By David Bird
Let’s pause to consider some of the great record holders among our feathered friends
Did you know that Lucky Diamond Rich holds the Guinness world record for having the most tattoos, essentially covering 100 per cent of his body? That Suresh Joachim Arulanantham ironed clothes for 55 hours and five minutes in a shopping mall in Brampton, Ontario, to get in the Guinness lists? Well, what about records in the world of birds? Which species is the biggest or the fastest? Based on extensive research for my book, The Bird Almanac: A Guide to Essential Facts and Figures of the World’s Birds , here are some records that might one day help you win a trivia contest or simply amaze your friends.
Let’s talk size first. The heaviest and tallest bird is the ostrich, standing at 2.7 metres and weighing in at 156 kilograms, but the heaviest flying bird is the great bustard, which manages to lift off with a weight of 21 kilograms. While the tallest bird is obviously the ostrich, the tallest flying bird is the sarus crane, at 1.8 metres. The wandering albatross boasts the great wingspan, at 3.63 metres, but among land-loving birds, the Andean condor and marabou stork are tied at 3.2 m. The ostrich wins again with the longest legs, but relative to body length, the black-winged stilt with its 23-cm gams gets the nod at 60 per cent of its height.
The absolute shortest legs in the bird world belong to swifts, being virtually non-existent! And the smallest bird in the world? Why, the bee hummingbird at 5.7 centimetres and 1.6 grams. Hummingbirds also hold the record for the longest bill relative to body length — the sword-tailed hummingbird, at 10.5 cm. The shortest beak, of just a few millimetres, is found on the glossy swiftlet, while the overall longest beak goes to the Australian pelican, at 47 centimetres.
Someone actually took the time to count all 25,216 feathers on a whistling swan, the most of any bird. That probably wasn’t as difficult as counting the 940 feathers on a ruby-throated hummingbird, the least of any bird to date.
So which bird is the fastest? Well, the fastest-moving bird is a stooping peregrine falcon at 320 kilometres per hour. (We know this because a falconer actually jumped out of a light aircraft, with a parachute on, of course, with his trained peregrine and recorded its diving speed.) The fastest flapping flight is seen in the white-throated needle-tailed swift, at 170 km/h, but that includes diving. Someone clocked a red-breasted merganser motoring alongside their vehicle at level flight doing an impressive 161 km/h. And there is a record for the slowest flying bird — the American woodcock at 8 km/h. The fastest wingbeat surely has to be held by the amethyst woodstar and horned sungem hummingbirds, tied at 90 times a second. Contrast that to vultures beating their wings only once per second.
These are just a few of the amazing records held by our friends in the avian world. If nothing else, it is proof that we really shouldn’t take them for granted.