What Birds Don't Fly

What Birds Don’t Fly?

There are 57 recorded species of birds that don’t fly, but that equates to 1000s of actual flightless birds once you include all of the subspecies. There are quite a few large birds that can’t fly and these include:

  • Ostrich
  • Emu 
  • Rhea
  • Kiwi
  • Cassowary
  • Penguin

There are also the domesticated birds that don’t fly including:

  • Chickens
  • Ducks
  • Broad Breasted White Turkeys (Due to intensive breeding programs)

Why Do Birds Fly?

Birds fly for a number of reasons including:

  • To Find Food
    Some birds fly to feed, they catch insects as they fly.
  • Escape From Predators
  • Protect Their Territory
    They fly to each part of their territory singing to make others aware they are living in that area and they’re prepared to fight to protect their territory.
  • Get To Safer Nesting Grounds
  • Attract A Mate 

Why Are There Flightless Birds?

Over many centuries, birds that have no natural enemies or predators, don’t need to migrate, and have a readily available food supply have evolved to have stronger legs, with larger muscles and shorter almost non existent wings. These birds often develop better bodies for the terrain they are living in. For instance the ostrich is the fastest bird on 2 legs and can sprint at around 45 miles per hour (72km/h). It can run for 10 miles at a speed of 30 miles per hour (48 k/h) and weighs in at 350 pounds (158 kg) with a height of 9 foot (274 cm). They need all of their speed to outrun a hungry lion.

Do Flightless Birds Have Wings?

It seems that as these species stopped using their wings, their bodies changed. This would have taken centuries, but many now have an appendage where their wings would have been, but they are much smaller, and lack many bones and joints that were necessary for flight. Interestingly enough, many of these flightless birds still try to flap these appendages when running. It’s almost as if they have not quite forgotten how to use wings, they just don’t have them as such.

T Rex Shape

Having seen many bone cast replicas of the T Rex, one of the largest dinosaurs ever to have roamed this planet, we are always reminded of the image of many of the flightless birds that are alive today. Large powerful legs, and small almost useless front limbs where wings, or arms would have been. Of course today’s flightless birds are on a smaller scale than the T Rex and they don’t have the menacing teeth, but the similarities are plain to see.

Where Are Most Flightless Birds From?

Flightless birds are found all over the world but the country with the most flightless species is New Zealand. Up until around 1000 years ago when humans first settled on the islands of New zealand, there were no large predators to worry the wildlife population. No predators along with a wide variety of habitats and flora and fauna was the ideal breeding ground for a wide variety of flightless birds to evolve.

What Are The Dangers Faced By Flightless birds?

The largest danger facing birds who cannot fly is the loss of habitat, followed by predators, and of course humans. Many species of flightless birds are extinct, with over ½ of the flightless bird species in a vulnerable or threatened state. With mankind being largely responsible for their demise.

A List Of Some Of The Flightless Birds Worldwide.

Below is a fairly comprehensive list of the birds that don’t fly. We’ve placed them in their respected genus for ease of reference. Some are already extinct, some are on the verge of extinction and some are still living. Many in relative safety for now.


  • Asian Ostrich
  • Common Ostrich
  • Somali Ostrich
  • Kangaroo Island Emu
  • King Island Emu
  • Tasmanian Emu
  • Dwarf Cassowary
  • Northern Cassowary
  • Southern Cassowary
  • Moa
  • Elephant Birds
  • Great Spotted Kiwi
  • North Island Brown Kiwi
  • Little Spotted Kiwi
  • Okarito Kiwi
  • Southern Brown Kiwi
  • Darwin’s Rhea
  • Greater Rhea

Anseriformes (Waterfowl)

  • Auckland Island Teal
  • Campbell Teal
  • Chubut Steamer Duck
  • Falkland Steamer Duck
  • Fuegian Steamer Duck
  • Amsterdam Wigeon
  • Bermuda Flightless Duck
  • Finsch’s Duck
  • New Zealand Merganser
  • O’ahu Moa-Nalo
  • Maui Nui Large-Billed Moa-Nalo
  • Small-Billed Moa-Nalo
  • Turtle-Jawed Moa-Nalo
  • Nēnē-Nui
  • Californian Flightless Sea-Duck (Law’s Diving Goose)
  • Giant Hawaii Goose
  • Mihirung
  • New Zealand Geese
  • Kaua’i Mole Duck

Galliformes (Game Birds)

  • New Caledonian Giant Scrubfowl
  • Noble Megapode
  • Viti Levu Scrubfowl

Podicipediformes (Grebes)

  • Atitlán Grebe
  • Junin Grebe
  • Titicaca Grebe

Pelecaniformes (Pelicans, Cormorants And Allies)

  • Flightless Cormorant
  • Plotopteridae

Sphenisciformes (Penguins)

  • Adélie Penguin
  • African Penguin
  • Chinstrap Penguin
  • Chatham Penguin
  • Emperor Penguin
  • Erect-Crested Penguin
  • Fiordland Penguin
  • Galapagos Penguin
  • Gentoo Penguin
  • Humboldt Penguin
  • King Penguin
  •  Little Blue Penguin
  • Macaroni Penguin
  • Magellanic Penguin
  • Rockhopper Penguin
  • Royal Penguin
  • Snares Penguin
  • Waitaha Penguin
  • White-Flippered Penguin
  • Yellow-Eyed Penguin

Coraciiformes (Kingfishers, Hornbills And Allies)

  • Saint Helena Hoopoe

Ciconiiformes (Storks, Herons, Egrets, Bitterns, Ibises, and Spoonbills)

  • Ascension Night Heron
  • Hawaiian Flightless Ibis
  • Janaican Ibis

Gruiformes (Cranes, Rails, And Coots)

  • Aldabra (White-Throated) Rail
  • Adzebill
  • Antillean Cave Rail
  • Ascension Crake
  • Bar-Winged Rail
  • Calayan Rail
  • Chatham rail 
  • Cuban Flightless Crane
  • Dieffenbach’s Rail
  • Gough Island Moorhen
  • Giant Coot
  • Great Oʻahu Crake
  • Great Maui Crake
  • Guam Rail
  • Hawaiian Rail
  • Hawkins’ Rail
  • Henderson Crake
  • Hispaniolan Cave Rail
  • Invisible Rail
  • Inaccessible Island Rail
  • Laysan Rail
  • Lord Howe Woodhen
  • Liliput Crake
  • Lord Howe Swamphen
  • Mangaia Crake
  • Makira Woodhen
  • New Caledonian Rail
  • New Guinea Flightless Rail
  • North Island Takahē
  • pink-Legged Rail (New Britain Rail)
  • Red Rail
  • Réunion Rail
  • Roviana Rail
  • Rodrigues Rail
  • Snoring Rail
  • Sauzier’s Wood Rail
  • Saint Helena Rail
  • Saint Helena Crake
  • Small Maui Crake
  • Small Oʻahu Crake
  • Snipe-Rail
  • Tasmanian Native Hen 
  • Tristan Moorhen
  • Takahē
  • Tahiti Crake
  • Tahiti Rail
  • Wake Island Rail
  • Weka
  • Woodford’s Rail

Mesitornithiformes (Mesites)

  • Brown Mesite 

Charadriiformes (Shorebirds And Allies)

  • Great Auk

Falconiformes (Birds Of Prey)

  • Jamaican Caracara

Psittaciformes (Parrots)

  • Kakapo

Caprimulgiformes (Nightjars)

  • New Zealand Owlet-Nightjar

Columbiformes (Pigeons, Doves)

  • Dodo
  • Henderson Ground Dove
  •  Rodrigues Solitaire
  • Saint Helena Dove
  • Viti Levu Giant Pigeon

Passeriformes (Perching Birds)

  • Long-Billed Wren
  • Long-Legged Bunting
  • Lyall’s Wren
  • North Island Stout-Legged Wren
  • South Island Stout-Legged Wren

Strigiformes (Owls)

  • Andros Island Barn Owl
  • Cretan Owl
  • Cuban Giant Owl

Domesticated Flightless Birds

Among the more than 10,000  species of birds that are estimated to live on this planet, the domesticated birds are not included because these are not truly flightless. They have either had their wings clipped to prevent flight or they have been purpose bred not to fly. They include many types of chickens, ducks and turkeys.

Flightless birds are a really interesting group of birds as they show how animals can develop if left alone for long enough. There are many organisations that are trying to get these birds the protection they deserve, but much more needs to be done to protect their habitats and allow them to exist as they always have. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many flightless birds are in the world?

There are more than 57 species of birds worldwide that are flightless. This does not include domesticated flightless birds.

What is the biggest non flying bird?

The biggest non-flying bird is the ostrich, they can grow to an amazing 91/2 foot (289 cm) tall and weigh in at around 350 lbs (1158 kg).