Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Creature Feature: Tropicbird.

If you've ever been on Cracked.com, you will see constantly-updated lists of real things that are not PhotoShopped. Well, now it's time for one of our own. Your mileage may vary:


This is a red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus). There are only three species of tropicbirds, all of which focus around, well, tropical islands. They are usually cited alongside frigatebirds and boobies as some of the many odd birds of the Galapagos. Being seabirds, fish and squid are on the menu. They were once lumped in with pelicans, but really have no extant relatives.

Tropicbirds do not look like real birds. They look like the birds that would happen if someone who only had the vaguest idea of what a bird was designed a bird. The feet are small and positioned far to the back of the bird's body, with all four toes webbed. The white tail is long. It's a "derp here's a bird" design, if that makes any sense. Tail, feet, wings, beak, and almost no regard for proper avian anatomy. Yet it works.

Tropicbirds are meant to fly and swim. Aside from their wings looking undersized, much of their time is spent at sea. Their strange feet don't just look odd; they are all but useless, making the tropicbird barely able to waddle on land. They dive, get back up in the sky, then dive again. Those feet really are useless. Remember how the bird-of-paradise was once considered "footless?" Title claimed by the tropicbird instead.

As one might imagine, tropicbird chicks have it rough. They might not eat for days at a time, which is  why they have evolved fat stores. Unfortunately, this means the little tropicbirds have to hobble into the ocean and fast the fat off. Whaddya know? Binge diets are natural.

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