Birds come in a breathtaking number of shapes, sizes and colors, but some really make an extra effort to stand out from the crowd. Whether it's growing specialized beaks or making record-setting flights, birds find ways to make us more amazed every day. That also includes birds that have evolved particularly striking tails. Whether extra long or just extra weird, these 15 birds have something to show off.
1. Long-tailed widowbird
The males of this African bird species put extra effort into looking good during breeding season. Between six and eight of their tail feathers grow to more than 20 inches — about three times the length of the bird's body — in order to show off the health and fitness of the male for prospective mates. Researchers have found that females prefer males with longer tails, so the longer the tail, the more successful the male will be in making a love connection.
2. Ribbon-tailed astrapia
Ribbon-tailed Astrapia shows off its long white plumes. (Photo: markaharper1 [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikipedia Commons)
If we're going for excessively long tail feathers, the ribbon-tailed astrapia gives the long-tailed widowbird a serious run for his money. This is a species of bird-of-paradise, many of which are famous for over-the-top plumage. The males grow two extraordinarily long tail feathers to impress females. The two feathers can grow to more than three feet in length. In fact, the ribbon-tailed astrapia has the longest tail feathers in relation to body size of any bird. Found in the western part of the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, the species is listed as near threatened in part because it is hunted for these very tail feathers.
3. Wilson's bird-of-paradise
Wilson's bird-of-paradise has unusual curled tail feathers. (Photo: Serhanoksay [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikipedia Commons)
A fancy tail doesn’t have to be exceptionally long — it can also be exceptionally well styled. Such is the case with the tail feathers of the Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. The unusual appearance of the bird, starting with its naked blue head, is made all the more interesting by the two violet tail feathers that curl in opposite directions. The bird was filmed in the wild for the first time as recently as 1996.
4. Greater bird-of-paradise
So many species of bird-of-paradise are all about the fancy feathers. Not to be outdone by anyone is the greater bird-of-paradise. The thick, yellow tail is not actually tail feathers, but rather flank plumes which are used in courtship displays.
5. Red-billed streamertail
The red-billed streamertail has two exceptionally long tail feathers that cross over each other. (Photo: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0]/Wikipedia Commons)
Even the smallest of bird species will do their best to show off with particularly fancy tails. The red-billed streamertail is also known as the scissor-tail hummingbird. The reason for the alternate name is obvious. Males sport tail feathers that are 6-7 inches long, while their bodies are only about 4.5 inches long. As the bird flies, the streamer-like tail feathers flow and make a humming sound. The species is the national bird of Jamaica.
6. Marvelous spatuletail hummingbird
If the streamer tail seems fancy, it has nothing on the marvelous spatuletail hummingbird. This species sets a high bar when it comes to attention-getting feather designs, and it does a lot with just a little. The males have just four tail feathers, two of which are elongated, cross over each other, and end in bright violet disks, or paddles. The feathers are used in energetic displays:
7. Greater racket-tailed drogo
This species has a beautiful crest of feathers on its head to balance out its racket-like tail feathers. (Photo: Sandeep Gangadharan [CC BY 2.0]/Wikipedia Commons)
The spatuletail isn’t the only species with these racket-like tail feathers. The greater racket-tailed drogo is a medium-sized bird from Asia, and can easily be identified by these distinctive tail feathers, which twist just a bit toward the end.
8. Long-tailed paradise whydah
The tail feathers of this species are three times its body length. (Photo: Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikipedia Commons)
This sparrow-like species is a real standout thanks to its long, straight tail feathers. The species is brood parasitic, meaning that the females lay their eggs in the nests of a different bird species, the parents of which raise these impostor chicks often to the detriment or death of their own chicks. The tail feathers of these males can grow to roughly three times their body length, but they only sport them during breeding season. Outside of breeding season, the males look practically identical to females.
9. Scissor-tailed flycatcher
This species is also known as the Texas bird-of-paradise. Both males and females have long tails, but those of females tend to be about 30 percent shorter. These birds like to perch out in the open, such as on barbed-wire fences, and they're easy to spot because of those dramatically long tails. The tail can come in handy as they make acrobatic aerial moves while catching insects on the wing.
10. Lady Amherst's pheasant
This species is native to southwest China and Burma, though you may have spotted it in zoos across the world, and also living feral in a tiny area of England where it was introduced. Even though they seem like show birds, they are actually difficult to spot in their native habitat, as they prefer to live in dense vegetation with thick undergrowth. The spectacular tail of the male has patterns and colors that draw attention, especially as he displays it for females:
11. Superb lyrebird
The superb lyrebird is aptly named, as its tail feathers are just simply superb. It takes males seven years to grow their tail to its full beauty. When doing a courtship display, the male of this Australian bird species flip his 16 tail feathers over his head to form a sort of canopy. But even when he isn't displaying, the tail of this bird species is a wonder of natural beauty.
12. Turquoise-browed motmot
The turquoise-browed motmot is a species native to Central America, and like the scissor-tailed flycatcher, it likes to perch out in the open. That means it is fairly east to spot it and admire its feathers of black and brilliant blue. Both males and females have these beautiful tails with two longer feathers that end in a racket-like shape similar to the spatuletail hummingbird and the greater racket-tailed drogo.
13. Golden Pheasant
If you think this species looks a bit similar to the Lady Amherst's pheasant, you are on target. The golden pheasant is closely related. The tail feathers in this species are black and cinnamon, with bright red accent feathers near the base. It is no wonder that these showy birds are popular in private aviaries, as it is wonderful to watch the rainbow-like birds strut around.
14. Resplendent quetzal
This beauty is found in the most southern parts of North America and in Central America. It is a key player in Mesoamerican mythology, and is the national bird of Guatemala. The males have long tail feathers that grow up to 26 inches long. Mesoamerican rulers wore headdresses made from quetzal feathers, which were plucked from live birds, and then the birds were set free again because it was considered a crime to kill them. They were, and still are, held in very high regard.
15. Indian peafowl
And now we celebrate what is perhaps the most spectacular tail feathers among birds anywhere. The Indian peafowl is famous around the world for its incredible display of iridescent tail feathers, which make up as much as 60 percent of its total body length. The peacock has not only the long feathers that boast an "eye" at the end, but also a set of 20 smaller tail feathers that help support the other feathers when he displays. Though the colorful display is a significant part of the attraction of peacocks, there is also a subspecies of white peafowl, which have all white feathers. These are not albino birds, but simply have a genetic mutation that makes them white, and they produce white offspring. Their displays make them look like something out of a fairy tale.