15 Birds Worth Traveling the World to See

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15 Birds Worth Traveling the World to See
In the May/June 2011 issue of AFAR, we spread our wings and traveled the world by bird—national bird, that is. In Pakistan, we met the moon-struck chukar partridge, in Iceland we witnessed the legendary hunt of the gyrfalcon, and in Australia we were shocked by the height of the emu.

Needless to say, we came back from our travels as die-hard birders. We’re willing to bet that after a scroll through this slideshow of 15 birds, you might be investing in a good pair of binoculars too.
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    1. Red-Billed Streamertail

    Commonly known as doctorbirds, the red-billed streamertail is a sugar-fiend. Most of the time these little birds hang out in Jamaica’s eastern mountain ranges, where there is an abundance of fruit trees and fragrant flowers. However, their quest for the sweetest nectar takes them all over the island. 

    Photo by Ron Knight/Flickr
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    2. Red-Crowned Crane

    On a snowy day, it’s nearly impossible to spot a red-crowned crane. Aside from their distinctive red foreheads and a splash of black feathers on their wings and neck, these beauties are almost completely white. Plus, due to an increasing loss of their natural habitat, there are only about 2,500 of them left in the wild.

    Photo by Nancy O/Flickr
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    3. Crimson Sunbird

    In 2002, when the public weighed in on the unofficial national bird of Singapore, it was this bird’s tiny size, bright red feathers, and speed that inspired them to vote for the crimson sunbird—and to gift it the nickname, the “Little Red Dot”. In 2015, when it was officially declared the national bird, this little guy beat out the eagle and oriole. 

    Photo by Lip Kee Yap/Flickr
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    4. Peacock

    When a peacock spreads its tail on a cloudy day in India, it’s an indication of an approaching rain shower. Whether or not this is a fact or folklore, there’s no getting around the phenomenon of a peacock, fanning its tail and dancing in the first drops of rainfall. 

    Photo by Tony Hisgett/Flickr
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    5. Blue Crane

    South Africa

    Similar to penguins, when a blue crane finds a mate, they are together for life. They make their homes (as couples, separate from the rest of the flock) in the wetlands of South Africa. You’re more likely to see images of this elegant creature on a stamp or a coin than in the wild—there are less than 25,000 left in the world. 

    Photo by Josh More/Flickr

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    6. Resplendent Quetzal

    According to the time of day, the extraordinary colors of the resplendent quetzal change from an iridescent green to a bold and royal blue. As the national bird of Guatemala, it’s also a symbol of liberty—it’s believed that if the quetzal is captured and kept in a cage, it will die immediately. 

    Photo by Francesco Veronosei/Flickr
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    7. Emu

    If you want to see an emu, you have to go to Australia. These giant birds live throughout the entire continent and are its tallest birds. They can grow to be over six-and-a-half-feet tall.

    Photo by Eddy/Flickr
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    8. Scarlet Macaw

    The scarlet macaw is the national bird of Honduras, as well as the unnofficial symbol of conservation efforts in the tropical rainforests of Central America. Known for their rainbow feathers, these birds have long been sought-after pets and are now on the endgangered species list. 

    Photo by Tom Conger/Flickr
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    9. Gyrfalcon


    To spot a gyrfalcon, you must look above the glaciers, lava fields, and vast wetlands of Northern Iceland to the empty sky from which it hunts. These graceful birds were often given as gifts to royalty (many a king of Iceland had a gyrfalcon) and were revered for their beauty as well as their hunting skills. 

    Photo by Chrisdupe/Flickr

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    10. Scarlet Ibis
    Trinidad and Tobago

    The Caroni Bird Sanctuary, nestled within the 15,000 acres of Caroni Swamp, is the place to go to see a scarlet ibis in its natural habitat. As the birds mature (and eat a steady diet of crustaceans) their colors change from gray, brown, and white to scarlet. Just don’t head to the sanctuary expecting to see a flamingo—it’s the local nickname for the scarlet ibis. 

    Photo by Peter Miller/Flickr
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    11. Blue Rock Thrush

    A reliable pair of binoculars is a must when searching for the blue rock thrush amid the cliffs of Malta—especially if you are hoping for a glimpse of the male bird (he’s blue, as opposed to the dark-brown female) against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea. 

    Photo by Porphyrio/Flickr
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    12. Mute Swan

    Less than a century ago, the mute swan was nearly extinct. Denmark’s recent efforts to protect the species has made a huge difference—today the bird is seen all over the country and in other parts of the world. In fact, one particular mute swan made history in 2008 when it was discovered to be over 40 years old.

    Photo by Kyle Huynh/Flickr
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    13. Black-Crowned Crane

    Also known as the West African crowned crane, these long-necked, spiky-headed birds are something to marvel at. Both males and females have matching white cheek patches with red stripes, and a golden crown of feathers. 

    Photo by Patrick aka Herjolf/Flickr
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    14. Chukar

    This little partridge has inspired many a lyric in South Asia. The chukar, believed to be in love with the moon because of its affectionate gaze into the sky, is a symbol of unsated romance. “How could the Moon discern the enchanting chukar? Glaring he keeps on, knowing all chirp is futile,” sang the musician Mukesh.

    Photo by Miltos Gikas/Flickr
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    15. Lilac-Breasted Roller


    In the high branches of Botswana’s forests, the lilac-breasted roller waits for the perfect moment to make a quick, shallow dive to the ground for prey. Named after this dramatic flight (as well as its purple breast feathers), these birds are most often observed as a fist-sized ball of color, perched atop a tree branch. 

    Photo by Ray Morris/Flickr

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