15 Birds With Spectacularly Fancy Tail Feathers

These bird species take shaking your tail feathers to a whole new level.

vibrant green and red male resplendent quetzal bird in flight
Resplendent quetzal in flight.

mallardg500 / Getty Images 

Birds come in a breathtaking number of shapes, sizes and colors, but some really make an extra effort to stand out from the crowd. Whether it's growing specialized beaks or making record-setting flights, birds find ways to make us more amazed every day. That also includes birds that have evolved particularly impressive tails.

While it seems like having a trail of a tail might weigh heavy on a bird's activities, like getting away from predators, research by biologists from the University of California, Berkeley, found that, in hummingbirds at least, the toll on speed and energy was minimal.

"We estimate that having a long tail increases a bird's daily metabolic costs by 1 to 3 percent, which means the bird has to visit 1 to 3 percent more flowers in its territory," said Christopher J. Clark, a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology. "Is that a lot? It's hard to say, but we argue that it's not, especially when compared to the costs of things like molting and migration."

And in fact, the researchers concluded, as a means to attracting females, long tail feathers may be one of the easiest to evolve with the least amount of consequences.

With that in mind, let's take a look at 15 birds that have a tail worth crowing about.

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Long-Tailed Widowbird

Long-tailed Widowbird with long black feathers in flight
It's a wonder the long-tailed widowbird can take flight with such a tail behind it.

MartinMaritz / Shutterstock

The males of this African bird species put extra effort into looking good during breeding season. Between six and eight of their tail feathers grow to more than 20 inches — about three times the length of the bird's body — in order to show off the health and fitness of the male for prospective mates. Researchers have found that females prefer males with longer tails, so the longer the tail, the more successful the male will be in making a love connection.

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Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia

A ribbon-tailed astrapia bird sits on tree branch high above
The ribbon-tailed astrapia is known for its over-the-top plumage.

Francesco Veronesi / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0 

If we're going for excessively long tail feathers, the ribbon-tailed astrapia gives the long-tailed widowbird a serious run for his money. This is a species of bird-of-paradise, many of which are famous for over-the-top plumage. The males grow two extraordinarily long tail feathers to impress females. The two feathers can grow to more than three feet in length. In fact, the ribbon-tailed astrapia has the longest tail feathers in relation to body size of any bird. Found in the western part of the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, the species is listed as near threatened with a decreasing population in part because it is hunted for these very tail feathers.

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Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise

Wilson's colorful bird-of-paradise with spectacular curlicue tail feathers perches on tree limb
Wilson's bird-of-paradise has unusual curled tail feathers.

Serhan Oksay / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A fancy tail doesn’t have to be exceptionally long — it can also be exceptionally well styled. Such is the case with the tail feathers of the Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. The unusual appearance of the bird, starting with its naked blue head, is made all the more interesting by the two violet tail feathers that curl in opposite directions. Found only on the islands of Indonesia, this member of the bird-of-paradise family is listed as near threatened. This spectacular bird was filmed in the wild for the first time in 1996.

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Greater Bird-of-Paradise

greater bird-of-paradise with long feathers sits on tree branch in lush island setting
The greater bird-of-paradise is known for its dramatic displays.

Westend61 / Getty Images 

So many species of bird-of-paradise are all about the fancy feathers. Not to be outdone by anyone is the greater bird-of-paradise. The thick, yellow tail is not actually tail feathers, but rather flank plumes that are used in the bird's courtship ritual. When the male finds a suitable mate, he displays his wings dramatically. Found in southwest New Guinea and the Aru Islands of Indonesia, the greater bird-of-paradise feeds on a diet of fruit and insects.

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Red-Billed Streamertail

close view of red-billed streamertail bird perched on tiny branch in forest
The red-billed streamertail's two long tail feathers cross over each other.

Charles J Sharp / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0

Even the smallest of bird species will do their best to show off with particularly fancy tails. The red-billed streamertail is also known as the scissor-tail hummingbird. Males sport tail feathers that are 6 to 7 inches long, while their bodies are only about 4.5 inches long. As the bird flies, the streamer-like tail feathers flow and make a humming sound. The species is the national bird of Jamaica.

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Marvelous Spatuletail

marvelous spatuletail hummingbird perches on tree branch
With only four tail feathers, the marvelous spatuletail makes a statement.

Bob Balestri / Getty Images 

If the streamer tail seems fancy, it has nothing on the marvelous spatuletail hummingbird. This species sets a high bar when it comes to attention-getting feather designs, and it does a lot with just a little. The males have just four tail feathers, two of which are elongated, cross over each other, and end in bright violet disks, or paddles. The feathers are used in energetic displays. This special bird is listed as endangered and is found only in the Andes of northern Peru.

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Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo

Greater racket-tailed drongo with deep blue feathers perches on tree branch in forest setting
The beautiful crest of feathers on its head balances its racket-like tail feathers.

Sandeep Gangadharan / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0

The spatuletail isn’t the only species with these racket-like tail feathers. The greater racket-tailed drongo is a medium-sized bird from Southeast Asia. The bird has a glossy black body with a hint of blue and green. The greater racket-tailed drongo has a tuft at the top of its head and can easily be identified by its distinctive tail feathers, which twist just a bit toward the end.

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Long-Tailed Paradise Whydah

long-tailed paradise whydah bird in forest setting
The tail feathers of this species are three times its body length.

Bernard Dupont / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Also known as the eastern paradise whydah, this sparrow-like species is a real standout thanks to its long, straight tail feathers. The species is brood parasitic to the melba finch, meaning that the females lay their eggs in the nests of the finch, the parents of which raise these impostor chicks often to the detriment of their own chicks. The tail feathers of the males can grow to roughly three times their body length, but they only sport them during breeding season. Outside of breeding season, the males look practically identical to females.

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Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

scissor-tailed flycatcher bird perches on plant against slate blue sky
The scissor-tailed flycatcher is easy to see, courtesy of his tail.

Cindi Bateman / Shutterstock

This species is also known as the Texas bird-of-paradise. Both males and females have long tails, but those of females tend to be about 30% shorter than the males. These birds like to perch out in the open, such as on barbed-wire fences, and they're easy to spot because of those dramatically long black tails with white edges. The tail can come in handy as they make acrobatic aerial moves while catching insects on the wing.

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Lady Amherst's Pheasant

Lady Amherst pheasant with brilliant colors perches on tree branch against wooden fence
This bird is spectacularly dressed, but the colorful tail really completes the outfit.

Katoosha / Shutterstock

This species is native to southern China and Myanmar, though you may have spotted it in zoos across the world, as well as feral in a tiny area of England where it was introduced. Even though they seem like show birds, they are actually difficult to spot in their native habitat, as they prefer to live in dense vegetation with thick undergrowth. The body colors of adult males are a magnificent pattern of green, blue, red, and white. It's the spectacular black and white tail of the male that draws attention though, especially as he displays it for females.

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Superb Lyrebird

superb lyrebird shows plume of feathers while on forest ground
The tail feathers of the superb lyrebird are delicate and finely textured.

tracielouise / Getty Images

The superb lyrebird is aptly named, as its tail feathers are just simply superb. However, male superb lyrebirds do not grow this special plumage until they are 3 to 4 years old. When doing a courtship display, the male of this Australian bird species flip his 16 tail feathers over his head to form a sort of canopy. But even when he isn't displaying, the tail of this bird, which is comprised of different types of feathers, is a wonder of natural beauty.

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Turquoise-Browed Motmot

The turquoise-browed motmot bird perches on branch high up in a tree
The turquoise-browed motmot's tail ends in two paddle-like feathers.

My Lit'l Eye / Shutterstock

The turquoise-browed motmot is a species native to Central America, and like the scissor-tailed flycatcher, it likes to perch out in the open. That means it is fairly easy to spot and admire its feathers of black and brilliant turquoise blue. Both males and females have beautiful tails with two longer feathers that end in a racket-like shape similar to the spatuletail hummingbird and the greater racket-tailed drongo.

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Golden Pheasant

The golden pheasant birds struts in grass in outdoor park
The golden pheasant is a pleasure to watch as it roams on the ground.

SergeBertasiusPhotography / Shutterstock

If you think this species looks a bit similar to the Lady Amherst's pheasant, you are on target. The two pheasants are closely related. The body feathers of the golden pheasant are primarily vivid red and gold with a bit of blue, black, and orange. The tail feathers in this species are black and cinnamon, with bright red accent feathers near the base. Native to China, the golden pheasant has also been introduced locally in the United Kingdom. It is no wonder that these showy birds are popular in private aviaries, as it is wonderful to watch the rainbow-like birds strut around.

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Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent quetzal with bright turquoise and red plumage perches in tree
Resplendent quetzal have long, brilliantly green plumes.

Michael Fischer / Getty Images 

This beauty is found in southern Mexico and Central America. It is a key player in Mesoamerican mythology and is the national bird of Guatemala. The males have long green and blue tail feathers that grow up to 3 feet in length. Mesoamerican rulers wore headdresses made from quetzal feathers, which were plucked from live birds, and then the birds were set free again because it was considered a crime to kill them. They were, and still are, held in very high regard. The resplendent quetzal is listed as near threatened with a decreasing population due to hunting, deforestation, and genetic diseases.

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Indian Peafowl

Male Indian peafowl in full display of brilliant feathers
A male peafowl, known as a peacock, displays its amazing tail feathers.

James Warwick / Getty Images 

And now we celebrate what is perhaps the most spectacular tail feathers among birds anywhere. The Indian peafowl is famous around the world for its incredible display of iridescent tail feathers, which make up as much as 60% of the male's total body length. The peacock has not only the long feathers that boast an "eye" at the end, but also a set of 20 smaller tail feathers that help support the other feathers when he displays. Native to South Asia, these spectacular birds have also been introduced to the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the Bahamas. Though the colorful display is a significant part of the attraction of peacocks, there is also a subspecies of white peafowl, which have all white feathers.

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