 lb).

11. King penguin (up to 18+ kg / 40+ lb)

King penguin
King penguins breed on the subantarctic islands at the northern reaches of Antarctica, South Georgia, and other temperate islands of the region. Photo: wikipedia

The average weight of the King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is similar or just slightly higher than that of the largest living flying birds – the Great bustard and the Kori bustard. They stands at 70 to 100 cm (28 to 39 in) tall and weighs from 9.3 to 18 kg (21 to 40 lb). Males are slightly larger than females. It is the second largest species of penguin (the largest is the Emperor penguin).

10. Dwarf cassowary (up to 26 kg / 57 lb)

Dwarf cassowary
The dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti) also known as the Bennett’s cassowary, little cassowary, mountain cassowary, or mooruk, is the smallest of the three species of cassowaries. Photo: a dwarf cassowary in Lae, New Guinea (wikipedia)

The dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti) is between 99 and 150 cm (3.25 and 4.92 ft) long and weighs between 17.6 and 26 kg (39 and 57 lb).

It is distributed throughout mountain forests of New Guinea, New Britain, and Yapen Island, at elevations up to 3,300 m (10,800 ft).

9. Darwin’s rhea (up to 28.6 kg / 63 lb)

Darwin's rhea
A Darwin’s rhea at the Zurich Zoo, Switzerland (wikipedia)

Darwin’s rhea (Rhea pennata), also known as the lesser rhea stands at 90 to 100 cm (35–39 in) tall. Length is 92 to 100 cm (36–39 in) and weight is 15 to 28.6 kg (33–63 lb). It is found in the Altiplano (Spanish for “high plain”, the name of Andean Plateau or Bolivian Plateau, in west-central South America, where the Andes are at their widest) and Patagonia in South America.

8. Domesticated Turkey (up to 39 kg / 86 lb)

Domesticated turkey
Domesticated turkey

The domesticated turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was probably domesticated in central Mesoamerica at least 2,000 years ago. The English name, “turkey” is the result of an early misidentification of the bird with an unrelated species which was imported to Europe through the country of Turkey.

They can grow up to 39 kg (86 lbs).

7. Greater rhea (up to 40 kg / 88 lb)

Greater rhea
A greater rhea (Rhea americana) in Tierpark Hellabrunn, Munich, Germany (wikipedia).

Weighing 20–40 kilograms (44–88 lb), the greater rhea (Rhea americana) is the largest bird on the American continent. Their strong powerful legs allow them to run up to 35 mph (56 km/h).

The greater rhea is endemic to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

6. Emperor penguin (up to 45 kg / 99 lb)

Emperor penguin family
Emperor penguin adults and a juvenile on Snow Hill Island, Antarctica (wikipedia).

The emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is endemic to Antarctica. Reaching 130 cm (51 in) in height and weighing from 22 to 45 kg (49 to 99 lb), it is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species. The male and female emperor penguins are similar in plumage and size.

5. Emu (up to 60 kg / 99 lb)

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Photo: wikipedia

The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is the second-largest living bird by height (the largest one is Emu’s close relative, the ostrich): they can reach up to 1.9 meters (6.2 ft).

Emus weigh between 18 and 60 kg (40 and 132 lb). Females are slightly larger than males. They can sprint at speeds of 48 km/h (30 mph).

Today, the Emu is endemic to Australia. The Tasmanian emu and King Island emu subspecies became extinct after the European settlement of Australia in 1788.

4. Northern cassowary (up to 70 kg / 154 lb)

Northern cassowary
Northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus), also known as the single (one)-wattled cassowary or gold(en)-neck(ed) cassowary. Photo: wikipedia

The Northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus) is a large, bulky bird native to northern New Guinea. Females can weigh up to 70 kg (154 lb), with an average weight of 58 kg (128 lb). Males are smaller. Despite its stocky build, a Northern cassowary can sprint up to 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour).

3. Southern cassowary (up to 83 kg / 183 lb)

Southern cassowary
A southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), also known as double-wattled cassowary, Australian cassowary or two-wattled cassowary at the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, Port Douglas, Australia (wikipedia).

The southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is distributed in tropical rain forests of Indonesia, New Guinea and northeastern Australia, and it prefers elevations below 1,100 m (3,600 ft) in Australia, and 500 m (1,600 ft) on New Guinea. In general, the bird ranges from 127 to 170 cm (50-67 in) and weighs around 36 to 50 kg (males) and 68 kg (females). The maximum size recorded was 190 cm (75 in) tall and 83 kg (183 lb) weight.

Southern cassowary is the largest extant Asian bird (since the extinction of the Arabian ostrich, and previously the moa of New Zealand) and the largest extant Australian bird (though the emu may be slightly taller).

2. Somali ostrich (up to 130 kg / 287 lb)

Somali ostrich
A male Somali ostrich (wikipedia).

The second largest living bird on Earth, Somali ostrich (Struthio molybdophanes) is a large flightless bird native to the Horn of Africa, especially in north-eastern Ethiopia and across all of Somalia. It was previously considered a subspecies of the common ostrich, but was identified as a distinct species in 2014.

A male Somali ostrich can weigh up to 130 kg / 287 lb.

1. Ostrich (up to 156.8 kg / 346 lb)

Ostrich male (left) and females (wikipedia).

The ostrich or common ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the largest living bird on Earth. It is native to Africa. They usually weigh from 63 to 145 kilograms (139–320 lb), or as much as two adult humans. Exceptional male ostriches can weigh up to 156.8 kg (346 lb).

Male ostriches can be from 2.1 to 2.8 m (6 ft 11 in to 9 ft 2 in) in height, while female ostriches range from 1.7 to 2.0 m (5 ft 7 in to 6 ft 7 in) tall.

Ostriches have large, powerful legs. They can sprint up to 70 km/h (43 mph) and an cover 3 to 5 m (9.8 to 16.4 ft) in a single stride.

Honorable mentions

Wandering albatross

Wandering albatross
Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) has the largest wingspan of any bird. Photo: antarcticguide.com

Measuring from 2.51 to 3.7 m (8 ft 3 in to 12 ft 2 in), Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) has the largest wingspan of any bird.

Wandering albatross is also one of the most far ranging birds. Some individual wandering albatrosses are known to circumnavigate the Southern Ocean three times (covering more than 120,000 km or 75,000 miles) in one year.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the wandering albatross as vulnerable status.

Largest bird of prey

Philippine eagle
Philippine eagle. Photo: blog.nus.edu.sg

The Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is considered the largest of the extant eagles in the world in terms of length and wing surface. It is typically reported as measuring 86–102 cm (2 ft 10 in–3 ft 4 in) in total length. It also has a wingspan of 184 to 220 cm (6 ft 0 in to 7 ft 3 in).

But, in terms of weight and bulk, Steller’s sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus), the Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) and the Martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) are bigger than the Philippine eagle.

Among condors, which are also considered birds of prey though they are primarily scavengers, the title goes to the Andean condor.

Largest prehistoric birds

The largest known birds of all time might have been the elephant birds of Madagascar. Of almost the same size was the Australian Dromornis stirtoni. Both were about 3 m (9.8 ft) tall and they have shared the same estimated upper weight, around 500 kg (1,100 lb). Elephant birds were still extant as close as the 17th century.

The tallest bird ever was the giant moa (Dinornis maximus) at 3.6 m (12 ft) tall.

The largest known flight-capable bird was Pelagornis sandersi, discovered in 1983 in Charleston, South Carolina, during construction for a new airport terminal. It lived 50 million years ago. The largest specimen found in Antarctica, and its wings, fully extended, spanned more than 6.4 meters (21 feet).

Pelagornis sandersi probably weighed between 48.5 and 88 lb (22 and 40 kilograms).

Pelagornis skeleton
A replica of a Pelagornis skeleton at the National Museum of Natural History (wikipedia).


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