With wings stretching across the sky, the biggest flying birds in the world are truly a sight to behold. These avian wonders, capturing the imagination with their astonishing dimensions, offer a fascinating glimpse into the power and beauty of nature.
The Concept of Bird Sizes
In the bird kingdom, size is measured in three major ways: wingspan, weight, and height. Each bird species has unique characteristics that influence their size, such as their evolutionary traits, diet, and environmental adaptations.
Wingspan: A bird’s wingspan refers to the distance from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other when the wings are fully spread out. It’s a critical measure in avian species because it directly affects a bird’s ability to fly and maneuver. Among the largest flying birds, the Wandering Albatross holds the record for the longest wingspan, reaching up to 3.7 meters (12.1 feet).
Weight: Weight is another crucial aspect of bird size. The heavier a bird is, the more power it needs to take off and stay aloft. However, certain adaptations can allow large birds to fly efficiently despite their weight. The Kori Bustard and the Dalmatian Pelican are among the heaviest birds capable of flight.
Height: The height of a bird can be measured when it is standing with its neck fully extended. The tallest bird species include flightless birds like the Ostrich and the Emu. In terms of birds capable of flight, the Sarus Crane stands out as one of the tallest.
Length: The length of a bird is usually measured from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail. This measurement gives a comprehensive idea of a bird’s body size. Long-bodied birds include the Andean Condor and the Australian Pelican.
It’s important to remember that these parameters can vary significantly among birds of the same species due to factors such as age, sex, and individual health condition. Also, while these measures give us an idea about a bird’s size, they do not necessarily define their strength or survivability in the wild.
Top 10 Largest Flying Birds by Wingspan
10. Marabou Stork (Wingspan: 2.9 m / 9.5 ft)
- Weight: 9 kg / 20 lbs
- Range: Africa south of the Sahara
- Scientific Name: Leptoptilos crumenifer
The Marabou Stork, with its wide wingspan and tall, skeletal frame, is a sight that is both impressive and slightly eerie. Native to Africa, it stands out in its habitat with its bald, pinkish head, white underparts, and black wings and back.
This bird is an effective scavenger, known to stay patiently near vulture groups, waiting to swoop in and claim a share of their finds. Despite its gaunt appearance on land, the Marabou Stork is an accomplished flyer, soaring effortlessly on thermal currents, its broad wings allowing it to cover vast distances.
Fun Fact: The Marabou Stork’s throat pouch can hold about 13 liters (3.4 gallons) of water!
9. Cinereous Vulture (Wingspan: 3 m / 9.8 ft)
- Weight: up to 14 kg / 31 lbs
- Range: From Spain and North Africa to Korea
- Scientific Name: Aegypius monachus
The Cinereous Vulture, with its formidable wingspan, dominates the skies from Spain and North Africa all the way to Korea. As one of the largest and heaviest flying birds, it’s a master of soaring flight, gliding on thermals while scanning the ground for carrion. Its dark brown or black plumage and bald, greyish head give it a distinctive, monk-like appearance.
Fun Fact: The Cinereous Vulture is a solitary bird, unlike many other vulture species that are known to feed, fly, and roost in large flocks.
8. Northern Royal Albatross (Wingspan: 3.2 m / 10 ft)
- Weight: up to 8.5 kg / 18.7 lbs
- Range: New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands
- Scientific Name: Diomedea sanfordi
The Northern Royal Albatross is a majestic sight to behold in the skies around New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands. With a wingspan that competes with the largest in the world, these birds spend most of their life at sea, coming to land only for breeding. Their impressive wings allow them to glide for hours at sea without flapping.
Fun Fact: Northern Royal Albatrosses have been known to circumnavigate the globe in just 46 days, demonstrating their incredible flying capabilities.
7. Andean Condor (Wingspan: 3.2 m / 10.5 ft)
- Weight: 15 kg / 33 lbs
- Range: Andes Mountains
- Scientific Name: Vultur gryphus
Inhabiting the Andes Mountains and nearby Pacific coasts of western South America, the Andean Condor is recognized by its massive wings and black plumage with a collar of white feathers. This bird’s significant size allows it to reach remarkable altitudes, soaring up to 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) in the sky.
Fun Fact: Andean Condors are one of the world’s longest-living birds, with a lifespan reaching over 70 years!
6. Antipodean Albatross (Wingspan: 3.3 m / 10.8 ft)
- Weight: up to 8.5 kg / 18.7 lbs
- Range: South Pacific, particularly around New Zealand
- Scientific Name: Diomedea antipodensis
The Antipodean Albatross is another bird with an impressive wingspan, allowing it to glide for extended periods over the vast South Pacific Ocean. Primarily found in the regions around New Zealand, these birds spend most of their life at sea, returning to land only for breeding. Their significant size is more impressive given their grace and endurance in flight.
Fun Fact: The Antipodean Albatross is known for its strong pair bonds. Once a pair has formed, it is likely to last for life.
5. Tristan Albatross (Wingspan: 3.3 m / 11 ft)
- Weight: up to 10 kg / 22 lbs
- Range: Gough Island and the Tristan da Cunha islands
- Scientific Name: Diomedea dabbenena
The Tristan Albatross, one of the largest flying birds by wingspan, rules the skies over the South Atlantic. This bird is perfectly adapted for long-distance flight, utilizing wind currents over the ocean for efficient travel. Its powerful wings, which are long and slender, enable it to cover large distances without frequent flapping, thus conserving energy.
Fun Fact: Tristan Albatrosses spend most of their life at sea, often not touching land for several years at a time after their first flight until they reach breeding age.
4. Dalmatian Pelican (Wingspan: 3.5 m / 12 ft)
- Weight: 15 kg / 33 lbs,
- Range: Southeastern Europe to India and China
- Scientific Name: Pelecanus crispus
The Dalmatian Pelican is an awe-inspiring bird not just because of its size but also because of its striking appearance. With a silvery-white plumage that turns into a beautiful shade of grey-blue on the wings, it is a sight to behold. This bird’s size does not hinder its flying skills; it glides gracefully over the water surface and can soar high in the sky. Dalmatian Pelicans prefer living in shallow, warm freshwater and are known to form large colonies.
Fun Fact: Dalmatian Pelicans communicate using a variety of gestures, such as bowing and head-swaying, particularly during breeding season.
3. Southern Royal Albatross (Wingspan: 3.5 m / 12 ft)
- Weight: 8.5 kg / 18.7 lbs
- Range: Subantarctic Islands and Southern Ocean
- Scientific Name: Diomedea epomophora
The Southern Royal Albatross, with wings just slightly smaller than its wandering cousin, is a majestic sight over the Southern Ocean and Subantarctic Islands. Its large wings allow it to gracefully glide for hundreds of kilometers without rest. Their mainly white plumage, with black upper wings, makes them a distinct presence in their cold, wild habitat.
Fun Fact: These birds are known for their elaborate and synchronized courtship dances, which include bill clacking, calls, and even ‘sky-pointing.’
2. Great White Pelican (Wingspan: 3.6 m / 12 ft)
- Weight: 11 kg / 24 lbs
- Range: Africa, Southeastern Europe, Asia
- Scientific Name: Pelecanus onocrotalus
The Great White Pelican is a large water bird found in the swamps of Africa, southeastern Europe, and Asia. With its impressive wingspan and distinctively shaped beak, this pelican species is a spectacular sight when seen in flight or skimming over water bodies. Its plumage is predominantly white, with black flight feathers in stark contrast. The pinkish hue on the chest and the pouched beak make it even more noticeable.
Fun Fact: Great White Pelicans are social birds that love to engage in cooperative fishing, where they group together and coordinate to catch fish.
1. Wandering Albatross (Wingspan: 3.7 m / 12.1 ft)
- Weight: up to 12.7 kg / 28 lbs
- Range: Southern Oceans
- Scientific Name: Diomedea exulans
With the longest wingspan in the bird kingdom, the Wandering Albatross is truly a marvel of the avian world. These birds inhabit the Southern Oceans, leveraging their enormous wingspans for long-distance flight, primarily over open water.
They have developed energy-efficient flight patterns that allow them to cover large distances, even with their substantial weight. This, combined with a lifespan reaching over 50 years, makes the Wandering Albatross a fascinating subject of study for scientists and bird lovers alike.
Fun Fact: Wandering Albatrosses spend most of their life in flight, covering distances up to 120,000 km (75,000 miles) a year – that’s equivalent to flying around the Earth three times!
From the expansive wingspan of the Wandering Albatross to the towering height of the Sarus Crane, the biggest flying birds in the world command our admiration. These avian marvels highlight the astonishing diversity of the natural world, inviting us to learn more and delve deeper into their captivating lives.