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12 surprising flightless birds

By: Jaymi Heimbuch on June 2, 2017, 11:34 a.m.
This cormorant can't fly but is an excellent swimmer.

Photo: putneymark/Wikipedia

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Flightless cormorant

The Galapagos Islands are home to many species that evolved with peculiar traits, including a wide array of unique bird species such as the world's only cormorant that cannot fly. The stubby little wings of this species are a testament to how long ago it gave up the pleasure of flight. In fact, the wings are about one-third the size they would need to be for flight to even be possible. Instead of soaring over the waves, the flightless cormorant uses its powerful legs to to swim for fish and other marine prey within about 300 feet of the shore.

Recent research attempts to explain how the cormorant lost its ability to fly. Leonid Kruglyak from the University of California, Los Angeles, found this flightless bird had a long list of mutated genes, including the genes that can distort limb growth. Researchers believe it's this particular combination of mutated genes that created shorter wings and smaller breastbones, thus the bird could no longer fly.

The flightless cormorant is one of the rarest birds in the world. Because it is found only on two islands in the Galapagos, and it is vulnerable to storms, introduced predators and other impacts, the species is listed as vulnerable. Conservation efforts are important to its continued survival.