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Extreme Crest Feathers: 10 Reasons Why Crest is Best

Sunday 12 November 2017

Many species of birds possess crest feathers and this feature dates back to the age of the dinosaur: the fossil record indicates that a number of species had feathers on their heads.  You might think that they are for display purposes – and you would not be wrong although their function is sometimes more complex than that.  However, some birds take this avian attribute to the extreme. The results are striking and beautiful.  We present the Ark in Space’s Top Ten Crest Feathered Birds.

10 - The White-Crested Helmetshrike
Over to Africa where we find the White-crested helmetshrike – the name says it all really.  What makes this bird even more striking is the vivid yellow periophthalmic ring (the protective circle of bare skin) around its eye.  It is a very sociable bird and moves around in small social groups.  You can always tell when you are close to a party of WCHs – they chat to each other very noisily.

9 - The Red-legged Seriema
Noted more for its legs (name wise at least) than for its very impressive crest, the red-legged seriema is common throughout millions of square miles of South America, taking in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. It has been described having a song which is a cross between the serrated bark of a young dog and the clucking of turkeys.  They can run fast – up to 15mph and are seen usually on their own or in pairs.  They are predators – they will eat small mammals and, when chance has it, love nothing more than a snake for their day’s meal.

8 - The Great Crested Grebe
The great crested grebe uses its magnificent crest feathers to show off its health and strength when it is looking for a mate and its courtship rituals are renowned for their elaborate and lengthy nature.  Once a partner is chosen and the young hatch they are often seen hitching a lift on the parents’ back.  Life isn’t necessarily all fun for the chicks, however.  The parent grebes will often choose a favorite and they will look after them to the exclusion of the others.  Common all over Europe and Asia, the GCG was almost hunted to extinction in the UK because of the fashion for placing its crest feathers in ladies’ hats.

7 - The Long-Crested Eagle
When you encounter something as magnificent as the long-crested eagle you can easily imagine how there is a connection between dinosaurs and birds – this has an ancient ferocity in its eyes which catapults one back to a time before our species existed.  Found in sub-Saharan Africa, this raptor lives off small mammals such as shrews but will take anything it thinks it can.  It is thought that its crest feathers, like other species of bird, are used for buoyancy and to sense vibrations.

6 - The Rufous-Crested-Coquette
The Rufous-crested-coquette is a hummingbird and the crest is found only in the male so it is thought that it used for courtship display only, rather than to give any greater buoyancy while the bird is in flight. This dazzling bird can be found in central South America, including Bolivia, Columbia and Peru (so although they are rare they are widely distributed). Although they feed  primarily on nectar from flowers, during breeding they extend their diet to include insects.  They often take insects on the wing (which is known as hawking) however, this bird has a trick up its sleeve.  It will locate a spider web and happily gorge itself on the insects trapped in it. A clever bird, then, but you have to feel a little sorry for the spider which can also end up as part of the feast.

5 - The Secretary Bird
The secretary bird is so large that it stays on the ground most of the time to conserve energy.  Think of the body of an eagle perched on top of the legs of a crane and you get the picture and from a distance it may look more like a crane.  Don’t be fooled, however.  This bird is a killer.  Its diet is as varied as its local African habitat allows and included mongoose, snakes, lizards and tortoise. It is even reported that they will take a young gazelle if the opportunity presents itself. Some African tribes call it the devil’s horse and as such it is generally not hunted (although that is changing as traditional beliefs decline).

4 - The Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
The Sulphur-crested cockatoo is found in Australia, New Guineau and some of the Malaysian islands.  They are possibly the best known birds on the list as they are often kept as pets – very demanding pets which often outlive their owner.  In captivity they can live up to 70 years but in their natural habitat forty is about the maximum life expectation.  They are renowned for their ear-piercing squawk but have been introduced to Australian vernacular for another reason.  One SCC always guards his mates when they are feeding on the ground. So, someone who keeps guard for police raids in Australia is often known as a cockatoo or a cocky.

3 - The Victoria Crowned Pigeon
After the demise of the Dodo, the mantle of the world’s largest pigeon was passed on to the Victoria Crowned. If you associate pigeons with the types that we see in our cities and towns – altogether a pretty unimpressive lot – then you are in for a surprise. Resplendent in their gorgeous blueness, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon is a bird of significant beauty. They come from the lowland forests and swamps of New Guinea and a few of the islands off its coast. They, like the Dodo, live on the ground and they mostly eat fruit such as figs and seeds that they forage for much as our town pigeons do, only with much more grace and aplomb.

2 - The Grey Crowned Crane
Image Credit Flickr User Ian N White
It is hardly surprising that this gorgeously elegant creature is the national bird of Uganda, where it is found (it breeds from Angola south to South Africa). Its mating dance involves a lot of bowing, jumping and general dancing about while shaking its amazing crest – but unlike most other cranes which make a sound akin to a trumpet this one honks.  Jaw-droppingly beautiful in a pair, in their natural habitat they can be found in flocks numbering up to 150.  Although still common its habitat is threatened and, as a result, inevitably the species will see decline in the future.

1 - The Northern Royal Flycatcher
You may wonder why this rather plain creature is at the number one spot.  You can see what might be some sort of crest tucked away on his head.  Yet the male of the northern royal flycatcher, found in Mexico and most of Central America, has something of a surprise in store.  When he is ready to look for a consort ,the male will fully extend his erectile fan-shaped crest.  It is colored red in the male and the female also has one which is orange in color. It is a spectacle which once seen is never forgotten.

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