There’s no shame in being a bird lover. At least, that’s what I tell myself, because I’m kind of into them. I don’t go full twitcher – I don’t tick species I’ve seen off a list, and I don’t even own a pair of binoculars. However, I do still get pretty excited about spotting birds.
Clearly I’m not in the minority here either, given the amount of recent attention some of “best bird” competitions being held around the world have been getting. New Zealand just announced its national “Bird of the Year” for 2017 – the legendary kea – and the mighty white ibis is currently on its way to claiming a similar crown in Australia. People are into this stuff.
Travellers should be, too, because you don’t have to be a hardcore twitcher to appreciate the awesomeness of certain avian life. I’d happily go searching for any of these. Kea, New Zealand
What keas lack in size, they more than make up for in personality. These cute little fellas, the world’s only alpine parrots, are incessantly curious, and will approach any humans they see to find food or to just check out what’s going on. Their lack of a strong survival instinct makes them a lot of fun to interact with – and sadly, it also makes them an endangered species. Scarlet macaw, Peru
I haven’t opted for a lot of extravagant plumage on this list, because pretty colours are no match for personality, but the scarlet macaw is the exception. This huge parrot, found most often in Amazonia parts of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, is one beautiful beast, and a riot of colourful feathers: scarlet, blue, yellow, green and more. Seeing them in the wild is pretty cool. Watch out, too, for the lavishly billed toucan, which hangs out in the same areas. Atlantic puffin, North Atlantic
Puffins have to be about the most adorable birds out there. They’re small, a little rotund, they have chubby cheeks, colourful beaks and oddly sad eyes. They’re also pretty fearless, so if you happen to stumble upon a colony of these little guys in, say, Iceland, or Canada, or even Ireland, you’re more than likely be able to approach for a closer look. And, of course, a photo. Blue-footed booby, Galapagos
Photo: Craig Platt
As with all of the wildlife in the Galapagos, you can get so close to a nesting blue-footed booby that you could almost take a turn sitting on its egg. But there’s more to the booby’s greatness than proximity. These guys are cool to look at on land, but they’re absolute weapons in the air: you’ll spot them hovering above the ocean at heights of up to 30 metres, and then diving in – hitting the water at 100km/h, plunging 25 metres deep – to snaffle a fish. Seriously impressive. Andean condor, South America
One of the most memorable experiences you can have in South America is gathering on the lip of Colca Canyon in Peru at dawn, waiting for the sun to warm the air far below, and then watching as huge Andean condors – as big as 3 metres from wingtip to wingtip – rise up out of the depths right in front of you. There’s no place you’ll get closer to these magnificent but high-flying beasts in the wild. Penguin, Antarctica
Photo: Craig Platt
If you don’t love penguins, we can’t be friends. Penguins are objectively the coolest. They’re often no bigger than a football, and about as aerodynamically sound, and yet they’re packed with personality. The slide around on their bellies, they waddle about in unwieldy, tuxedo-clad packs, they nibble on your trouser legs, and then they splash into the water and all of a sudden they make complete sense. Guinea fowl, southern Africa
I love guinea fowl, purely for the fact that they really don’t seem like they have any right to exist. They’re sort of portly and ungainly and can barely fly, and they live in a part of the world chock full of predators, and yet they just keep on keeping on. That and they tend to waddle around in large packs, which makes them look even cooler. Cassowary, Australia/PNG
Australia, being the natural dwelling of anything senselessly dangerous, is obviously home to the cassowary, a bird that seems unnecessarily vicious. Cassowaries are generally plant eaters; however, like most vegetarians they’ll attack when threatened, which in the big birds’ case involves charging, kicking and slashing at people with sharp toes. Cassowaries are also beautiful, and sadly endangered. Yellow-billed hornbill, Southern Africa
You’ll always know when there are hornbills around in Southern Africa. They’re loud, for starters, making all sorts of noise. They’re also pretty keen to scavenge scraps from campers, which is why you’ll often see hornbills darted down from the trees to pick up biscuit crumbs or whatever has dropped onto the ground while you weren’t really paying attention. They’ll eyeball you for a second, peck the ground a few times, and off they go back into the treetops. HALL OF SHAMEMagpies, Australia
Photo: Howie Tien
Magpies, to me, seem unreasonably popular among a certain set of Australians. What’s to like? They’re vicious psychopaths. Yeah, I get that they have a nice song, but if Michael Buble dropped out of a tree and started trying to peck your ears off you wouldn’t like him so much, would you? Cuckoos, everywhere
Cuckoos are dead-set evil, the way they lay their eggs in another bird’s nest and then the cuckoo chick pushes all of the other eggs out to ensure its survival. They also have a pretty annoying call. Pigeons, everywhere
The infamous “rats with wings” are no doubt hanging around your nearest tourist attraction right now, pooping on everything. Canadian geese, North America
These fairly harmless looking migratory birds are actually unreasonably aggressive, and will often attack humans if they feel threatened. They’ll also chase you for food.
What do you think are the world’s best birds? Would you travel somewhere just for the avian life?
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