5. Inaccessible Island Rail
There are about 20 rail species today that are flightless, most of which have evolved this trait from living on islands lacking predators. The Inaccessible Island rail is the smallest flightless bird alive today and as its name suggests, can only be found on Inaccessible Island, if you can get there and hopefully you can’t. Luckily for this little critter this island has been so inaccessible, that people haven’t been able to drop off their nasty introduced predators to wreck havoc like so many other colonized islands. Let’s keep it that way.
The biggest and baddest of the feathered realm, the Ostrich gobbles an abundance of flora and insects to maintain its hefty frame. The thing runs the fastest of all the flightless birds, and even lays the largest shelled omelet in the feathered kingdom. These African nomads roam together in small groups (usually one male looking over 5-7 females). Apparently lions let out the secret that ostriches are delicious, because they have been increasingly farmed commercially. Ostrich parts are found in dust feathers, meat, and leather. Like birds of many times smaller than its size, ostriches will feign injury if their young is in danger. Otherwise they will use their humungous legs to kick the crap out of the aggressor. The ostrich is a valuable resource for traditional African natives; the bird’s eggs are even used to store water. Ostriches outrun humans by miles and will avoid us at any cost. However, if you think the cassowary can do significant bodily harm, you haven’t seen anything yet.
3. Emperor Penguins
Penguins are on this list, not because of their size or conservation status. They are here simply because they are just plain cool. These flightless critters have an amazing story to tell. They swim in the ocean and migrate hundreds of miles on land throughout the year between nesting and foraging areas. They are faithful to their one mate each year and after laying an egg, the mother transfers it to the father which balances on their feet. I mean, come on, check out the emperor penguin’s fancy tux. Who doesn’t love these guys?
New Zealand’s kakapo is the world’s only flightless parrot. These parrots are nocturnal, ground-dwelling herbivores and the largest of all parrots. They are also culturally significant to the indigenous Maori of New Zealand and are included in their folklore. There are less than 150 kakapos left and only found on three offshore, predator-free islands in New Zealand. Kakapo conservation efforts are on-going and researchers must monitor the remaining populations closely. They are exceptionally sensitive to not only introduced predators, but certain food sources need to be provided to encourage their breeding.
Kiwis are the national symbol of New Zealand. Kiwis are so much entwined with New Zealand identity that the name is synonymous to New Zealanders themselves. There are five species in total all endemic to New Zealand and most are threatened since the introduction of mammalian predators. Adult kiwis have powerful legs that can combat anything that threatens them. Hence, the problem lies with young kiwis which are unfortunately defenseless to predators. Current conservation efforts involve breeding kiwis in captivity, raising the young chicks until they are old enough to defend themselves, and then finally releasing them into the wild. Although kiwis are the smallest ratites, they rival the ostrich’s egg in the fact that the kiwi lays the largest egg in relation to its body size then any other bird in the world.