Over 100 countries have a national bird and many of these countries’ sole national animals are avian. Birds are behind mammals as the second most popular national animal of choice. Here are the seven best national birds.Here are the three critieria I kept in mind when selecting these seven national birds; 1)good symbol of their country 2)uniqueness, and 3) have important cultural significance.

New Zealand: Kiwi

Kiwi birds are so iconic that New Zealanders are affectionately referred to as Kiwis. The birds of New Zealand are some of my most favorite animals in the world. But the Kiwi is the most famous but also strangest in appearance. There are 5 species of Kiwi but as they are very similar, we will look at the all the different species as a whole.The Kiwi is a ratite, the same as Ostriches, Emus, and Rheas but it is an outlier as it lacks the long legs and large size of the rest of the birds in the family. They are small stout flightless birds with fur-like feathers. They lay the largest eggs in proportion to body size, up to 20 % of their weight. Their eggs are about the same size as an Emu’s, a bird that is much much much larger.

North Island Brown Kiwi

Kiwis are incredibly important in Maori culture. Chiefs wore cloaks made from Kiwi skin and feathers as a status symbol, modern cloaks are worn but use Flax instead of Kiwi skins. Kiwis were once a food source for Maori. but they are endangered now so hunting is forbidden. They are called te manu huna a Tāne, the hidden bird of Tāne (forest god) by the Maori. The legend behind the Kiwi goes, that Tānemahuta, the god of the forest discovered that insects were destroying all the trees so he summoned all of the birds. He asked if one of the birds would be willing to give up their wings and live on the forest floor to be the protector of the trees. All of the birds said no except for the Kiwi. The Kiwi gave up its beautiful feathers and its ability to fly to protect the forest and as a reward became the most beloved bird in Aotearoa or New Zealand.

Kiwi Feather Cloak worn by a Maori Chief

Panama: American Harpy Eagle

The American Harpy Eagle makes its home in Central and South America but is virtually extinct in Central America except for parts of Panama. It is named half-human -half-bird creatures called Harpies in Greek Mythology. They have a striking appearance with the feathers at the top of their head resembling a crown. It is one of the largest eagles in the world. Its massive size allows it to prey upon sloths and monkeys. They are near threatened species but they are critically endangered in many countries like Mexico and Costa Rica. Loss of habitat and hunting of them to protect their livestock are two of the main reasons for their population decline. They are hunted due to a fear that they could try to eat humans because of their giant size but there has never been an incident of Harpy Eagle attempting to make a human its prey.

Harpy Eagle
By Jonathan Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons

American Harpy Eagles appeared in Mayan artwork and for many indigenous tribes in brazil they represent their chiefs. For other tribes, they are Uiraçu, the god of all birds, and their feathers are used for important ceremonies. For Harry Potter fans, the design of Fawkes was based in part on a Harpy Eagle. In addition to being the national animal of Panama, they also appear on their coat of arms. They are hands down, the most fearsome bird-looking bird that I have seen and one of my favorites in terms of appearance. They are excellent national animals but much has to be done to protect them from extinction.

Pre-Coloumbian Harpy Eagle Pendants
By Rodtico21 via Wikimedia Commons

Uganda: Grey Crowned Cranes

The Grey Crowned Crane is a species of crane that can be found in eastern and southern Africa and has been adopted as the national animal of Uganda. It is a stunning bird with grey plumage, a red throat pouch, and a crown of golden feathers. They and the Black Crown Canes are the only species of crane that roost in trees.

Grey Crowned Cranes
By Frank Winkler via Wikimedia Commons

The Grey Crowned Crane is beloved in Uganda and is on their national flag and coat of arms. But their beautiful appearance is hurting them as they are becoming popular in the illegal pet trade as a status symbol. But conservation organizations are working hard to protect them from poaching.

Guatmala:Resplendent Quetzal

The Resplendent Quetzal is an aptly named bird as it is brightly colored and has long and elegant tail feathers. They have green plumage on most of their body and red coloring on their breast. They primarily eat fruit but will eat insects and small animals as well.

Resplendent Quetzal (male)

Resplendent Quetzal was an important symbol in MesoAmerican culture, it was closely connected to the Snake god, Quetzalcoatl. They were seen as sacred and killing them was a crime. They were considered a symbol of freedom and wealth. Because they would kill themselves not long after being put in captivity. It wasn’t until the 1990s that a zoo, Miguel Álvarez del Toro Zoo in Mexico successfully kept Quetzals and even launched a breeding program in 2004. In Guatmala, the Respledent Quetzal is connected to their most popular folk hero,Tecún Umán. Tecún Umán was one of the last Mayan rulers and fought against the Spanish Conquistadors. Legend has it that he went into battle with Quetzal feathers adorned on his head and was accompanied by a Quetzal as his spirit guide or nahual. He won many battles against the Spanish despite their significant weaponry advantage. In one battle, he faced off against the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado all while his Quetzal flew overhead. Tecún Umán managed to slain Pedro`s horse on the first strike but Tecún Umán was fatally speared on the second strike. Overcome with grief, the Quetzal landed on Tecún Umán `s chest and its breast was stained red with blood. This is said to be the origin of the Queztal`s redbreast. It is said that Quetzal became silent after the conquering of Mayan land but will sing once again when their lands are free. Quetzal remains an important symbol in Guatemala, its image can be found on the flag, coat of arms, and Guatemala’s currency is named after them.

Here is a .50 Queztal bill featuring Tecún Umán and a Queztal which appears on all bills

Malaysia:Rhinoceros Hornbill

Rhinoceros Hornbill`s most distinguishing feature is it bill named for similar appearance to a Rhino`s horn. Though they look similar to Toucan, Hornbills are unrelated, their close appearance is the result of convergent evolution. Rhinoceros Hornbills live in Tropical rainforests of South East Asia such as in the Malay Penisula, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java. They primarily eat fruit.

Rhinceros Hornbill(female)
Lip Kee Yap via Wikimedia Commons

The Dayak people of Borneo consider the Rhinoceros Hornbill to be the chief of all birds. Statues of them are used to welcome Sengalang Burong, the god of birds during ceremonies and festivals. The Rhinoceros Hornbill is the state bird of the state of Sawarak on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. It was also adopted as the national bird of Malaysia. Its image can be found on the back of a 5 Malaysian ringgit bill.

Sculpted Skull of a Rhinoceros Hornbill
By Bernard DUPONT via Wikimedia Commons

Luxembourg: Goldcrest

The Goldcrest is one of the smallest national birds with a weight of 4.5–7.0 g (0.16–0.25 oz). Despite its small size, it is called the king of birds in European folklore. The Goldcrest is a member of the passerine family also known as songbirds. They are named for their golden crests which resemble a king’s crown. It has a wide range and there are many subspecies. They are insectivores and will eat pretty much any kind of insect.

Golden Crest
By Francis C. Franklin via Wikimedia Commons

There was a legend that there was a contest amongst birds to decide who would be the king of all birds. It was decided that the winner would be determined by who can fly the highest. The Eagle had the contest in the bag but once it started to get tired, a Goldcrest emerged from the eagle’s tail feathers and flew higher than all the other birds. As a result, the Goldcrest was given the title king of all birds. With this title and it dimutive stature are ftting symbol of the tiny but wealthy country of Luxembourg.

Sudan: Secretary Bird

The Secretary bird is rather peculiar, it has the body of an eagle but has long legs like a crane. They are huge, standing roughly 4 feet tall. It is a member of the same order as Kites, Hawks, and vulture but it is its own family,Sagittariidae. It is unlike most birds of prey. It is capable of flying but spends most of its time on the ground. It hunts in prey on foot, using its talons to stomp small animals to death. Its prey of choice is snakes, it has hard scales on its legs to protect them from snake bites. When in danger, they will They have grey plumage and most notably black crest feathers on their head. There are two main theories for the origin of the Secretary Birds’ name, one is that its black feathers resembled a 19th-century secretary that would put their quill behind their ears and the other theory is that it comes from the Arabic word for hunter bird,saqr-et-tair.

Secretary Bird
By Yoky via Wikimedia Commons

The Secretary bird has had been the target of admiration in Africa since ancient times. Their image is on a temple in Egypt depicting the land of Punt, an ancient kingdom and key trading partner of Ancient Egypt. The location of Punt is unknown but the appearance of Secretary bird means it was likely in Africa, possibly Sudan. Secretary Birds have been well-liked in African society for their beauty and ability to dispatch harmful pests like snakes. Its image is on the coat of arms in South Africa and symbolizes crushing enemies of the nation. The Maasai people have used its feathers to treat Elipesy, its egg for headaches, and its fat to help children and livestock grow up healthy.It is on the emblem, flag, and presidential seal of Sudan. This bird evokes images of both beauty and strength, Sudan made an excellent choice in choosing it as their natinal animal.

Ritual knife from Naqada III period in Ancient Egypt engraved with images of Secetary Birds and other animals
By Brooklyn Museum via Wikimedia Commons
Here is a great video by Animalogic about them. I recommend subscibing to their youtube channel, they have a lot of great videos on animals.

One thought on “Best National Animals:Bird Edition

Leave a Reply