For as long as humans have existed, we’ve envied birds for their ability to fly. But there are a few bird species that are unable to soar the skies. Perhaps we can take solace in knowing that these birds share the same flight envy that we suffer. Click on to meet 10 flightless birds that are grounded for life.
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Habitat: Tropical forests and wetlands of Northern Australia, New Guinea and surrounding islands
Fun Fact: There are three species of cassowary: the southern or double-wattled cassowary (the most common and heaviest cassowary species), the northern or single-wattled cassowary and the dwarf cassowary.
Scientific Name: Rhea pennata (also Rhea darwinii)
Habitat: Grasslands in South America
Fun Fact: While conducting research in Patagonia, South America, Charles Darwin was searching for a particular, small species of rhea. During the expedition, one of Darwin’s companions shot and ate a juvenile rhea, which the team partially ate before Darwin realized it was not a juvenile at all, but the species he had been looking for. The species was named Darwin’s rhea.
Scientific Name: Dromaius novaehollandiae
Habitat: Various habitats across Australia
Fun Fact: Despite the emu’s flightlessness, its wings aren’t useless. When running, an emu holds out its tiny wings to act as stabilizers.
Habitat: Subtropical and temperate forests across New Zealand
Fun Fact: Some flightless birds have wings, but not kiwis. In fact, the name of their genus, apteryx, is Latin for “wingless.”
Scientific Name: Struthio camelus
Habitat: African savanna and desert
Fun Fact: Ostriches may not be able to fly, but they sure can run. With top speeds of more than 40 mph, ostriches are the world’s fastest-running birds.
Habitat: Various species live on every continent in the Southern Hemisphere, from the tropical Galapagos Islands to Antarctica
Fun Fact: You may think penguins, with their plump bodies and inability to fly, would make easy prey for land predators. And you'd be right. Scientists believe the reason why penguins exist exclusively in the southern hemisphere is because they evolved to live where there are no predators to hunt them on land.
Scientific Name: Strigops habroptilus
Habitat: Various habitats across New Zealand
Fun Fact: The kakapo is the only flightless parrot on Earth. It does have wings, but because those wings don’t need to be strong and rigid for flight, the kakapo’s feathers are remarkably soft.
Scientific Name: Porphyrio hochstetteri
Habitat: Mountains and other high-altitude areas of New Zealand
Fun Fact: Though flightless, the takahe uses its wings during courtship displays or when showing aggression.
Scientific Name: Raphus cucullatus
Habitat: Dry coastal areas on the island of Mauritius (now extinct)
Fun Fact: Dodos are perhaps better known for being extinct than for being flightless. They had no natural predators, which made them too trusting of humans when we discovered them in the 17th century. It didn't take long for us to hunt them out of existence.
Next: 10 Fun Facts About Hummingbirds
Scientific name: Undetermined
Habitat: Sesame Street, New York City
Fun Fact: Big Bird’s species remains a mystery — he has at various times been called or self-identified as a lark, part homing pigeon, a golden condor, a huge canary and part emu — but in any case, it has definitely been well established that Big Bird doesn’t fly.
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