Birds have fascinated humans since ancient times. Ever wondered why they fly in such graceful patterns or why some birds have long tails? Let us tell you about these fascinating creatures.
The bird kingdom encompasses over 12 million species, and new ones are discovered yearly. They belong to at least six orders, each containing several families.
There are more than 50,000 different types of birds, ranging from tiny hummingbirds to huge vultures. Some are cute and cuddly, while many others are terrifying predators. From eagles to parrots, owls to flamingos, here are 15 incredible birds with long tails.
Why do some birds get long tail feathers?
Some birds have evolved long tails for specific reasons. Here’s a brief explanation of how these amazing wings work:
In many cases, we know about the existence of long-tail feathers in certain species thanks to DNA analysis. However, there are still many questions about how these traits evolved and their role in the birds’ lives.
The problem is that even though we know that long tails exist, we don’t always understand why they develop and evolve into the shapes that they do.
The long-tail feather phenomenon is one of many mysteries in ornithology. There are still many unanswered questions about how and why certain bird species evolved their unique plumage patterns.
One theory says that long tails have developed to enhance the birds’ ability to fly. However, in the case of the ribbon-tailed astrapia, the long tail feathers are thought to have developed to improve the aerodynamics of the bird in flight. This is known as sexual selection.
Long feathers help birds land quietly and reduce their resistance when flying through the air. It also helps them avoid enemies by looking bigger and moving quickly in combat.
Another theory suggests that the long tail feathers might help birds balance themselves better while flying.
The long tail feathers are found in many types of birds worldwide, including the Ribbon-Tailed astrapia, Scissortail flycatcher, and greater racket-tailed widowbirds. However, there are some scarce exceptions where the long tails make the birds less efficient in flight.
For example, the long tail of the Scissortail fly catchers makes them slower and less maneuverable during take-off and landing.
In most cases, however, the long tail feathers have evolved to serve another purpose. They are used to attract females during courtship displays.
15 incredible birds with long tails
1. Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia
Scientific name: Astrapia mayeri
Found in the western part of the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, the species is listed as near threatened in part because it is hunted for these very tail feathers.
It gets its name because it looks like an Astrapium flower (a type of plant). The male of this species has a long tail up to 10 inches long! The ribbon-tailed astrapia has the longest tail feathers, about the body size of any bird.
Appearance: This is a species of bird of paradise, many of which are well-known for over-the-top plumage. But the two feathers on the ribbon-tailed astrapea are particularly long compared to other birds in the same family. Male long-tails typically have a single, very long tail feather that grows almost twice as tall as the bird.
But while the average male long-tail widowbird has a tail feather that measures about 2.5 inches, the ribbon-tailed version has a tail feather that’s 3.4 inches long. That’s nearly double the length of the next closest species. And it doesn’t stop there.
The ribbon-tailed astrapeas also have a second, longer tail feather that grows off the base of the first feather. This second feather actually exceeds the height of the bird itself.
The male has an olive green plumage, and the female has a duller brown and black body with an iridescent head. Unlike males, females do not have long white tails.
Diet: These birds use their beak to dig up worms and bugs from the ground and trees. They’re fed most of their meals made up of fruit.
Habitat: They live in tropical rainforests throughout Central America and South America.
2. Scarlet Macaw
Scientific name: Ara macao
Flying on to the subtropic rainforests of South American countries like Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador will take us to the scarlet macaw. This bird is known for being one of the most colorful macaws around.
Appearance: Its bright red head and neck match a brilliant yellow chest, belly, and blue wings. And it has a very long tail. It is the longest tail feather of all macaw species. It is also famous for its cheeky nature.
The scarlet macaw is one of the world’s largest parrots. With a wingspan of up to 36 inches.
This stunningly beautiful bird is famous for its bright coloration and loud calls. A group of macaws looks like a colorful cloud floating above the trees. And because of their size, you can hear them even far away.
Diet: They feed mainly on nuts and fruit such as figs, papayas, and cherries. Moreover, they can eat fruits toxic enough to kill other animals.
Habitat: This bird lives in tropical forests in southern Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, eastern Brazil, and the island of Trinidad.
3. Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Scientific name: Tyrannus forficatus
Appearance: The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a small passerine bird found throughout North America. This species belongs to the family Tyrannidae, along with kingbirds and tyrant flycatchers. They are often referred to as “toy birds” because of their brightly colored plumage. It is one of the few American birds that do not resemble their European counterparts, with its long pointed wings and slender body.
Both species look pretty different, especially during the breeding season.
This small, slender bird measures around 11–14 cm (4½–5¾ inches), making it slightly smaller than a robin. It has a short bill, rounded wings, and a long, thin tail. The male and female look alike, but the female has a much longer tail.
The Scissor Tail is named for its unique tail shape; it looks like a pair of scissors, hence the name. The tail is used during courtship and displays the same patterning seen in many other flycatchers. These patterns include dark bars along the sides, a white stripe down the middle, and a light bar on the underside.
Their feathers are mostly dark gray or blackish, with some light orange, yellow, and blue. During the breeding season, the male’s tail becomes more vibrant, and his throat turns brighter.
Diet: Insects make up the bulk of this bird’s diet. They catch insects by flying through the air at high speeds.
Habitat: It lives in the grasslands of the American Midwest and the Southwestern United States.
4. Long-tailed Widowbird
Scientific name: Euplectes progne
Appearance: The long-tailed widowbird is one of the most beautiful birds you’ll ever see. With a stunning plumage and a long, elegant tail streamer, this male looks like he could be wearing a magnificent wedding gown.
But no bride is waiting around the corner for him; he’s looking for a mate. He’s called the “widowbird” because his bright colors remind us of the mourning clothes worn by women in some cultures after losing a loved one.
The male’s body is a rich mix of black, dark brown, grey, and cream, his wings are bright orange, and he has a magnificent long tail.
He performs his courtship dance to attract a female. His bright colors and long tail make him stand out among the trees of Africa.
The result indicated that the long tail is favored by sexual selection through the female choice of mates. Female preference for long tails is also seen in the red-collared widowbird.
The Andersson experiment demonstrated that female long-tailed widowbirds prefer supernormal tails, as males with elongated tails were the most reproductively successful.
Diet: They feed mainly on insects and seeds but eat fruit, nectar, flowers, spiders, and snails.
Habitat: This long-tailed bird lives in savannas and woodlands across sub-Saharan Africa. There are about 10 different populations, including those found in Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
5. Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo
Scientific name: Dicrurus paradiseus
The Greater Racket-Tail Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) is a large drongo found throughout Asia. They are large, loud, noisy, and aggressive birds. They are often seen flying around in small groups, making it difficult to determine whether you see one or multiple individuals. However, they make great pets because they are pretty tame and curious.
Appearance: They are primarily greenish-grey above with a distinctive black head and chest, white belly, and a long, slender, black tail. Their voice is similar to that of the Lesser Racket-Tailed Drogon, but it is slightly deeper and slower. They are often seen flying together with the Lesser Racket Tail Drongo.
They are known for imitating many sounds, including those of other birds. Their name originates from their tails look like the racket used in tennis. They have been observed mimicking the sound of cuckoos, hornbills, and even people!
Diet: Their diet consists mainly of insects, fruits, seeds, nectar, and small vertebrates.
Habitat: They are often seen in the woodlands and forests, especially near water bodies.
6. Red-Billed Streamertail
Scientific name: Trochilus polytmus
Appearance: Both sexes have a beautiful, scale-like, bright emerald green body, and the male has long black tail feathers which extend almost twice his length.
They are often mistaken for the much larger Rufous-tailed hummingbirds, but unlike those birds, the tails of the Red-Billed are longer than their bodies. This makes them look like doctors wearing long black coats with white collars.
Another common name for this bird is the Doctor bird due to the long black streamers on each side which resemble the long, pointed medical stethoscope used by physicians.
These streamers are actually a sign of sexual maturity, and they help the male attract females during mating season. The males spend most of their lives away from home, searching for mates, while the females remain near their nests.
The species is the national bird of Jamaica. Locals sometimes call the Red-Billed ‘God Bird’ because they believe it represents the reincarnation of deceased ancestors. Early settlers thought this bird had magical powers; some even claimed it could cure illnesses and bring good luck.
Diet: These birds are very active during the day, feeding on nectar from flowers. They also feed on insects and spiders.
Habitat: They are most easily seen along roadsides and near farmlands.
7. Speckled Mousebird
Scientific name: Colius striatus
Appearance: The Speckled mousebird is one of the most common African passerines. This little bird is often confused with the Yellow-crowned laughing thrush due to their similar plumage and size. However, unlike the latter, the speckled mousebird lacks the bright orange crown of its relative.
Speckled mousebirds are small, about 12 cm long, and weigh around 20 g. Their bodies are mainly blackish-brown, with some white spots on the belly and flanks and a distinctive chestnut patch on the upper breast.
The rest of the underparts are pale grey. The wings are dark brown, with a light central band. The flight feathers are barred, and the tail is long and slender, with broad outer rectrices. The sexes are alike; however, females are slightly smaller than males.
In addition to being able to fly, Speckled Mousebirds also use their tails to glide along the ground.
This ability allows them to travel great distances without stopping and resting.
Diet: They are mainly insect eaters, although some fruits and berries make up part of their diet.
Habitat: They live in dry savannahs, grassland, scrubby bush, and open woodland.
8. Taiwan Blue Magpie
Scientific name: Urocissa caerulea
The Taiwan Blue Magpie is a bird native to Taiwan. They are a Corvidae family member, including crows, ravens, jays, and magpies. Although there are many different species of blue magpies around the world, most people know them as magpies.
The Taiwan Blue Magpie is the most endangered bird in the world. Although there are no exact numbers, estimates suggest that around 50% of the population is under threat, and the Taiwanese government has taken steps to protect it. But there are still many threats facing this beautiful creature.
Appearance: This bird is primarily iridescent dark purple/blue, with a bright red bill and legs and long dark purple/blue tails tipped with white.
They are small birds, about 25 cm tall, weighing around 10 grams. The males and females look alike, apart from the male having a longer, thicker bill and brighter plumage.
Diet: Their diet includes snakes, rodents, small insects, fruits, and seeds.
Habitat: In the wild, they live in deciduous forests, mainly near watercourses.
9. Common/Ring-Necked Pheasant
Scientific name: Phasianus colchicus
Appearance: Despite its name, the Common Pheasant is far from common-looking! The males possess a striking array of patterns in orange, bronze, and brown tones, an iridescent green head, and a bright red wattle.
Both males and females have beautiful tails, but the male’s tail is longer, with more distinctive banding patterns. The tail feathers have been commonly used worldwide as decorations for everything from centerpieces to headwear, including carnival costumes.
Diet: The Common Pheasant eats seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, insects, spiders, worms, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, eggs, and even small mammals. It is omnivorous, meaning it eats both plant and animal material. However, it tends to eat more plants than animals.
In captivity, the Common Pheasants feed mainly on grains like millet, oats, wheat, rice, corn, and barley. They also enjoy eating vegetables, fruit, and meat.
Habitat: Its habitat includes meadows, open woodlands, scrubland, riverbanks, gardens, and parks.
10. White-Tailed Tropicbird
Scientific name: Phaethon lepturus
The White-tailed is known for gliding for extended periods without flapping its wings.
This species is a scarce vagrant to Britain and Ireland, where it has been recorded mainly in Scotland. However, one individual was seen flying around the coast of Wales in 2012.
The White-tailed tropicbird is a member of the family Phaethontidae, along with the Red-billed Tropicbird and the Brown Booby.
Appearance: The White-tailed tropicbird is one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Its striking black-and-white plumage looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. Its name refers to the distinctive white patch on the underside of its tail.
Its elegant plumage and unique mating behavior make it easy to spot.
Diet: The White-tailed tropicbird spends most of its life far out at sea, feeding on fish and squid.
Habitat: It lives throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of the southern hemisphere.
11. Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise
Scientific name: Lophorina superba
Appearance: The head of the bird disappears completely in the black. However, the iridescent blue plumage on its crown and on its chest is reflected in an image that looks like a face.
Diet: They feed mainly on fruit, nectar, insects, and small lizards and snakes, but sometimes eat meat.
Habitat: This species lives in tropical rainforests where it feeds mainly on fruit.
12. Greater Bird-of-Paradise
Scientific name: Paradisaea apoda
Appearance: The greater bird-of-paradise is one of the most colorful birds in the world. Its plumage is stunning, especially the long, thin, yellow tail feathers that extend beyond the body. These are called “flank plumes” because they look like the legs of a running horse.
They’re actually wing feathers; when the male displays his magnificent plumage, he spreads his wings wide and waves them around. This display is meant to attract females, and it works. Females choose males based on how well they perform during this showy dance.
The Male has a yellow crown, brown back, underparts and wings, iridescent green neck, central wire-like tails, and yellow filaments on its flanks. The females are shades of brown all over except for their bright orange throats.
Diet: They mainly feed on fruits and insects.
Habitat: The greater bird of paradise lives in tropical rainforests in New Guinea and the Arup Islands of Indonesia.
13. Marvelous Spatuletail
Scientific name: Loddigesia mirabilis
Appearance: The male spatuletail hummingbird is one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Its plumage is striking, especially the long, slender, purple-tipped tail feathers and the white spots on its wings. But what makes this bird truly remarkable is its unique mating ritual.
The male’s tail feathers are actually vestigial—they don’t help the bird fly. Instead, they serve another purpose.
Males display their tails to females, hoping to impress them with their beauty. Females choose mates based on how well their tails stand against the background. The male spatuletail hummingbird has just four tail feathers, one of which is elongated, crosses over itself, and ends in a vibrant purple disk.
These feathers are used in the bird’s display behavior. They are named for their unique tail shape.
Diet: They eat nectar from various brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs, and epiphytes.
Habitat: This species is endangered and lives in the Andes Mountains of northern Peru.
14. Superb Lyrebird
Scientific name: Menura novaehollandiae
The superb lyrebird is one of Australia’s most popular birds and lives up to its name. Its tail feathers are simply stunning.
Appearance: The superb lyrebird is appropriately named, as its tail feather is simply superb. However, superb male lyres don’t grow this special plumage till they’re three to four years old.
Both males and females are similar in color, with brownish plumage on their upper parts and light brown and reddish throat markings. They have darker brown tails, black beaks, and legs.
During mating season, the male displays his gorgeous tail feathers, made up of different types of feathers. The birds’ tails are held upright during courtship and are often flipped over the heads of the males to form a sort of “canopy.” Even when the birds aren’t displaying, the tail is still beautiful.
Diet: They feed on seeds, insects, spiders, worms, frogs, and smaller invertebrates.
Habitat: They are found in the forest in southeast Australia.
15. Golden Pheasant
Scientific name: Chrysolophus pictus
The golden pheasant is a large bird found in Asia. This particular specimen belongs to the genus Phasianus, which means it is part of the family Phasianidae.
Appearance: The golden pheasant is native to China’s Jiangxi province. This beautiful bird gets its name from the color of its plumage, which resembles yellowish-golden ducal crowns worn by Chinese emperors.
This particular breed of pheasant is one of the most popular varieties used for hunting because it can grow up to 15 centimeters long. Its body feathers are primarily vivid red and golden with a bit of blue and black, while the tail feathers are black and cinnamon with bright red accents.
In terms of appearance, the golden pheasants look like a cross between a rooster and a peacock. Males tend to be larger than females, reaching up to 18 inches long, while females average around 15 inches. These birds grow very quickly; males mature at just over a year old, while females take about 2 years.
Diet: The golden pheasants’ diet consists mainly of seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects. They eat both wild and cultivated plants, though they prefer the former.
Habitat: They are native to central and southern China, where they live in forests and farmlands. In addition to being beautiful birds, they are also one of the most popular animals kept as pets.
What can we do to help protect threatened long-tail bird species?
Habitat loss is a major threat to birds worldwide and is often linked to human activity. This includes logging, farming, mining, urbanization, tourism, road building, climate change, invasive species, and pollution. Habitat loss can impact the survival of individual birds, entire populations, and even whole species.
But there is good news! We can all do something to help save and protect endangered long-tail bird species. Here are four ways:
1. Educate yourself about the threats facing birds today and how you can help. You can find lots of resources online.
2. Talk to friends and family about what you learn. Sharing knowledge helps us understand our environment better and encourages people to take action.
3. Donate to support conservation projects. Many organizations work hard to conserve wildlife, and some rely on donations to continue their work. Donations can come from individuals, businesses, governments, schools, universities, NGOs, and charities.
4. Buy locally produced food and goods whenever possible. Doing so reduces the demand for imported products and encourages local producers to invest in sustainable agriculture.