Humans outnumbered: 11 amazing birds
Only think of birds when they poop or migrate overhead? Well, think again. Numbering between 50 and 400 billion in the world, there are way more of them than there are of us.
Garbage recycler: The northern gannet (Morus bassanus)
It must be good to know your population is growing — gannets are close to two million. Perhaps that explains this one's confidence in using plastic as nesting material. They grow to about 90 centimeters (35 inches) with a 2-meter wingspan, dive at speeds of 96 kph (60 mph) and soften the impact with natural airbags. But they're also the species most often killed as bycatch in fisheries. Go figure.
No fan of lead: Steller's sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus)
Described as "huge and unmistakable" by Birdlife International, the Steller's Sea Eagle is about 90 centimeters (35 inches) tall. Its wingspan is up to 2.4 meters (8 feet). Native to Russia, it's also found in Japan and the Koreas. Its global population is in decline as humans are closing in on its breeding grounds. Some eagles have suffered lead poisoning in Japan. But they love a bit of salmon.
Cute? The common puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Puffins may be colorful and cute at just 25 cm, but they are fierce eaters. It's been said they can stuff 83 small sandeels in their bills. And mind you don't try to feed one: Their bills are serrated. Known as a pursuit-diver, they catch their feed within 30 meters of the water surface but can dive twice as deep. Their population is projected to decline by at least 50% (from 11+ million) by 2065.
Fly in water: Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae)
These peeps are cute. Adelie penguins were discovered by scientists on a French Antarctic expedition in 1870. They live exclusively there, same as the emperor penguin. As pursuit-divers, they chase their prey — from krill to jellyfish — at depths of up to 180 meters, but can't be fussy: They only taste salt and sour. Penguins migrate like other birds, but on foot. They don't fly, except in water.
Sick table manners: Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)
The griffon is one of 23 vulture species. It's one of the lucky ones. More than half the other species are dying out. There are two types — old world vultures, like the griffon, and new world vultures which are bald and hiss or grunt (they lack voice boxes). The "oldies" have head hair and strong feet. All types share terrible feeding habits, often pecking first at the decaying butts of the dead.
Everywhere: Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
These birds are truly global. They get around. In Europe and North America, you'll find the barn swallow in open country, such as farmland. In Asia and northern Africa meanwhile, you'll spot them breeding in towns and cities. They are also found in the Middle East. Barn swallows winter in the southern hemisphere, and have been known to migrate at speeds of up to 340 kilometers (211 miles) per day.
Just pick 'em off: Eleonora's falcon (Falco eleonorae)
The Eleonora's falcon is one clever bird. This one is perched on a cliff in Sardinia. And it's there for a reason: The falcon breeds on cliffs and small islands in the Mediterranean during late summer because they know that's when there will be plenty of food. As smaller birds mass-migrate to Africa, the falcons casually pick off their prey. In winter, they live off insects or go to Madagascar.
Watch my wings: Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Striking not just for its crest, but also for the way it flies. The Lapwing's flight has been described as floppy, flapping and wavering. It is what it is: Lapwing is said to be an Old English term for a kind of flicker — in winter, Lapwing flocks appear to flicker between black and white as the birds flap their wings. Male Lapwings, meanwhile, do amazing aerial displays!
Humming while you work: Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds on the planet. And they are busy little things. They beat their wings about 70 times per second, creating a humming sound that gives them their name. There are many hummingbird species, each with its own Latin name, so we're sticking with a common generic name here. The Hummingbird Hawk Moth looks quite like the bird, hums like it and feeds on nectar, too.
Fork Off: Red kite (Milvus milvus)
Red kites are a protected bird of prey species, distinctive for their angled wings, forked tails, reddish-brown bodies and a "mewing" call. At their best they soar to 1,600 meters in the sky. But for a bird of prey, they do surprisingly little hunting. Red kites prefer to scavenge on scraps or worms. But they will never say no to an easy kill, such as a rabbit.
Best served cold: Magpies (Pica pica, Gymnorhina tibicen et al)
Magpies command a lot of respect — you're meant to salute when you see them in pairs. But they don't show a lot of respect in return. They will attack anything, even this Wedge-tailed eagle in Australia, or innocent cyclists on their way to work. It starts to make sense when you know they are part of the crow family. They are known for their chattering nature… But they're no friend of this writer.