It can be absolutely mesmerizing – to watch as birds fly around above our heads. Many are jealous even, as flying seems like such a thrill. Much like airplanes, though, it can seem a mystery to us how they manage to stay in the air.
Of course, science figured it out long ago, and machines that weigh thousands can soar through the air no problem. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing.
From the tiniest hummingbirds to the largest and most exotic birds, even the heaviest among them have the power of flight, and it can be truly impressive.
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Heaviest Flying Birds
Below are some of the world’s heaviest flying birds, many of which are not given enough credit or attention for how magnificent they are.
1. The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)
Weight: up to 22 pounds/10 Kilograms.
Wingspan: males are between 8.2-11.8 feet.
Location: Around the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere
The wandering albatross is a beautiful black and white bird that’s aptly named as it spends most of its time wandering out at sea, returning to land only to breed.
They can sustain this nomadic existence, in part, due to their impressive 11-12 foot wingspan, which makes flying extremely easy. Rather than flapping constantly, this allows them to glide through the air for hours at a time easily.
In fact, it could potentially spend years in the air without landing, if it wanted to. This makes its life of travel quite easy, especially as a youngster. For the first six years of their life, they never leave the ocean.
After that, they come to land only to mate.
Fun fact: these birds do mate for life, though they are not monogamous! Once paired, they will stay together until one dies – averaging around 50 years.
However, around ten percent of female albatrosses have been known to “cheat” by engaging in mating activities with other birds as well.
2. Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)
Weight: up to 30 pounds/13.6 kilograms
Wingspan: 10 feet
Location: South America – mostly the Andes Mountains
Among the largest birds in the world, the Andean Condor prefer to live high in the mountains as it’s easier for their wings to catch warm, rising air. This makes flying much easier and allows them to glide along with minimal effort.
While their wingspan is not the widest, it does have more surface area than any other bird. These birds live long lives – the average expectancy being around 50 years or up to 75 in captivity.
They are also slow to reproduce, laying a single egg only every other year. One hatched, both parents must stick around and care for the young for a full year.
These birds are mostly black, though the males have a noticeable white “collar” on their necks. Males might also have some white markings on their wings, further setting them apart from the females.
While not yet endangered, the species is considered threatened, so many reproduction and reintroduction programs exist to increase the populations.
3. Cinereous Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus)
Weight: 15-27.5 pounds/7-12.5 kilograms.
Wingspan: 8-10 feet.
Location: Asia and Europe
At an impressive 27 pounds, this vulture is one of the largest birds of prey, falling closely behind the Andean Condor. As they are a bird of prey themselves, they are high on the food chain and aren’t hunted by other animals.
And yet, their species is at risk, largely due to poisoning. Humans often use mass poisoning to deal with an overpopulation of unwanted pests in a certain area.
The problem is that any species that eat those animals – such as the Cinereous Black Vulture – will find the carcasses and eat them, therefore ingesting the poison.
Considering these vultures tend not to hunt and only to eat animals that are already dead, this poses a huge threat to them and other similar birds of prey.
Despite their intimidating appearance, they pose very little threat to humans. That being said, those with small pets should be aware of the risk of attack, simply because small cats and dogs are similar to the typical prey of a vulture.
If you’re worried about defending your animals, you’ll have to look into getting a license as it’s not legal to kill a vulture in most areas.
4. Great Bustard (Otis tarda)
Weight: 18-44 pounds/8-20 kilograms
Wingspan: males – 7-8 feet
Location: Europe and Central Asia
The Great Bustard’s impressive upper limit of 44 pounds for the males makes it the heaviest flying bird in the world. Females are often much lighter at about half the weight of the males.
Despite their great mass, they have impressed ornithologists everywhere by being able to migrate more than 2000 miles. They are most likely to be found in habitats such as grasslands and steppes.
One mating season hits, the males will develop bold, bright coloring on its body and wings. It also develops a series of long and thin feathers around its beak, which can be likened to whiskers.
The Great Bustard is one of many birds in the bustard family. Though it is not yet officially endangered, it’s considered a vulnerable species. It used to populate areas of the UK as well until it became extinct in that region in 1832.
There are currently some efforts in place to reintroduce the bird to the UK.
5. Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
Weight: 24-42 pounds/11-19 kilograms
Wingspan: 7.5-9 feet
Location: Eastern and Southern Africa
While the Great Bustard officially holds the title for the largest flying bird in the world, the Kori Bustard comes extremely close, with a maximum weight of around 42 pounds. Though similar in weight and closely related, the two birds are quite different in appearance.
The Great Bustard is round, robust, and a little chunky looking, whereas the Kori Bustard has a slimmer, longer body, and longer legs as well.
The Kori Bustard can be found in the African grasslands and savannah’s enjoying a diet of plants, berries, lizards, and snakes.
6. Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)
Weight: 13-40 pounds/6-18 kilograms
Wingspan: 7-8 feet
Location: Indian Subcontinent
Yet another member of the bustard family, this bird falls into third place for the largest flying bird in the world, being just behind the other two at a maximum of 40 pounds.
Much like the rest of its family, it lives in the grasslands, enjoying a diet comprised of both plants/berries and small reptiles.
Its appearance is quite similar to the Kori Bustard, with long legs and a long, slim body. What sets it apart from the rest is the black crown on its forehead, which is a stark contrast to the white neck.
Unfortunately, this species is extremely endangered and facing extinction, with only 200 individual birds remaining.
Conservationists are working hard to protect the species and build their population back up.
7. Trumpeter Swan (Olor Buccinator)
Weight: 21-38 pounds/9.5-17 kilograms
Wingspan: 6.6 feet
Location: North America
The Bustard family of birds takes the crown for the biggest flying birds around, but the swans aren’t far behind. The Trumpeter Swan is the largest waterfowl in North America, residing in Canada for the summer and migrating to the United States for the winter.
The Trumpeter Swan can absolutely fly, but it doesn’t come easy! They must first get a running start to take flight, flapping their wings and paddling its feet. This allows them to gather enough speed to take off effectively.
These swans mate for life, forming strong bonds with their partners and remaining loyal until one of them dies.
8. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Weight: 22-34.5 pounds/10-14.3 kilograms
Wingspan: 6.8-7.8 feet
Location: Europe, Asia, North America
While these swans can be found throughout North America, this is not where they originate – they are native to Europe and Asia. They were introduced to the United States in the 19th century to be used as fixtures or “decorations” in park ponds.
Many rich people also placed them in ponds on their large estates to create an even more intricate and fancy aesthetic.
During mating season, the black knob atop the male swan’s head becomes larger. This is perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between the two sexes.
9. Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)
Weight: 16.3-30.8 pounds/7.4-14 kilograms
Wingspan: 6.6-9 feet
Location: Europe, Central & Northern Asia, Occasionally the Western United States and Alaska
The Whooper Swan is the smallest of the swan family, originating in Eurasia but also living in the United States on the West coast. This species also migrates regularly between summer and winter.
Unlike the Mute Swan that was brought to the United States for visual purposes, this species brought itself by flying there over the Bering Sea.
The Whooper Swan has a completely white head, unlike the Mute Swan that has a black knob on its head. Their beak also has a distinctive, angular slope-like beak that is yellow at the base and black in the end.
10. Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus Crispus)
Weight: 23.5-29 pounds/10.5-13 kilograms
Wingspan: 10.1-11.3 feet
Location: Asia and Europe
The Dalmatian Pelican is the biggest in the Pelecaniformes family. All of these birds have a huge wingspan that can reach up to 11 feet. This pelican exclusively eats fish and is similar to its relatives in that it will fish in groups.
They do this by gliding across the top of the water and swiftly dipping their heads into the water to scoop the fish up in their huge beaks.
Pelicans sleep during the night with their heads twisted back and tucked into their feathers. They are also very particular groomers – spending a lot of time preening and cleaning themselves.
11. Himalayan Griffon Vulture (Gyps himalayenis)
Weight: 18-26 pounds/8-12 kilograms
Wingspan: 9-10 feet
Location: Central Asia – mostly in the Himalayan mountains and Tibetan Plateau
This majestic vulture is notorious for flying at very high elevations. They can reach altitudes of 5000 meters higher than sea level as they fly around the highest mountains with the world’s highest peaks.
Their massive wings combined with warm air pockets make soaring and gliding around extremely easy for these birds.
Unlike many other birds, these ones don’t migrate during the winter. They change the altitude at which they reside to meet its needs depending on which season they’re in.
Frequently Asked Questions: Short Answers
What is the heaviest flying bird alive today?
The heaviest flying bird that’s still alive today – that we know of – is the great bustard, found in Africa and weighing up to 44 pounds.
Which is the heaviest flightless bird alive today?
While many large birds can fly, some cannot, despite having wings. The largest of these is the ostrich, weighing in around 200 pounds for the females and up to 280 pounds for the males.
What is the biggest bird of all time?
The biggest recorded bird of all time was the elephant bird. Found in Madagascar, these birds could each about 1100 pounds. They became extinct about 1000 years ago, and their closest living relative is the kiwi.
What bird carries the most weight?
While far from the largest bird around, the bald eagle can carry more weight than any other bird. This was put on record when one was found lifting a deer.
Which is the fastest flying bird?
Able to reach speeds of up to 186 miles per hour, the peregrine falcon is most certainly the fastest flying bird in the sky.