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Top 10 Largest Living Birds in the World

Updated on August 17, 2018

Is This The Largest?

The Common Ostrich is undoubtedly a very large bird, but does it top this list.
The Common Ostrich is undoubtedly a very large bird, but does it top this list. | Source

Introduction

Birds are among the most fascinating and beautiful of all the Earth's creatures. For our entire history, they've captivated us in one way or another; whether it be their elaborate plumage's, their beautiful songs and calls, their diversity and wide distribution, or of course the one ability they possess that turns us all green with envy, the ability to fly under their own power. Additionally, for all of us who love Dinosaurs, there is the now clear cut reality that birds are in fact living theropod Dinosaurs, giving us a direct link to ferocious beasts of the past such as Tyrannosaurus. But, which of the 10,000 or so birds alive today are the largest? In order to find out, we must establish how to measure their size; do we go by height, mass or wingspan? For the purposes of this article I shall construct a list of the 10 largest birds by mass starting with number 10 and counting down to number 1.

The 10th Largest Bird

The Lesser Rhea, also known as Darwin's Rhea, in honor of its discovery by the great naturalist in 1833.
The Lesser Rhea, also known as Darwin's Rhea, in honor of its discovery by the great naturalist in 1833. | Source

10. Lesser Rhea

Average mass: 43 Ibs
Maximum mass: 63 Ibs
Average length: 3.2 ft
Flight: No

In at number 10 the Lesser Rhea (Rhea pennata) also known as Darwin’s Rhea in honour of its rather famous discoverer. It is the smaller of the three extant species of Rhea, all of which are endemic to South America. The Lesser Rhea inhabits areas of open scrub and grasslands of Patagonia and the Andean Plateau and mostly lives off grass, cacti fruit, saltbush and occasionally small animals such as lizards, beetles and grasshoppers. They are mostly silent birds, except for the chicks who emit a whistling call and males seeking females in the breeding season, emitting a deep booming call.

The females lay eggs near the nest rather than on it, and they in turn are incubated for anywhere between 30-44 days by the males, who understandably become rather aggressive at this time. Clutch size can be anywhere between 5 and 55, and once hatched, provided they survive, the chicks are normally mature at 3 years old.

The 9th Largest Bird

To the indigenous Karam people of Central New Guinea, the Dwarf Cassowary is known as the Kobity.
To the indigenous Karam people of Central New Guinea, the Dwarf Cassowary is known as the Kobity. | Source

9. Dwarf Cassowary

Average mass: 43 Ibs
Maximum mass: 75 Ibs
Average length: 3.4 ft
Flight: No

The Dwarf Cassowary (Casuarius benetti) is the smallest of the 3 extant Cassowaries and like its cousins is distributed throughout the extensive mountain forests of New Guinea and New Britain. It is distinguished from its cousins by its size, and additionally through its much lower triangular casque or crest.

The Dwarf Cassowary is mostly a solitary bird, only coming into contact with others of its own kind during the breeding season. For the rest of its time, it roams its vast forest home foraging for fallen fruit and small animals, especially insects.

The 8th Largest Bird

The male Wild Turkey is also known as a tom.
The male Wild Turkey is also known as a tom. | Source

8. Domestic/Wild Turkey

Average mass: 29.8 Ibs
Maximum mass: 86 Ibs
Average length: 3.3-4.1 ft
Flight: Yes

In at number 8 is the only flying bird on this list the Domestic/Wild Turkey (Melagris gallopavo). The figures given above are purely for the domesticated form, with the Wild Turkey being considerably smaller. Incidentally, the largest flying purely wild bird is the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) with a maximum mass of 51 Ib, and an average of 26.2 Ib. It only just missed out on the top 10, coming at number 11.

Getting back to the Turkey, in the wild they are cautious and evasive birds of forest edges and clearings. They feed on the ground, taking berries, seeds, nuts, other parts of plants, and invertebrates. In winter Wild Turkeys often live in flocks. Some flocks are segregated, containing birds of only one sex. In the breeding season, the male displays with his tail spread, attracting a small flock of females that nest individually after mating.

In the Wild, the Turkey has a rather patchy distribution, across Southern Canada, much of the USA and Northern Mexico.

The 7th Largest Bird

Since 2000 a small population of Greater Rheas' has established itself in Germany, making them the only flightless birds to be found in Europe.
Since 2000 a small population of Greater Rheas' has established itself in Germany, making them the only flightless birds to be found in Europe. | Source

7. Greater Rhea

Average mass: 51 Ibs
Maximum mass: 88 Ibs
Average length: 4.4 ft
Flight: No

The larger of the three Rhea species; the Greater Rhea (Rhea americana) lives on open plains right across South America, particularly in areas where the grass is tall and bushes are plentiful. Here it feeds on the leaves, roots, and seeds of plants, together with insects and other small animals. Although it is totally flightless, the Greater Rhea does come close to doing so when it races over the open grassland, holding its wings up to a gain a very slight lift. It can also swim, and flocks often visit lakes or rivers to drink and to bathe. This species is always sociable, except for older males, which sometimes withdraw from the flock to live alone.

In the breeding season, rival males fight, mainly with heavy kicks. Males also display, to deter rivals or to attract females, ruffling their wings and uttering low, roaring calls. A male normally mates with several females, which he then leads to the nest, normally a shallow hollow in the ground, sparsely lined with grass. Up to a dozen females will visit the same nest, normally producing 15 to 30 eggs, sometimes more than 60. The male incubates the eggs alone, covering as many as he can. He alone, also cares for the downy young.

The 6th Largest Bird

Emperor Penguins are the only penguins that breed during the savage Antarctic winter. They often to have withstand temperatures of -40 degrees C.
Emperor Penguins are the only penguins that breed during the savage Antarctic winter. They often to have withstand temperatures of -40 degrees C. | Source

6. Emperor Penguin

Average mass: 69 Ibs
Maximum mass: 100 Ibs
Average length: 3.7 ft
Flight: No

In at number 6, an iconic and charismatic bird, the Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the largest and most heavily built of all the penguins. It puts on a deep layer of fat all over its stout body during the times of year that it spends feeding in the sea. Propelled by flipper like wings, the Emperor pursues fish and squid to depths as great as 870 ft. On ice or snow, it walks upright, or drops on its belly and toboggans along, helped by its flippers.

Emperor Penguins breed in colonies on the Antarctic ice, each recognizing its mate or parents by individual variations in the nasal, trumpeting call. After pairing in early winter, the female lays an egg and leaves for coastal waters. The male incubates the egg for two months, by standing upright and supporting it on his feet. Males huddle together for warmth through the severe blizzards of the polar winter. The female returns from the sea just as the young one hatches, and she feeds it with regurgitated food. The male, having lost almost half his original weight, then walks to the sea to feed for several weeks, before returning to help rear the fluffy chick.

The 5th Largest Bird

The Emu is the third tallest bird in the world after its two Ostrich relatives. It can reach up to 6ft 2 inches.
The Emu is the third tallest bird in the world after its two Ostrich relatives. It can reach up to 6ft 2 inches. | Source

Dinosaur Feet

As opposed to Ostriches- which have 2 toes on feet. Emus' have 3 toes on each foot in a tridactyl fashion, reminiscent of the dinosaurs.
As opposed to Ostriches- which have 2 toes on feet. Emus' have 3 toes on each foot in a tridactyl fashion, reminiscent of the dinosaurs.

5. Emu

Average mass: 73 Ibs
Maximum mass: 150 Ibs
Average length: 5 ft
Flight: No

A large flightless bird, the Emu (Dromaius noveaehollandiae) lives in a variety of open country habitats, ranging from semi-desert to grassland and open woodland. Its wings are very small and are usually hidden in the Emu’s long, loose, shaggy feathers. Females are slightly larger than males, and have stronger blue coloration on the bare skin of the head and neck. The Emu can run at up to 30 mph, though it normally walks. Pairs or small parties feed on plants including grasses, also taking insects. The call is low pitched and of a booming nature.

The nest is a slight hollow in the ground, either bare or lined with trampled down vegetation. The males incubate the eggs and care for the striped and downy chicks.

The 4th Largest Bird

The Northern Cassowarys' population is estimated to be anywhere between 2500 and 10,000 and is in decline.
The Northern Cassowarys' population is estimated to be anywhere between 2500 and 10,000 and is in decline. | Source

4. Northern Cassowary

Average mass: 97 Ibs
Maximum mass: 170 Ibs
Average length: 4.9 ft
Flight: No

Coming in at number 4 is the Northern Cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus), a large and rather stocky flightless bird endemic to the coastal swamp and lowland rain-forests of Northern New Guinea. Like the other two Cassowaries that inhabit the region, the Northern Cassowary possesses a hard, stiff black plumage, bright blue skin on the face, a crest or casque on top of the head and a bright red or yellow neck and wattle. Weighing in at an average of 97 Ibs, it is just two pounds lighter than its close relative, the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius).

Similarly to other Cassowaries, the Northern Cassowary is a rather shy and retiring bird, preferring to spend its time wandering the forests alone, foraging for fruits and small animals. They are mostly silent birds, but they do make hissing and grunting sounds on occasion.

In the breeding season, the female lays between three and five eggs on a well camouflaged nest constructed by the male. After laying the clutch, the female then leaves the male to raise the young alone. She heads back off into the forest searching for another mate. The male will raise the chicks alone for about nine months.

The 3rd Largest Bird

The Southern Cassowary is the only member of its order to occur naturally on the Australian continent.
The Southern Cassowary is the only member of its order to occur naturally on the Australian continent. | Source

The World's Deadliest Bird

3. Southern Cassowary

Average mass: 99 Ibs
Maximum mass: 190 Ibs
Average length: 5.1 ft
Flight: No

The Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is a heavily built flightless bird that lives in the thick tropical rain-forests of Southern New Guinea and North-Eastern Australia. Its feathers are coarse in texture and some end in long, hair like filaments. The wings are tiny, and instead of flight feathers they carry only a few quills. The bare skin on the head and neck, and the wattles that hang from the neck, are colored red and blue in a pattern that varies with age. On top of the head, the horn like crest or casque, is used to protect the head whilst dashing through thick vegetation, which the bird will likely do if disturbed. The bill is narrow and is normally used for feeding on fallen fruit, sometimes also green plants, seeds, and some small animals. The large, blade-like claw is used in aggressive fights with others of its own kind, and also in self defense against other animals including dogs and humans. This species utters a variety of calls including deep booms, roars, hisses, and low, rumbling sounds.

Individuals live alone for much of the time. The female is slightly larger than the male, with brighter head and neck colors, and a slightly taller casque. When breeding, a female sometimes pairs with more than one male, laying a clutch of eggs for each, in a shallow hollow in the leafy floor of the forest, sometimes sparsely lined with grass and fallen leaves. The downy chicks are boldly striped, and are cared for by the male for the first nine months of life.

The 2nd Largest Bird

The Somali Ostrich diverged from its Ostrich relatives sometime between 4.1 and 3.6 million years ago.
The Somali Ostrich diverged from its Ostrich relatives sometime between 4.1 and 3.6 million years ago. | Source

2. Somali Ostrich

Average mass: 200 Ibs
Maximum mass: 287 Ibs
Average length: 6.6 ft
Flight: No

Up until the 2014, this species (Struthio molybdophanes) was considered a subspecies of the much more familiar Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus) but has since been split into two separate species. Whilst the Common Ostrich is found across large swathes of sub-Saharan and Southern Africa, the Somali Ostrich is restricted to the Horn of Africa, particularly in North-Eastern Ethiopia and across all of Somalia.

On first glance, this species looks identical to the Common Ostrich, but the skin on the neck and thighs is grey-blue, as opposed to pink on the Common Ostrich. The neck Somali Ostrich also lacks the distinctive white ring, and possesses white tail feathers.

The ranges of both species do overlap and reports of interbreeding have been recorded, but normally these two species rarely come into contact with each other, as the Somali Ostrich tends to prefer bushier areas, where it can browse on thick vegetation. The Common Ostrich, on the other hand is a denizen of open country where it grazes alongside large mammals.

The Largest Bird In The World

The Common Ostrich is split into 4 separate subspecies, one of which, the Arabian Ostrich became extinct in 1966.
The Common Ostrich is split into 4 separate subspecies, one of which, the Arabian Ostrich became extinct in 1966. | Source

A Common Ostrich At Full Speed

1. Common Ostrich

Average mass: 230 Ib
Maximum mass: 346 Ib
Average length: 6.9 ft
Flight: No

So here we are then at last, the world's largest living bird, the Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus). It also happens to be the world's tallest bird, standing at an average of 8ft 2 inches. Like almost all of the birds on this list, it is flightless, with drooping, loose-textured feathers on its wings and tail. Large, strong legs enable it to walk about with easy strides and to run fast, with a top of speed of up to 40 mph. The Common Ostrich inhabits open country right across sub-Saharan and Southern Africa. They particularly favour desert, semi-desert and grassland, living by its keen sight and its ability to cover long distances to reach safety or a food supply. It feeds on the leaves, stems, flowers and seeds of plants, plucked with its blunt tipped and proportionally small bill.

Breeding males are seen squatting in their sexual display posture, waving their wings and necks. A male that has successfully defended his territory pairs with a female, which lays her eggs in a shallow nest. The male Common Ostrich may also mate with as many as five subordinate females, which add their eggs to the clutch. As many as 40 eggs may accumulate but the dominant female pushes out all but 20, which includes her own. She incubates these with the help of the male. The downy young are reared by both parents, and sometimes later on may merge with other nearby broods.

© 2018 James Kenny

Comments

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    • JKenny profile imageAUTHOR

      James Kenny 

      12 months ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Peggy :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      12 months ago from Houston, Texas

      This was such an interesting article about the 10 largest living birds. I had never even heard of a cassowary bird. Thanks for the education. I will pin this to my board on birds.

    • JKenny profile imageAUTHOR

      James Kenny 

      12 months ago from Birmingham, England

      Me too they're the most fascinating creatures in the whole world in my humble opinion.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      12 months ago from USA

      I was very interested in learning that several of these birds let the males do the rearing of the young. I sure love birds of all shapes and sizes.

    • JKenny profile imageAUTHOR

      James Kenny 

      12 months ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Ann.

    • JKenny profile imageAUTHOR

      James Kenny 

      12 months ago from Birmingham, England

      Wow! What an interesting pet. I had no idea that they could be tamed.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      12 months ago from Brazil

      It's amazing to think of the size of these birds when we are accustomed to seeing small garden birds. It's much easier to see the dinosaur link when these sizes are involved.

      I didn't realize the emperor penguin was so big. I also didn't know there was more than one type of cassowary. My husband used to have one as a pet when he was in Indonesian.

      Interesting article.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      12 months ago from SW England

      I was just thinking about your wonderful hubs about birds when I read your piece about veganism, then up popped this one!

      Interesting list; I wasn't surprised that the ostrich was the largest and it's interesting that they're nearly all flightless. I suppose it's difficult to get all that bulk off the ground!

      Looking forward to more of your hubs.

      Ann

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