Bird­ing by Bird

Let’s pause to con­sider some of the great record hold­ers among our feath­ered friends

Canadian Wildlife - - CONTENTS - By David Bird

Cham­pi­ons of the Bird World: Let’s pause to con­sider and cel­e­brate some of the great record hold­ers among our feath­ered friends


you know that Lucky Di­a­mond Rich holds the Guin­ness world record for

hav­ing the most tat­toos, es­sen­tially cov­er­ing 100 per cent of his body? That Suresh Joachim Aru­lanan­tham ironed clothes for 55 hours and five min­utes in a shop­ping mall in Bramp­ton, On­tario, to get in the Guin­ness lists? Well, what about records in the world of birds? Which species is the big­gest or the fastest? Based on ex­ten­sive re­search for my book, The Bird Al­manac: A Guide to Es­sen­tial Facts and Fig­ures of the World’s Birds, here are some records that might one day help you win a trivia con­test or sim­ply amaze your friends.

Let’s talk size first. The heav­i­est and tallest bird is the os­trich, stand­ing at 2.7 me­tres and weigh­ing in at 156 kilo­grams, but the heav­i­est fly­ing bird is the great bus­tard, which man­ages to lift off with a weight of 21 kilo­grams. While the tallest bird is ob­vi­ously the os­trich, the tallest fly­ing bird is the sarus crane, at 1.8 me­tres. The wan­der­ing al­ba­tross boasts the great wing­span, at 3.63 me­tres, but among land-lov­ing birds, the An­dean condor and marabou stork are tied at 3.2 m. The os­trich wins again with the long­est legs, but rel­a­tive to body length, the black-winged stilt with its 23-cm gams gets the nod at 60 per cent of its height.

The ab­so­lute short­est legs in the bird world be­long to swifts, be­ing vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent! And the small­est bird in the world? Why, the bee hum­ming­bird at 5.7 cen­time­tres and 1.6 grams. Hum­ming­birds also hold the record for the long­est bill rel­a­tive to body length — the sword-tailed hum­ming­bird, at 10.5 cm. The short­est beak, of just a few mil­lime­tres, is found on the glossy swift­let, while the over­all long­est beak goes to the Aus­tralian pel­i­can, at 47 cen­time­tres.

Some­one ac­tu­ally took the time to count all 25,216 feathers on a whistling swan, the most of any bird. That prob­a­bly wasn’t as dif­fi­cult as count­ing the 940 feathers on a ruby-throated hum­ming­bird, the least of any bird to date.

So which bird is the fastest? Well, the fastest-mov­ing bird is a stoop­ing pere­grine fal­con at 320 kilo­me­tres per hour. (We know this be­cause a fal­coner ac­tu­ally jumped out of a light aircraft, with a parachute on, of course, with his trained pere­grine and recorded its div­ing speed.) The fastest flap­ping flight is seen in the white-throated nee­dle-tailed swift, at 170 km/h, but that in­cludes div­ing. Some­one clocked a red-breasted mer­ganser mo­tor­ing along­side their ve­hi­cle at level flight do­ing an im­pres­sive 161 km/h. And there is a record for the slow­est fly­ing bird — the Amer­i­can wood­cock at 8 km/h. The fastest wing­beat surely has to be held by the amethyst wood­star and horned sungem hum­ming­birds, tied at 90 times a sec­ond. Con­trast that to vul­tures beat­ing their wings only once per sec­ond.

Th­ese are just a few of the amaz­ing records held by our friends in the avian world. If noth­ing else, it is proof that we re­ally shouldn’t take them for granted.

Aus­tralian pel­i­can

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