Biggest Birds in the World, Ranked
Before seeing an ostrich in person, we would have laughed at anyone who said they feared birds. Then, we went to a wildlife reserve and discovered that ostriches are scarier than bears, lions and bison combined.
They shouldn't even be called birds because an aggressive dinosaur with a beak isn't remotely similar to the cute sparrows in the yard. Now that we know, we'll be avoiding them forever, along with these other biggest birds in the world.
15. Dalmatian Pelican
Average weight: 25 pounds
Max weight: 33 pounds
Average total length: 6 feet
Does the Dalmatian pelican fly? Yes
The Dalmatian pelican is one of the largest flying birds in the world, and they're the biggest of the pelican species. They're awkward on land, but they're powerhouses in the sea and sky.
Their 11.5-foot wingspan makes it easy for them to cruise over the ocean looking for schools of fish to scoop up below. Once they do, they tip their head sideways to allow water to drain out. Dalmatian pelicans have webbed feet, so they're excellent swimmers as well.
14. Wandering Albatross
Average weight: 26 pounds
Max weight: 35 pounds
Average total length: 4.43 feet
Does the wandering albatross fly? Yes
If it wasn't clear from its name, the wandering albatross spends most of its life out on the open ocean. They're not the heaviest bird by any means, but their wingspan can be up to 11.5 feet, allowing them to ride air currents for miles with little effort.
Their fishing trips at sea can last for up to three weeks, covering thousands of miles at a time. Along the way, they scoop up fish, crustaceans and squid to keep up their energy.
13. Mute Swan
Average weight: 26.2 pounds
Max weight: 51 pounds
Average total length: 4.3 feet
Does the mute swan fly? Yes
The bird of ballets and picturesque waterscape paintings, mute swans are elegant, graceful and ... invasive? They were originally brought to North America from Europe to keep in ponds and gardens. Unfortunately, these stunning creatures are not so stunning for local ecosystems. Their ravenous appetites and aggression can wreak havoc, impacting native species.
They're still gorgeous to look at, though, and their habit of mating for life has established them as a symbol of love and commitment around the world.
12. Trumpeter Swan
Average weight: 28 pounds
Max weight: 38 pounds
Average total length: 5.41 feet
Does the trumpeter swan fly? Yes
Trumpeter swans aren't quite as graceful or demure as mute swans, but they're even larger. They're about twice the size of tundra swans, and the largest specimens can be around 40 pounds without being overweight. They're common across Canada and the U.S., migrating north to breed on remote wetlands in Alaska and Canada.
They almost went extinct in the 1800s after decades of being hunted for their soft, long feathers, which were used for writing quills and as decorations for hats. After years of aggressive conservation efforts, the species rebounded, and their numbers have been stable since the early 2000s.
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11. King Penguin
Average weight: 30 pounds
Max weight: 44 pounds
Average total length: 3.02 feet
Does the king penguin fly? No
The king penguin is an oddball species of bird. They don't build nests, instead incubating their eggs on top of their feet, covered by a fold of skin to keep them warm. King penguin parents share egg-care duties, and both participate in raising chicks.
Chicks are dependent on parents until they're around a year old when they begin growing waterproof feathers that allow them to fish and handle the elements on their own. They're the second-largest species of penguin, and many of them reach 3 feet in height.
Average weight: 30 pounds
Max weight: 86 pounds
Average total length: 4 feet
Does the turkey fly? Yes
Turkeys don't seem intimidating when they're in the oven, but meeting one in the wild is a different story. They're huge, particularly when they puff out their chests and strut around to intimidate predators. Only male turkeys "gobble," which is why male turkeys are called gobblers. Female turkeys are called hens, just like female chickens.
It's a common myth that turkeys can't fly, but this only applies to the domesticated variety. Domesticated turkeys were bred to be about double the weight of wild turkeys, making flight impossible. Wild turkeys still spend most of the time on the ground, but they can fly up to 55 mph for short distances.
9. Lesser Rhea
Average weight: 43 pounds
Max weight: 63 pounds
Average total length: 3.15 feet
Does the lesser Rhea fly? No
Also called Darwin's rhea, the lesser rhea resembles a small ostrich. In terms of coloration, they work the opposite of deer: Instead of starting out with spots, they're born with solid brown plumage, developing white speckles as they mature. Like most bird species, they're omnivorous. They snack on fruits and seeds, plus insects, rodents and even lizards.
What's really interesting is their reproductive habits. During mating season, males start by fighting over territories. Once a male has won a good nesting site, he attracts females in an odd-looking courtship ritual. He mates with all of them, and they each lay eggs in his nest. After they've finished laying eggs over the course of a few days, the females leave all the incubation and future childcare up to Dad.
8. Dwarf Cassowary
Average weight: 43 pounds
Max weight: 75 pounds
Average total length: 3.44 feet
Does the dwarf cassowary fly? No
Dwarf cassowaries are the smallest of the cassowary birds, but they're still as big as a medium-sized dog, with females growing larger than males. These flightless birds mostly live in New Guinea, New Britain and on Yapen Island near Australia.
Unlike penguins, rheas and many of the other biggest birds in the world are pretty antisocial. Cassowaries only meet up during mating season. The rest of the time, they live on their own.
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7. Greater Rhea
Average weight: 51 pounds
Max weight: 88 pounds
Average total length: 4.4 feet
Does the greater rhea fly? No
The greater rhea is the largest bird in South America, living in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Bolivia. Their discarded feathers are used to make feather dusters, and they're pretty common to see in the wild.
These South American birds look a lot like ostriches, but there are several key differences. They have three toes on each foot, not two, and they have unusually long wings for a bird that can't fly. Instead, they use their wings for improved balance and stability while they're running at speed. Interestingly, males are the "mama bears" of the greater rhea species, chasing off anyone who approaches their young, even other rheas.
6. Emperor Penguin
Average weight: 69 pounds
Max weight: 101 pounds
Average total length: 3.74 feet
Does the emperor penguin fly? No
If you've ever drawn penguins at the North Pole, we hate to break it to you, but that's about as realistic as the existence of Santa's Workshop. Emperor penguins only live in Antarctica. They spend most of their lives on floating ice attached to the coast.
They're about the size of an average 6-year-old human, and Antarctic penguins of the past were likely even larger. Fossils from the area suggest that a penguin species from 37 million years ago stood as tall as 6 feet, weighing up to about 250 pounds!
Average weight: 73 pounds
Max weight: 150 pounds
Average total length: 5.02 feet
Does the emu fly? No
Emus are weird looking, aren't they? They're the second-tallest bird in the world, only topped by ostriches. They can be up to 6 feet tall and easily weigh as much as a small adult human, but their wings are bizarrely tiny. Each wing is about the size of a human hand, rendering them useless for flight.
Emus compensate for their lack of flying skills with powerful legs. They're the only birds on the planet with muscles similar to human calves, called the gastrocnemius. Thanks to this unusual adaptation, they can run up to 30 mph and jump over 6 feet off the ground.
4. Northern Cassowary
Average weight: 97 pounds
Max weight: 165 pounds
Average total length: 4.89 feet
Does the Northern cassowary fly? No
The northern cassowary is slightly smaller than the southern cassowary, but it still looks like a living dinosaur. Cassowaries are one of the few large bird species that you should actually be scared of. They're naturally reclusive and shy, but if they feel cornered, they'll peck, head butt and kick their enemies into submission.
Their scariest weapon is a sharp claw on the middle toe of each of their feet, which can be several inches long. Paired with their powerful, long legs, a kick from a cassowary can break bones and cause life-threatening cuts.
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3. Southern Cassowary
Average weight: 99 pounds
Max weight: 187 pounds
Average total length: 5.09 feet
Does the Southern cassowary fly? No
You don't want to mess with a northern cassowary, and you definitely don't want to mess with a southern one. Even larger and just as dangerous, southern cassowaries can jump up to 7 feet high, and they often leap at attackers, slashing them from above with their murderous toe knives. Cool, cool. Remind us never to go to Australia.
On the upside, they're feminists. Males are the more involved of the two parents, incubating the eggs around the clock for 50 days or more. During that time, he won't even leave his nest for food or water. Then, he spends nine months rearing his chicks and teaching them how to forage on their own.
2. Somali Ostrich
Average weight: 200 pounds
Max weight: 290 pounds
Average total length: 6.6 feet
Does the Somali ostrich fly? No
The Somali ostrich was long thought to be a subset of the common ostrich, but it's now accepted to be a separate species. Males have blue legs and a blue neck, while females have pinkish legs and necks. As cute as that sounds, ostriches are no joke.
Their voices sound similar to lion roars, and they can sprint up to 43 mph. If you were standing on the opposite side of the room from an ostrich, it could clear the distance in a single step.
1. Common Ostrich
Average weight: 229 pounds
Max weight: 346 pounds
Average total length: 6.9 feet
Does the common ostrich fly? No
Last but not least is the official biggest bird in the world: the common ostrich. With legs like springs, they can cover over 10 feet in just one step. Their shock-absorbing feet are so unique that scientists have used them as models for more efficient robotic feet.
Everything about ostriches is giant, including their eggs and nest. An ostrich nest can be up to 10 feet wide, containing 30 to 40 eggs in each one. Extra eggs, unfortunately, are sometimes rejected. Each one weighs about three pounds — the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs. Luckily, while ostriches can do some damage, outsmarting them isn't hard. They're big, but they have a brain about the size of a walnut.
Before You Start Having Nightmares About the Biggest Birds in the World...
Let's not forget who's really at the top of the food chain. If Big Bird can't take on a human, no bird can.
Turkeys are pretty intimidating if they're running toward you at full speed, but we've designed an entire holiday around eating them. Angry magpies, however? Terrifying.