Which Birds Can't Fly?

by OBDK on July 26, 2021

One of the main characteristics we associate with birds is their ability to fly. Many birds are very skilled fliers, but not all of them can. There are more than a handful of birds that can’t fly. Scientists have been studying and looking into some of these species to try and determine what exactly caused them to lose this ability, but the answer isn’t quite clear.1


Studies have shown that some of these birds did have the ability to fly at some point in the past, but can’t do it any longer. They’ve also been able to determine that these birds that can’t fly became this way separately from each other in various parts of the world.1


Some flightless birds include:

  • Kiwi – these birds live in New Zealand and rely on their strong sense of smell.1 

  • Penguin – no penguin species can fly. Their strength is in swimming!  

  • Ostrich – these are the largest birds. They stand about nine feet tall and can run up to 45 mph 

  • Cassowary – these birds live in Australia and are incredibly powerful. They have claws that are capable of killing humans.2

  • Inaccessible Island Rail – this is the smallest of the flightless birds and lives on an island in the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha.

  • Flightless Cormorant/Galapagos Cormorant – this is the only bird in the cormorant family that can’t fly. It’s also the biggest.

  • Kakapo – this is an interesting bird that is known as the owl parrot, because of the way it looks. This bird is flightless and nocturnal and is great at climbing trees.3


These are just a few of the birds that exist that can’t fly. Scientists are still working out whether the loss of flight is due to mutations in regulatory DNA or mutations in protein-making genes. Some lean toward changes in regulatory DNA being responsible for these evolutionary changes.4


For those birds that do fly, especially those that migrate, they’ll fly together in groups to save energy on long journeys. Check out more information about the formations they’ll fly in here!
  1. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/big-birds-cant-fly/12780/

  2. https://www.britannica.com/list/8-birds-that-cant-fly

  3. https://www.birdspot.co.uk/bird-numbers/10-birds-that-cant-fly

  4. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/how-some-birds-lost-ability-fly