Life is a lottery, and some folks are born with more substantial… attributes than others. If you’re feeling insecure about certain aspects of your personal topography, you’re certainly not alone. Humans are hardly the only organisms that look for more in prospective mates than just loyalty, kindness, and a great sense of humor. Birds in particular can become extremely preoccupied with superficialities. And it’s no wonder, considering how millions of years of evolution have bred species with the capacity to command a room well before they enter it, if you know what I mean!
You may have heard it said that it’s not the size of your scope, but how you aim it. That’s beside the point. Some birds are just bigger than others. Instead of shying away from the blatant truth, let’s celebrate the birds blessed with the biggest beaks (you didn’t think this was about bird penises, did you? We’d never write about that…)
Certain types of birds spring to mind when thinking of big bills. Grosbeaks may be named for the might of their mandibles, but no finch or sparrow can compare to the glory of a hornbill. Hornbills flaunt their enormous apparatuses, often daubed in garish colors and topped by initimidating casques, across Africa and Asia. In fact, these bills are so cumbersome that they have evolved fused neck vertebrae and powerful neck muscles just to support them. Other birds do well to turn away from such ornamental awesomeness.
Southern Ground Hornbill by Adam Riley
African Grey Hornbill by Redgannet
Toucans also typify the brazen attraction of big, bright beaks. After all, Guinness didn’t tap the toucan to shill beer because of its sophisticated palate. Toucans across the Americas lead with their best assets. The Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco) in particular has cultivated a certain mystique. Not only is Toco the largest member of the toucan family, but it is erroneously reputed to have the biggest beak relative to its body of all the world’s birds. That may not be true, but this toucan’s sexy snout can comprise up to a third of its total body length. Such an elaborate indicator serves to keep a toucan cool while making the ladies hot. Yow!
Toco Toucan by Adam Riley
Poweful proboscises abound throughout the avian kingdom…
Biggest bird of prey bill: Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus)
Biggest parrot bill: Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus)
Biggest shorebird bill: Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)
(First time I saw one of these monsters, I punched the person next to me!)
Long-billed Curlew by Larry Jordan
But once we whip them all out and start measuring, only one bird can reign supreme as the bird with the world’s longest bill. That honor belongs to the imaginatively-named Australian Pelican (Pelicanus conspicillatus), which is quite conspicillatus indeed with a beak from 13-18.5 inches long. Pelicans, with their infamously indiscriminate appetites, have been described as the Sarlacc of the bird world, so try not to imagine what this Aussie icon does with so formidbile a maw. Just to be safe, keep your distance!
Australian Pelican by Clare Morton
Being the longest may not make the Australian Pelican the most well-endowed avian, at least not in a relative sense. Imagine how awkward it must be to wield a weapon bigger than you are. Such is the fate of the Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). This Andean stunner’s swordbill is actually longer than its body! One wonders what Freud would have said about that…
A fish may love a bird, but where would they live?
Bird Love Week is seven days of exploration of avian amore here on 10,000 Birds from April 22-28. We love birds, and the topic of birds loving other birds and in the process making more birds is a fascinating one we know you will enjoy. Mike, Corey, and a bevy of Beat Writers have been working on this one for awhile as the perfect expression of our love of all things avian. To see all of our Bird Love Week posts, just click here. But be warned – Bird Love Week is neither for the faint of heart nor for the permanently prudish – you may end up with images that you never imagined seared onto your brain.