A Dozen Birds You’ve Never Heard Of

Whether we are familiar with just our local birds, or more, few people know ALL the birds. With more than 10,000 different bird species in the world, there are bound to be some that even the birdiest humans have not heard of. Have fun with this list of a dozen–see if there is even one you know.

1. Water Dikkop.

In the Okavango Delta of Botswana lives this long-legged bird in the thick-knee family. Burhinus vermiculatus, also known as a water thick-knee, is about 15-16 inches (38-41 cm) tall. They are found near water in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and as you can see, it does have thick knees, for which it is named.

2. Paradise Riflebird.

This handsome bird only exists in rainforests of eastern Australia. Lophorina paradisea is in the same family as the show-stopping Birds of Paradise. The male performs an elaborate display in breeding season. (See photo at end, of this bird displaying.) They are about the size of a small falcon. The name “riflebird” refers to the male’s plumage that is iridescent black-green in certain light, resembling the uniform of the British Army Rifle Brigade.

3. Yellow-winged Cacique.

Found primarily in the tropical lowlands of west Mexico, Cassiculus melanicterus is a large, bold, and loud bird; reminiscent of a jay in personality but not at all related. They have a floppy crest which you see on each side of the head here. Pronounced “ka-seek.”

4. Violaceous Euphonia.

A Neotropical songbird in the finch family, Euphonia violacea is such a stunning bird that it is featured on a Trinidad/Tobago postage stamp. They are found in several parts of South America and Trinidad/Tobago. The word “euphonia” is of Greek origin and translates to “sweet-voiced.” (There’s a second Euphonia species at the end.)

5. Red-billed Francolin.

Pternistis adspersus is found in a few countries in South Africa, and is also known as the red-billed spurfowl for the spur on its heel. In the same family as the partridge and pheasant, and resembling quail, they are denizens of the grass where they eat insects, vegetable matter, and seeds.

6. Snowcap.

Found in several Central American countries, the snowcap is in the hummingbird family. Microchera albocoronata is one of the smallest hummingbirds. We enjoyed a sighting of this unusual hummingbird, obviously named for his snowy white cap, on a Costa Rican mountain slope. There are about 360 species of hummingbirds–so many that they can’t all be named hummingbirds. All found in the Americas, hummingbirds have many different names like coronet, hermit, and woodstar.

Break Time.

At this point we have covered half of the dozen birds. If you have never heard of one of them, how wonderful for you to now have learned six new birds on our planet. If you are familiar with several, that’s equally as wonderful. Let’s celebrate with this bird we’ve all heard of. They inhabit every continent except Antarctica: the wise old owl.

7. Coppery-tailed Coucal.

There are about 30 species of coucals, a large Old World bird in the cuckoo family. Centropus cupreicaudus is named for it’s reddish-brown tail, but that dazzling red eye is also noteworthy. Derivation of “coucal” comes from the spurs or claws that many coucal species have.

8. Capped Wheatear.

This is a passerine, or songbird, that we found in Zambia. I never forget this name because I could be named the same. The name “wheatear” translates from “white arse,” which you can see in this photo below. They are primarily Old World birds, but a species or two have established in Canada and Greenland. Oenanthe pileata graces the grasslands with its melodic warbling sound, where it feeds mostly on ants.

9. Red-capped Manakin.

Manakins are entertaining birds for the mating dances the male performs in breeding–one of my favorite species. They buzz and snap their wings and perform spectacular lekking courtship rituals. There are 54 species, all found in the American tropics. We have witnessed 6 or 8 male manakins lekking, but they zip past like a bullet and are nearly impossible to photograph. We were thrilled to find this solo Ceratopipra mentalis quietly drinking and bathing in a creek deep in the rainforest of Belize. The name is from Middle Dutch mannekijn “little man.”

10. Collared Pratincole.

Pratincoles are found in the Old World where they are in the wader (aka shorebird) suborder. With short legs and pointed wings, they can catch insects on the fly, like swallows–an unusual trick for a shorebird. We found this Glareola pratincola in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, Africa. The name “pratincole” comes from the Latin words prātum meadow and incola resident, although they are more water resident than meadow.

11. Black-crowned Tityra.

A medium-sized songbird, titiyras can be found in parts of Mexico, Central America, South America and Trinidad. They feed on fruit and insects, and often lay their eggs in woodpecker nests, so you almost always see them in trees. We spotted this Tityra inquisitor in Costa Rica, but they are common in many Central and South American countries.

12. Spangled Drongo.

Drongos are also a songbird species, found in the Old World tropics. They are named for their forked tails: from Greek dikros “forked” and oura “tail.” Some drongos have elaborate tail decorations, like the Dicrurus bracteatus photographed here. There is only one drongo species in Australia, so we were lucky to find this showy bird with its bright red eyes and decorative markings, singing a complex call in the rainforest.

However many names you recognized, the good news is there’s at least 10,000 more, so striving to know them all will keep us busy for a lifetime. If you previously knew none of them, you’ve learned a lot today.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

103 thoughts on “A Dozen Birds You’ve Never Heard Of

  1. Love this post, Jet, I am always happy to see & read about birds I’ve not seen or heard about. I did not know any and loved them all, thank you for enlightening me on these new to me, beautiful birds! We are so blessed to have 10,000 different species of birds on this earth to enjoy and protect. ❀️

    • It was great fun to come up with a list of unusual birds to share, Donna, and I’m happy you enjoyed them. So many birds on this planet…how wonderful. Thanks so much for your warm and lovely comment.

    • I worked hard to find birds that don’t have a common name in their name, and I haven’t introduced here, and have not been featured on nature programs. I’m smiling, Mike, glad you enjoyed the new dozen today. Thanks very much.

  2. Good afternoon Jet. I have to admit to not knowing any of these birds – certainly by name. My favourite is the Paradise Rifleman…. As I am sure you are aware, Birders in the UK are a serious bunch…they will travel thousands of miles to set eyes on a rare species. I once had a walking partner in Wales…and she was a serious birder. She was quite amazed that I could only identify the more common garden variety species….regardless of which, I love them all. I love to see them and to hear them….and maybe one day (in another life) I will learn the different names and species. Meanwhile Have a wonderful weekend. Janet :)X

    • I liked hearing about your Wales walking partner, Janet, and am glad you named a favorite bird from the list. The Paradise Riflebird was a stunning bird, and a magnificently vocal bird, too. I like all the birds, like you, common and not-common, they all add a special glint to the day. Warm thanks and cheers to you, Janet.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing these daring’s songbird’s of nature’s wonderland.
    The colors and tunes of these sweet selections only tend to enhance my love of life as that
    which surrounds us. I know it happens here! Than you for the includible photos, thank
    you also for the lovely selections! do enjoy the full moon dear friend, Eddie
    (troubles with router, maybe now cleared up??)

    • It was so much fun finding these birds with their unusual names and sharing them. I had to come up with ones that I have lovely photos of, which made it more of a challenge. I’m happy you enjoyed them, dear Eddie. Thank you so very much.

  4. All completely new to me Jet, save for the wise, old owl. Thank you for including him so those like myself would not feel too intimidated by lack of bird data. 10,000 you say? What an astounding natural world we live in. Do you have any idea on how many species of birds have become extinct?
    Now I must add that I feel bad for the Capped Wheatear. Clearly the bird naming specialist was a tad grumpy that day. Sick of dreaming up clever labels, he/she throws their hands in the air ‘ Let’s just name that one white arse and call it a day.’

    • Yes, I agree, Sue, what an astounding natural world we live in. I liked your rendition of the bird-naming specialist’s grumpy day when he/she named the wheatear white arse…gave me a smile. Always fun to share the adventures with you, Sue, thanks so much for stopping by.

  5. It is not hard for you to be able to locate a dozen birds I never heard of, but you chose a nice group here, Jet. I thought I could pick a favorite, but it turns out – I can’t!
    Stay safe, my friend.

    • When I researched the paradise riflebird’s name, I thought of you, GP, as I read a comprehensive Wikipedia overview of the British Army’s Rifle Brigade. I know you focus more on the American troops, but I have no doubt you are familiar with this one too. Cheers, my friend, and thank you.

      • Yes, I am. I know I don’t mention the RAF very much, but due to having a blog about the Pacific, the RAF only shows up in the CBI Theatre.

    • I agree, Anneli, birds are amazing with all their special behaviors and colors, never a dull moment. I’m really glad you enjoyed this dozen today. Thanks for your visit.

  6. Thanks for sharing these wonderful dozen! Birding is definitely a lifelong pursuit and while most of these are new to me, a few I’ve seen only because of other bloggers (like you!). When I travelled in my twenties, I wasn’t much of a birder, so I missed a lot, but a few instances do stand out, particularly noisy parrots that are hard to miss!

    • It’s a wonderful thing to have the internet and bloggers to help fill us in on what we cannot all cover on our own. The world is so big, it would be impossible. I, too, have learned so much from bloggers, and have a really warm place in my heart for gardening and flower arranging from your serene posts, Eliza. Fun to share these birds with you today, thank you.

  7. This was great Jet. I really enjoyed seeing these birds and reading your short descriptions. I knew the ones from my country, but was delighted to have an education on the others.

  8. Very unique and special looking birds — you guys are so fortunate to have seen them. Great photos!!! I’m still looking for a Red Cockaded here in Georgia

    • It’s great fun to have a target bird in your home state, Bill. Hopefully one day you will see one, and how lovely that is when it happens. My warmest thanks for your visit today, Bill. I always appreciate your visits.

    • Noticed your reference to the Red-Cockaded – right there with you on that bird – been through Georgia and a slew of other southern states trying to track that woodpecker down and still haven’t gotten it checked – best of luck in your future hunts.

  9. Violaceous Euphonia! Astonishing looks and name – I spent the morning trying to work it into a conversation, but could only manage I was thinking of a name change. Got a shake of the head, and thought I’d best leave it…
    Loved each and every one of these, from the thick knees to the ice cap and more.
    Thanks, Jet – we are always learning, and there’s always more to discover. Wonderful!

      • Yes, that snowcap! What a marvelously unusual bird. We only saw it that once, but I’m glad Athena got us some photos. Usually hummingbirds have a red throat but this bold one decided to do it all up in red! Cheers to you, pc!

    • Yes, we are always learning and always discovering, and I think you have the profession as a teacher where you are reminded of this daily. I loved your response, pc. It’s pretty tricky to work “violaceous euphonia” into a conversation — ha ha — and no wonder you gave yourself a shake of the head. Fun comment, my friend, thanks so much for bringing a smile to my face. I hope your weekend is a pleasant one….

  10. You have a treasure of images, I know of two of them, perhaps three, that I’ve seen but the rest only in pictures. I love it that you’ve traveled the world seeking for new birds. Yes…is true, someone has to do it! Thank you very much, my friend. Take care! πŸ™‚

    • I am happy I could share these birds with you today, HJ. You know what it takes to see the birds: a lot of trekking and bugs and disagreeable temperatures and often we just catch a glimpse before they fly off. But every once in awhile, we have a great spot and a good look and if we’re lucky, a good photo. So what a pleasure it is to share this beauty and fortune with my fellow bird-lover. Thanks so much, HJ.

  11. Nope, hadn’t heard of any except for the owl and probably won’t remember any of these for very long. But I did enjoy meeting them and there are so real beauties. Thanks for the enjoyable post!!

    janet

    • I am hoping your studies will pay off in your future trip, Walt, and some of those birds will manifest in front of you. In the meantime, I’m glad you have the barred owl in your midst, and that you enjoyed the dozen birds here. Many thanks for your visit, always a joy.

  12. What a wonderful collection of birds Jet. I am pretty sure I have seen the Red-capped Manakin on a nature program but if I have seen any of the others in a similar way, I cannot remember them. My favourite by far, if for the name only, is the Violaceous Euphonia. It’s a smart little thing in its bright yellow suit, but what a name! Wonderful πŸ˜€

    • Hi Alastair, I enjoyed your comment, as always. The euphonia birds are so delightful, and yes, the name of Violaceous just adds to their utter beauty. A nature program with manakins would be memorable because they are such a memorable bird when you have the fortune to watch the male performing. I have trudged through many muddy, steamy-hot rainforest paths to manakin leks, just for the possibility of spending a few minutes watching this incredible dance. Sometimes the birds are there, many times they’re not. Truly joyful to have this exchange, thanks for your visit. I’m heading over to join you on this week’s walk…

  13. I have heard of a few, the result of having blogging friends the world over, but seeing them all here in one place is like going to an exotic aviarium. πŸ™‚ Great shots and a great share.

    • And it is great fun to hear you enjoyed this visit to an “exotic aviarium,” Steve — a term I find delightfully fulfilling. Many thanks for your visit and kind words.

  14. These little creatures are beyond amazing! Thank you, Jet & Athena! After almost a year of feeding and watching various species in our yard, we’ve finally purchased guides to learn what they’re called! They are all so interesting & fun to watch! 🌞

  15. For a non-bird-savvy person like me, your title could just as well have been “A Thousand Birds You’ve Never Heard Of,” though it would have taken you an unduly long time to put that post together. The name Violaceous Euphonia strikes me as itself euphonious, and bodacious as well.

    • Yes, the world of birding is a fascinating one, at least to me. I’m glad you enjoyed the dozen birds and have had some amazing moments with a bird call specialist. Thank you, Kelly.

    • Dear Frank, it was really fun to put together this post with a dozen unusual birds. And I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for your warm and kind comment.

  16. I didn’t know any but this makes me want to travel even more in the future! That way I can look for them if I get to these places… πŸ™‚

  17. What a great post! I enjoyed learning about their names as well as their habitats, etc. I didn’t know any – and you know them all! Not bad for a white arse. ha.

  18. Great post as I love birds and thoroughly enjoy seeing the diversity of birds across the planet! I was batting zero up to the owl….thanks again for sharing these great pictures from Athena and love your write-up on each of them!

  19. What a marvellous selection of such stunning birds. I was happy to see several southern African birds included πŸ™‚ You definitely have spread your wings to have seen such a variety of birds in so many places.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the barred owl photo, Barbara. We were staying at a guest ranch in TX years ago, and were disappointed that our cottage had a mouse inside. But the up side of that was there was a barred owl who sat almost constantly outside our cottage hunting the mice, and posed beautifully. Delighted to have you visit today, thank you.

  20. Well, you are right! The only bird I knew of is the intermission owl.
    What a fab collection of birds we must strive to protect, not just to know.
    Gorgeous photos. You know the Paradise Riflebird is like an Art Gown!

    • Oh how I loved hearing your take on comparing the paradise riflebird to an art gown, my brilliant gown designer friend. You got me thinking about that, and I completely agree. All of the Birds of Paradise are as elegant and spectacular as art gowns. Many thanks and smiles to you.

  21. I finally got around to checking to see if I’d heard of any of these…. instead I learned of eleven out of the dozen. We were lucky to catch a visit by a barred owl here in our woods so I was a bit proud of that! 😊
    Visiting here is always such a pleasure… even it sometimes takes me a month, or more, to do so!
    Better late than never? πŸ˜‰

    • I so enjoy your visits, Gunta, and whenever you visit is always a joy. I’m glad you could share your barred owl siting, and happy I could introduce you to 11 new birds. Take good care of yourself, my friend.

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