When many people think of birds, certain words come to mind. Beautiful. Graceful. Majestic. Those words certainly apply if you’re talking about eagles, hawks and owls. Most of the following birds are not beautiful or majestic. They’re strange in appearance, with the proverbial face only their mother could love. And some follow bizarre practices, such as urohidrosis, a disgusting behavior that … well, see No. 4 below for a full description.
10. Marabou Stork
This African bird carries the nickname “undertaker bird,” for its appearance from behind and its love of carrion. That nickname alone is enough to merit it a spot on this list.
Nicknamed the “stinkbird” for its nasty odor, this bird is native to South America’s swamps and forests, where it has developed a bizarre evolutionary trait; the hoatzin has claws on its wings, so chicks can hang from branches without falling after they hatch.
8. King Vulture
That ugly orange crest above the king vulture’s bill is known as a caruncle. We’ll give Sarcoramphus papa bonus points for its colorful head and striking red-eye sclera. It can be found in much of South and Central America.
This New Zealand bird has a funny name, and its nickname, the “owl parrot,” isn’t much better. New Zealand Birds Online describes it in stark terms: “The kakapo is a large, nocturnal, flightless, lek-breeding parrot — a real oddity.” Although it is critically endangered, this bird lives to a ripe old age, with an average life expectancy of almost 100 years.
6. Vulturine Guineafowl
The vulturine guineafowl is a large, fearsome-looking bird, averaging 2.5 feet in height. Yet Acryllium vulturinum isn’t a notable predator, instead eating a seed-heavy diet.
5. Magnificent Frigatebird
How could a female resist when the male Fregata magnificens puffs up its red gular sac in a mating ritual? This seabird inhabits coastal regions of the Americas.
4. Andean Condor
This South American bird could be almost majestic in appearance if not for that fleshy caruncle on the male’s head. It also practices a bizarre and rare habit known as urohidrosis, in which it urinates and defecates on its own legs and feet. No one is sure why. Some birds use it as a cooling mechanism in hot climates, but that doesn’t apply to the cold Andes.
3. Kori Bustard
Meet the kori bustard, which might be heaviest animal in the world capable of flight. That’s true at the bird’s most reliably documented top weight (about 40 pounds), but unverified reports claim to have sighted kori bustards weighing more than 75 pounds. But with a wingspan of 7 to 9 feet in some birds, this is a large creature.
2. Muscovy Duck
That red, fleshy caruncle surrounding the Muscovy duck’s head is not an attractive look. The duck compensates with a spiraled, 8-inch penis that becomes fully erect in a fraction of a second, as determined by an actual study performed at the UK’s University of Sheffield.
1. Shoebill Stork
Native to a narrow range in East Africa, this stork’s bill gives it a surreal appearance. That bill makes Balaeniceps rex a fearsome fish predator; it is capable of attacking fish up to 3 feet long. On a bizarre note, the shoebill occasionally makes a cow-like mooing sound.