Freaks of Nature: Some of Nature’s Most Unusual Birds

Read about some of Nature's most unusual birds

With prehistoric links to the Jurassic period, the world of birds is rife with some of nature’s most bizarre species. From the flamboyant feathers of tropical birds to the parasitic tendencies of the common cuckoo, birds display a vast array of peculiar traits. This article examines a number of particularly outlandish birds.

Table of contents

The Crested Auklet

To begin with, the Crested Auklet, an arctic bird resembling a small penguin, takes the cake for freaky behavior coupled with a peculiar appearance. With a florescent bill, glowing eyes, and a seasonal fringe, the crested auklet is immediately recognizable by its distinct appearance and pungent citrus smell. However, the visual and olfactory traits of this bird are merely the beginning of the creature’s oddity. 

Crested auklets are known for their bizarre mating rituals that involve the voyeuristic participation of the surrounding flock. When two birds court, their fellow auklets form a scrum surrounding the pair where they enthusiastically squawk and jostle the couple, egging them on. The unique appearance of the bird, paired with its citrusy smell and provocative mating behavior, make it one of nature’s more freaky birds. 

 

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New-York Historical Society - Oppenheimer Editions Fine Art Print | circa 2006 | 16.25 x 29.125 inches

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A typical Crested Auklet ‘scrum' involving a central courting pair and surrounding excited participants and onlookers.

A typical Crested Auklet ‘scrum’ involving a central courting pair and surrounding excited participants and onlookers.

Photo: Ian L. Jones

The Common Cuckoo

The fledgling cuckoo ejects its adopted siblings from the nest

Pl. 183, Cuckoo (young ejecting infant Titlark)


Gould Birds of Great Britain

The Common Cuckoo is a species known for its unconventional parenting strategies and parasitic tendencies. Not to be tied down to domestic life, a female cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, deferring all parenting to the unsuspecting host. Once the egg has hatched, the fledgling cuckoo often ejects its adopted siblings from the nest to eliminate competition for resources. Thus, it received all the food and attention from the unwitting host whose own fledglings had been expelled from the nest. 

A European Robin feeding a Common Cuckoo chick.

A comparatively tiny adult European Robin feeding a Common Cuckoo chick.

Ivan Phillipsen, “What Is Brood Parasitism in Birds?”, Science of Birds

The Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird

Photo: Michel Bourque

With a predatory beak, decorative crown, and long legs, the Secretary Bird appears to be a cobbled-together mishmash of different species. Additionally, its partially feathered legs resemble cutoff trousers meanwhile its decorative crest and long lashes make it apparent how this anthropomorphic bird got its name. You might not look twice if you saw this bird walking past your cubicle. 

Fuertes Pl. 12, Secretary Bird

Pl. 12, Secretary Bird

Louis Agassiz Fuertes

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The Great Grey Shrike

The Great Grey Shrike is a cunning bird known for its tactful baiting strategies and merciless execution techniques. With a dark mask like an assassin, the shrike will sometimes mimic the song of other birds in order to lure prey into a secluded location. Once the prey is sequestered within reach, the shrike will strike, capturing the prey, and impale it on a thorny branch. The shrike’s Machiavellian techniques and gruesome execution techniques make it one of nature’s more freaky birds. 

The Great Grey Shrike is known for

Photo: Country Life

Gould Birds of Great Britain, Pl. 50, Great Grey Shrike

Pl. 50, Great Grey Shrike


Gould Birds of Great Britain

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