Monday, July 7, 2014

Really Weird Birds: Long-wattled Umbrella Bird

The Long-wattled Umbrellabird is native to the rainforests of Columbia and Ecuador.  They live in the canopies of tall trees.

There are three species of umbrellabirds, but this one is by far the oddest.  First of all, they have long hair-like feathers forming a crest on their head extending over the beak.  This crest is much more pronounced in males than females.  Also more pronounced in males is the wattle – defined as a fleshy growth hanging from various parts of the head or neck in some birds and mammals.  Wattles are often decorations for attracting potential mates.  Larger wattles seem to be correlated to healthier males – more testosterone, good nutrition and the capability to evade predators.
Chicken wattles hang from the throat. (Photo by Sara Oliver) 
The Long-wattled Umbrellabird’s name says it all.  This bird is about the size of an American crow, with a body length of 14 to 20 inches, and the males possess a wattle that can be as long as 18 inches!  It just hangs down from the base of the throat and is covered with short scaly feathers.  When in flight, the male can retract the wattle, making it shorter and then lays it against the chest.  During courtship rituals, the male will also inflate his wattle.  The wattle then resembles a very bristly pinecone.

Click here to see a video of a long-wattled umbrellabird.  At about 0:23 in the video, you can see him inflate his wattle!

Illustration of a long-wattled umbrellabird. (photo: The Wikipedia files)

This Wikipedia picture does not do this bird justice; click here to see a photo from

These birds are mostly silent; however mainly the male will make grunting noises and low frequency booming calls during breeding season.  This boom call is audible to humans a bit more than half a mile away.  These birds form small leks where males come together and engage in competitive displays in hopes of enticing viewing females with their long poofy wattles.  After mating, the female is the sole builder and caretaker of the nest and chicks.  This species consumes mostly insects, fruits and palm nuts.

The Long-wattled Umbrellabird is listed as a vulnerable species due to habitat destruction and over hunting.  Their habitat is disappearing rapidly due to human development.  These birds are also captured by locals and sold as pets.  Only a few of the populations live within protected areas.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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