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17 Birds That Can’t Fly

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penguin in the snow

Historically, most flightless birds have gone extinct since they are without the same advantages as most birds. Still, there are many birds that can’t fly, even today. In fact, there are around 60 bird species alive today that cannot fly. That does not even include all the flightless birds that have gone extinct.

In this article, we are going to look at a list of birds that can’t fly. Even though this leaves out a number of flightless birds, they are the most commonly flightless birds that are still alive today.

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The 17 Birds That Can’t Fly

Birds can be separated into groups. The most common groups of birds that can’t fly are Ratites, Anseriformes, Mesitornithiformes, Gruiformes, Podicipediformes, Sphenisciformes, Psittaciformes, and Passeriformes. Below are examples of birds that belong to each group and can’t fly.

Ratites

Ratites are large, flightless birds for the most part, but there are a few Ratites that are surprisingly small. Regardless of size, no Ratites can fly.

1. Ostriches

Ostrich

Image Credit: DukeAsh, Pixabay

An ostrich is a large flightless bird found in Africa. These birds lay eggs and are incredibly fast. Many people mistake the Ostrich for the Emu, which is similar but slightly different. Ostriches are also similar looking to Rheas, which we will look at shortly.


2. Emus

emu bird

Image Credit: Pixabay

The Emu is a relative of the Ostrich. It looks like the Ostrich, but it is slightly smaller and found in Australia instead of Africa. They can also be found in the islands surrounding Australia.


3. Cassowaries

cassowary close up

Image Credit: Pixabay

There are three species of Cassowaries. These birds can be found in New Guinea, Indonesia, and Northern Australia. Behind the Ostrich and Emu, the Cassowary is the third largest bird in the world.


4. Kiwis

kiwi bird in the sand

Image Credit: Pixabay

Unlike the other birds in the Ratite group, Kiwis are little birds, about the size of a chicken. These birds belong to the Ratite group despite their small frame because they are flightless and have a unique body shape only belonging to Ratites.


5. Rheas

rhea in the zoo

Image Credit: Pixabay

Rheas are similar in appearance to Ostriches and Emus. The main visual difference that sets Rheas apart is that they have grey-brown plumage. These birds are most similar looking to Ostriches, but they are native to South America.

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Anseriformes

Anseriformes are a type of waterfowl. Some of the most common Anseriformes include ducks and geese, but these birds obviously fly. Even though the vast majority of waterfowl fly, there are some species that do not. Here are some Anseriformes that cannot fly:

6. Auckland Island Teal

Female Auckland Teal

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The Auckland Island Teal is a type of duck. As its name suggests, this bird was native to the Auckland islands, but lack of territory has made it difficult for these ducks to find area to live. Unlike other ducks you are likely familiar with, this Teal doesn’t fly.


7. Campbell Teal

Male Campbell Teal

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Another duck that can’t fly is the Campbell Teal. The Campbell Teal looks similar to the Auckland Island Teal, and with good reason. Both birds belong to the Dabbling Duck species.


8. Steamer Ducks

Falkland Steamer Ducks

Image Credit: JeremyRichards, Shutterstock

The third type of duck that can’t fly is the Steamer Duck. Unlike the Teals, the Steamer Duck does not belong to the Dabbling Duck species. Instead, the Steamer Duck is a genus of duck with four different species. So, there are four species of Steamer Ducks that can’t fly.

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Mesitornithiformes

Mesitornithiformes refer to Mesites, which is a family of birds. These birds are small and possibly flightless. That being said, it has not been confirmed that these birds don’t fly. Most scientists speculate that they don’t since there have not been reported sightings of their flight. 

9. Brown Mesite

The Brown Mesite is one bird in this family. The bird is believed to be flightless because it has never been seen flying. You can find Brown Mesites in Madagascar. There are only two other species that belong to the Mesite family.

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Gruiformes

Gruiformes are a unique order of birds. This order is very large and contains many living and extinct birds. Many of the Gruiformes have unique appearances that make them look stunning or terrifying, depending on the bird. Birds like Cranes, Rails, and Coots belong to this order.

10. Rails

Rails or Rallidae are small ground birds. Although some Rails can fly, a considerable number of the Rails cannot fly. For example, the Woodford’s Rail, Calayan Rail, and Pink-Legged Rail are all flightless. There are many extinct Rails that were flightless back in their day too.


11. Woodhens

Lord Howe Woodhen

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There are various types of Woodhens, many of which are flightless. For example, the Samoan Woodhen, Makira Woodhen, and Lord Howe Woodhen are all examples of Woodhens that cannot fly. Interestingly, Woodhens are a type of Rail, further showing how many Rails can’t fly.


12. Weka

two Wild Weka

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The Weka is one specific type of Woodhen that can’t fly. There are four subspecies of Weka, and none of them can fly.

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Podicipediformes

Podicipediformes is the order that Grebes belong to. Many Grebes are flightless, but they make great swimmers. Most Grebes can be found in freshwater, but they are not considered waterfowl. You can sometimes catch these birds around salty water during migration too. There are 22 species of Grebes, and two can’t fly:

13. Junín Grebe

junin grebe in the lake

Image Credit: Agami Photo Agency, Shutterstock

The Junín Grebe is a stunning bird with bright red eyes. The bird is only found in the high Andes of Peru, and they are considered critically endangered.


14. Titicaca Grebe

Titicaca Grebe in the lake

Image Credit: Darren Graham, Shutterstock

The Titicaca Grebe is much more known than the Junín Grebe, although it is still endangered. Like the Junín Grebe, this Grebe is native to Peru and Bolivia.

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Sphenisciformes

15. Penguins

a penguin

Image Credit: Pixabay

Sphenisciformes is the family that all penguins belong to. If you know anything about penguins, you know that they are flightless. Although penguins can launch themselves into the air, they cannot fly because of how disproportionately large their bodies are to their wings. Here are some examples of penguins:

  • African Penguin
  • Chinstrap Penguin
  • Emperor Penguin
  • King Penguin
  • Little Blue Penguin
  • Macaroni Penguin

Psittaciformes

Psittaciformes is an order that bright and noisy birds belong to. Parrots, for example, belong to and basically make up the entire Psittaciformes family. Most of these birds can fly, but there is one species that can’t, the Kakapo.

16. Kakapo

Kakapo Parrot during winter

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The Kakapo, sometimes called an Owl Parrot, is large and flightless. Unfortunately, these birds are critically endangered, but not out of their lack of trying. Male Kakapos are known to attempt mating with many types of items and animals that are not female Kakapos.


Passeriformes

Passeriformes is the largest order of birds, complete with over 140 families and 6,000 species. Most birds outside your window likely belong to this order. The vast majority of the birds that belong to this order can fly, but the Scytalopus cannot.

17. Scytalopus

Scytalopus bird

Image Credit: Agami Photo Agency, Shutterstock

The Scytalopus is a teeny-tiny bird from Central and South America. Although it has not been scientifically confirmed that these birds are flightless, most individuals have never been spotted while flying.  


Why Can’t These Birds Fly?

There are a couple of reasons that the birds above are flightless. Some birds, like the Ratites, cannot fly because they lack keel in their breastbones. In birds that fly, this keel creates a strong foundation or anchor for the muscles needed to fly. Without this part, birds can’t fly.

Other birds, such as penguins, technically have the keel, but they still can’t fly. The reason for this is that the penguin’s body has evolved for the water, not the air, causing its body to be disproportionately long and large for the wings. The penguins still use their keel, but they use it to projectile them underwater.

You might also be interested: Do Birds Have a Sense of Smell? What You Need to Know!

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Final Thoughts

Most birds survive the test of time precisely because of their flying abilities. Shockingly, quite a few species of birds have survived without having the ability to fly. Even what few flightless birds we have are often engendered and threatened.

You might also be interested in: What Do Baby Birds Eat (In the Wild and In Captivity)


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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