Top 10 Largest Birds on Earth | Wingspans
Which Birds Have the Longest Wingspans?
Birds are some of the most well-known animals on earth—mainly because they are everywhere! They often fill up otherwise empty places with life, color, and song. Have you ever wondered what the largest birds on earth are? Well, this page seeks to answer that question!
Have you ever wondered what the largest birds on earth are? Well, this page seeks to answer that question! The following is a list of the top 10 longest wingspans of living species. Please note that this is not a list by mass or body size. Some of these wingspans will truly amaze you! I have also included some interesting bird facts and information as well --- and please don't forget to sign the guestbook before you leave.
Some of these wingspans will truly amaze you! I have also included some interesting bird facts and information.
Please note: This top 10 list has slight ambiguity due to natural variation among bird sizes in the wild. The measurements may or may not be mean wingspan lengths for any given species. There may be other bird species with similar wingspans; these are simply the species chosen for my list.
There are about 10,000 different bird species on earth. New bird species are still being discovered today in remote places around the world. Sadly, since the year 1500, over 190 bird species have become extinct—and extinction is on the rise.
I've been fascinated by birds since I was a little girl—the diversity in size and shape is amazing! I am so interested in birds that I am currently in grad school studying avian migration biology. Now, time to learn about which bird species have the longest wingspans in the world!
Do you enjoy watching and learning about birds?
What Do You Mean by Wingspan?
A wingspan is simply the measurement of a bird's wings from one primary feather tip to the other. It's analogous to the wingspan of an airplane, shown in this photo from Wiki Commons:
10 Bird Species with the Longest Wingspans
10. Golden Eagle—Aquila Chrysaetos
Wingspan: 8.2 feet
Golden eagles are majestic hunters of the Northern Hemisphere and one of the largest eagles in the world. Although they are powerful enough to kill large deer, they most often hunt small mammals such as rabbits, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. Golden eagles are the national emblem of Mexico. Have you ever seen one? I was thrilled to recently see a golden eagle for the first time!
9. Grey Crowned Crane—Balearica regulorum
Wingspan: 8.2 feet (2.5 meters)
The grey crane is an inhabitant of the dry savannas in Africa. They have an elaborate courtship display, which involves dancing, bowing, and jumping. They are elegant birds only found south of the Sahara desert. I'd love to take a trip to Africa someday and hope to see these elegant cranes!
8. California Condor—Gymnogyps californianus—The Largest Flying Bird in North America
Wingspan: 9.1 feet (2.8 meters)
The California condor is one of the rarest birds in the world. They are the largest flying bird in North America and feed on carrion. The number of California condors was reduced dramatically by poisoning, both intentionally by farmers and unintentionally by the use of lead shot to hunt animals. Lead poisoning as a result of scavenging rendered many of these birds infertile. This is a story with a happy ending, though! Once pushed to the brink of extinction, they are now slowly and steadily increasing in numbers with the aid of some excellent captive breeding programs.
Have you ever seen one of these magnificent birds?
I've never seen one—maybe someday soon!
Have you ever seen a California Condor?
7. Griffon Vulture—Gyps fulvus
Wingspan: 9.2 feet (2.8 meters)
This is a massive vulture, measuring over three feet from beak to tail. These birds inhabit the mountainous parts of Southern Europe, North Africa, and Asia. It breeds on high cliff edges—this is not a bird that's scared of heights!
It hunts for carrion by soaring high in the sky, either singly or in large groups. Noted as being a highly social species, these birds often nest in colonies of more than 100 pairs, with some colonies estimated to contain up to 1,000 birds.
Some people think that vultures are creepy, but I think they're a cool group of birds.
6. Bearded Vulture—Gypaetus barbatus
Wingspan: 9.8 feet (2.99 meters)
The Latin binomial for this species literally means "bearded vulture-eagle," and it is aptly named. This is a massive and majestic species! Bearded vultures are sometimes known as Lammergeier vultures. Unlike most vultures, this species does not have the characteristic bald head. It inhabits the crags in the high mountains of Europe, India, Pakistan, Africa, and Tibet. Like most vultures, they eat mostly carrion which they locate by sight while soaring high in the air. Amazingly, a bearded vulture has been reported at an elevation of 24,000 feet!
5. Whooper Swan—Cygnus cygnus
Wingspan: 9.8 feet (3 meters)
Some of the heaviest flying birds are our swans. In the US, the heaviest flying bird is the Trumpeter Swan, but the larger whooper swan is an elegant bird that winters in northern Europe and eastern Asia. They may fly hundreds of miles to reach breeding grounds in subarctic Eurasia. These birds are powerful flyers, despite weighing 18-44 pounds (8-20 kilograms)! They have a very deep call and are truly a remarkable bird to witness in flight.
4. Andean Condor—Vultur gryphus
Wingspan: 11 feet (3.4 meters)
This is a magnificent and humongous bird! These massive vultures spend their days soaring on updrafts in the Andean mountains of South America. Its diet consists mainly of carrion, but unlike most vultures, these birds will kill small- to medium-sized mammals as well. They do not reach maturity until they are around eight years old and can live 50 to 60 years in the wild. Males are larger than females and can weigh over 30 pounds. A remarkable sight when soaring!
3. Marabou Stork—Leptoptilos crumeniferus
Wingspan: at least 11 feet (3.4 meters)
These unusual scavengers are a frequent sight on the African plains. They can often be found feeding on carrion alongside vultures. These impressive birds inhabit both wet and arid habitats south of the Sahara. They are often called "undertaker birds" because of their habits. They are gregarious and colonial breeders. They can weigh up to 20 pounds and can reach a height of five feet. Although they usually eat carrion, they will also eat small mammals, birds, and nestlings.
2. Great White Pelican—Pelecanus onocrotalus
Wingspan: 11.8 feet (3.6 meters)
These large and distinctive birds inhabit the eastern Mediterranean to Vietnam and South Africa. Like all pelicans, these birds are adapted to aquatic life. They have webbed feet and feed on many fish per day, but like most birds, they are opportunistic feeders. They are known for forming huge aggregations, including a colony of around 75,000 in Tanzania. Please note that this bird is not the American white pelican, which inhabits the States.
And the largest wingspan of any living bird belongs to . . .
1. Wandering Albatross—Diomedea exulans
Wingspan: 11.8 feet (3.6 meters)
These are amazing and majestic birds. They spend their entire lives at sea and only come ashore to reproduce every other year. The wandering albatross breeds on South Georgia Island, Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands, Prince Edward Islands, and Macquarie Island. Although the largest confirmed report was around 12 feet, there have been accounts of Wandering Albatross wingspans as large as 17 feet across. Such long wings enable these birds to glide effortlessly over the ocean for hours at a time without flapping its wings. Its body length can reach close to five feet. Unfortunately, these majestic birds have declined by more than 30% over the past 70 years with their biggest threat being long line fishing practices. Pollution, especially from plastic, is also taking its toll. Adults unknowingly feed their chicks bits of plastic they find floating in the ocean, causing a slow death for the unfortunate chick.
You have probably noticed that most of these bird species use their long wings for soaring while looking for prey and carrion or during long-distance migrations. Hawks, eagles, and vultures soar on thermals (rising columns of warm air) and thus do not fly at night. On the other hand, the albatross glides over open water using a different technique. You might have noticed that the albatrosses wings are narrow, a shape that facilitates gliding.
For all of these species, long wings are a beneficial adaptation to a species' particular environment and behavior.
Plastic's Impact on Seabirds
Many seabirds, including albatrosses, are in trouble due to the volume of trash that pollutes our oceans. This trash includes plastic and other small colorful items that seabirds mistake for food. The birds feed the plastic to their young, many of whom die because they cannot digest it. Learn more about the birds of Midway Atoll, where the impact of plastic on seabirds has been particularly devastating.
BBC Video of the Plastics Consumed by Albatrosses
Largest Bird on Earth
The largest living bird species by mass is the ostrich (Struthio camelus). Ostriches cannot fly, but are excellent runners!
Meanwhile, the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) is the smallest bird species in the world.
Time to vote!
What is your favorite bird on this list?
Were you surprised by this list? Please share your reactions! :)