Photo via Steve aka Crispin Swan @ flickr
If you live in the kind of place where pigeons and robins are pretty much de riguer for bird sightings, then you're missing out on a whole world of birds that look--well, to be honest, atypical in comparison. Short bodies, huge wings, giant beaks, and rainbows of feathers make these weird and wacky birds must-sees--but since they're all classified as vulnerable or endangered, you'd better catch these feathered friends while you can.
1. Rhinoceros Hornbill
It's hard to miss the rhinoceros hornbill, even in the wild: Though this three-foot tall bird weighs only about 6 pounds, the brightly colored bill makes it stand out in any environment. Native to Southeast Asia--Sumatra, Borneo, Java--the animal is born with a white beak and casque that picks up the red and yellow color from rubbing its beak against a gland; the red-orange secretions dye the beak over the course of the bird's life. The hornbill faces population threats from habitat loss and poachers who try to get its feathers, while they're also a key part of Malaysian rituals. Another feature that sets this bird apart? According to the Phoenix Zoo, "They have long, thick, curly eyelashes and are one of the few birds with eyelashes."
The bateleur, which gets its name from the French word for tightrope walker, is found most often in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe--but don't count on seeing one: Population estimates for these endangered birds place the current number at 75 percent fewer than in the early 1900s, and 50 percent less in the last 30 years. Raptors Namibia places most of the blame on poisons, which the bateleur picks up from carcasses on farms placed next to protected nesting areas, but a decrease in the availability of carrion prey hasn't helped. The birds are usually only about 2 feet long but have a wing span of up to 6 feet, and will fly more than 200 miles on one hunting expedition.
While the shoebill is technically a type of stork, it's not hard to see why the cartoon kinds that always show up delivering babies don't look much like this hook-billed cousin. Measuring up at nearly 5 feet tall, and native to the East African White Nile marshes, the shoebill has a wingspan of as much as 10 feet--and a reputation for violent nocturnal feedings of fish, turtles, baby birds, and small crocodiles; however, with as few as 5,000 left in the world, the IUCN Red List deemed it Vulnerable. And as these amateur photos from the San Diego Wild Animal Park show, the shoebill isn't always in predator mode--here, it gently moves a duck out of its way with only a few feathers lost.
4. Wattled Curassow
The wattled curassow depends heavily on rivers (and the humid lowlands and forests that house them) for the fish, insects, and other small waterlife that it feeds on--and since they're native to South America, the deforestation, hunting, development, and logging that have been built up along the Amazon have also caused a drastic drop in the population of these birds.
Photo via Takomabibelot @ flickr
In 1998, the birds were found in Bolivia, where they'd previously been considered extinct, and conservation groups are still working on preserving and protecting these birds.