The World’s 11 Largest Flying Birds: Majestic, Endangered & Making a Comeback

Imagine looking up to see a bird with a wingspan wider than a car is long. Such grandeur isn’t just in storybooks; it’s real and flying in our skies. We’re about to take you on a journey through the realm of the 11 largest flying birds in the world.

From the awe-inspiring wingspan of the wandering albatross to the formidable size of the Andean condor, these avian giants are a sight to behold. Discover their unique characteristics and learn about the crucial conservation efforts that help ensure these majestic creatures continue to soar above us.

1. Wandering Albatross

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The wandering albatross holds the record for the largest wingspan of any living bird, reaching up to 11.5 feet (3.5 meters). These majestic seabirds spend most of their lives soaring over the open ocean, only returning to land to breed. Despite their incredible size, they are facing threats from bycatch in fishing operations.

Recent tracking studies have revealed just how far these birds can travel. In 2023, scientists reported that a tagged wandering albatross flew an astounding 15,000 miles in just 28 days during its winter migration[1][4]. Such findings highlight the incredible endurance of these birds and the vast distances they cover.

2. Southern Royal Albatross

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The southern royal albatross is another contender for the title of largest flying bird, with a wingspan that can reach up to 10.8 feet (3.3 meters). These birds are found in the Southern Ocean and are known for their elaborate courtship rituals.

Like the wandering albatross, they face threats from climate change and limited breeding ranges.

3. Andean Condor

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The Andean condor is the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere, with a wingspan of up to 10.8 feet (3.3 meters). These massive vultures are found in the Andes Mountains of South America and play a crucial role in the ecosystem by cleaning up carrion. Despite their importance, they are critically endangered due to habitat loss and secondary poisoning.

In 2024, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced an expanded protected area network in Argentina’s Patagonia region to support the Andean condor[3]. These new reserves will help protect critical nesting and foraging habitats for this endangered species.

Additionally, a new male Andean condor named Bud arrived at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh as a potential mate for their female condor, Lianni, sparking hope for the species’ conservation[8].

4. Dalmatian Pelican

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The Dalmatian pelican is one of the largest freshwater birds in the world, with a wingspan of up to 11.5 feet (3.5 meters). These birds are found in wetlands across Europe and Asia, but their populations have declined due to habitat loss and persecution. Conservation efforts are underway to protect these magnificent birds.

In Greece, a Dalmatian pelican was photographed expertly catching a fish while perched on a rowing boat, demonstrating their fishing prowess[3]. Meanwhile, in Mongolia, conservationists are working to save the last remaining breeding populations of Dalmatian pelicans in East Asia through targeted outreach and international cooperation[13].

5. Great White Pelican

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The great white pelican is another massive bird, with a wingspan reaching up to 11.8 feet (3.6 meters). These birds are found in Africa, Europe, and Asia, where they feed on fish in shallow wetlands. They are known for their distinctive pouches used for catching prey.

6. Marabou Stork

Image Credit: Piotr Poznan/Shutterstock

The marabou stork is a large wading bird found in Africa, with a wingspan of up to 12 feet (3.7 meters). These birds are scavengers and play an important role in cleaning up carrion. Despite their ungainly appearance, they are efficient fliers and can soar for long periods.

7. California Condor

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The California condor is the largest land bird in North America, with a wingspan of up to 9.8 feet (3 meters). These birds were once on the brink of extinction but have made a remarkable comeback thanks to conservation efforts. They are still threatened by lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition.

In 2023, ten vaccinated juvenile California condors were released in the San Simeon mountains to help protect the species from the ongoing Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak[2].

The condors were vaccinated with a killed, inactivated product designed to provide some level of protection against the deadly virus[9]. This marks a significant step in the ongoing efforts to safeguard these iconic birds.

8. Lappet-faced Vulture

Image Credit: Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock

The lappet-faced vulture is a large African vulture with a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet (2.9 meters). These birds are powerful scavengers and dominate other vultures at carcasses. They play a vital role in preventing the spread of disease by disposing of animal remains.

9. White-tailed Eagle

Image Credit: Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

The white-tailed eagle is Europe’s largest eagle, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet (2.45 meters). These birds are found near large bodies of water, where they prey on fish and waterbirds.

Thanks to conservation efforts, they have made a significant comeback from the brink of extinction.

10. Steller’s Sea Eagle

Image Credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock

Steller’s sea eagle is a massive bird of prey found in the Russian Far East and parts of Japan, with a wingspan of up to 8.2 feet (2.5 meters). These birds are easily recognizable by their distinctive black and white plumage and massive yellow beak. They primarily feed on fish and are dependent on specific marine environments.

11. Harpy Eagle

Image Credit: Alves-Silva K. R/Shutterstock

The harpy eagle is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, with a wingspan of up to 7.2 feet (2.2 meters). These birds are found in the tropical forests of Central and South America, where they hunt tree-dwelling mammals like monkeys and sloths.

Despite their impressive size and strength, they are threatened by habitat loss.

Birdwatching Tips

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If you’re inspired to observe some of the world’s largest flying birds in their natural habitats, here are some birdwatching tips to help you make the most of your experience:

  • Choose the Right Equipment: A good pair of binoculars is essential for birdwatching. Opt for binoculars with a magnification of 8x or 10x. A spotting scope mounted on a tripod is also helpful for viewing birds over long distances without disturbance.
  • Learn to Identify Birds: Familiarize yourself with the birds you intend to observe. Study their physical characteristics, behaviors, and habitats. Field guides and birdwatching apps can be invaluable tools for quick identification and additional information.
  • Best Times for Birdwatching: Early morning or late afternoon is usually the best for birdwatching, as birds are most active during these periods. Be mindful of the season, as some birds may only be present in certain regions at specific times of the year due to migration patterns.
  • Dress Appropriately: Wear clothing that blends into the environment, such as greens, browns, and other neutral colors. Avoid loud colors and white, which can startle birds and other wildlife. Layer your clothing to adjust to changing weather conditions.
  • Be Patient and Quiet: Birds are easily disturbed by noise and sudden movements. Move slowly and keep your voice low or silent. Patience is key; finding and observing birds can take time.
  • Respect Wildlife and Habitat: Stay on designated paths and trails to minimize impact on the habitat. Avoid approaching nests or feeding areas too closely, as this can stress the birds.
  • Use a Birdwatching Diary: Record the birds you see, noting the date, location, and conditions. This not only enhances your birdwatching experience but also helps you learn and remember the characteristics of different species.
  • Join a Birdwatching Group: Participating in group outings with experienced birdwatchers can enhance your skills and offer opportunities to share knowledge and experiences.
  • Contribute to Citizen Science: Many organizations use data collected by amateur birdwatchers for research and conservation (ref). Participating in bird counts or documenting bird sightings can contribute valuable information to scientific studies.
  • Ethical Bird Photography: If photographing birds, ensure your actions don’t harm the bird or its habitat. Use appropriate lenses that allow you to maintain a safe distance, and never use artificial means to attract birds.

By following these tips, you can enjoy birdwatching responsibly while helping to conserve some of the planet’s most impressive birds.

Fighting for Survival

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As we marvel at these incredible birds, it’s important to remember that many of them face significant threats to their survival. From habitat destruction to climate change, these majestic creatures need our help.

By supporting conservation efforts and raising awareness about the importance of protecting these species, we can ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring sight of these avian giants soaring through the skies.

Sources

[1] https://www.precisionvaccinations.com/2023/11/25/vaccinated-california-condors-being-released-captivity-1
[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2024/02/09/dalmatian-pelican-catches-fish-greece/
[3] https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/east-bay/california-condors-contra-costa-county/3326377/
[4] https://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/article283620853.html
[8] https://www.cbsnews.com/pittsburgh/news/national-aviary-new-male-andean-condor-bud/
[9] https://apnews.com/article/california-condors-vaccine-avian-influenza-65e27a0751666eee0e3ab3b82ae18251
[13] https://www.birdlife.org/news/2024/01/11/saving-east-asias-last-dalmatian-pelicans/

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.