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Solo Family Members: Lonely Birds

Looks can be deceiving. It’s easy to group birds under one group because they resemble each other at a glance and call it a day. This, however, would be a great injustice to those that are deserving of their own classification for one reason or another. Konkoit takes a look at some of these special cases.

1. Magpie Goose

Magpie Goose

Despite resembling a number of ducks, geese or swans, the Magpie is the only living member of the family Anseranatidae.
This large waterfowl can be traced to Australia or Papua New Guinea and is also known as Pied Goose or Semipalmated Goose due to its mostly unwebbed toes (hence its species name semipalmata)
The white – and black – bird has yellow bills and legs, and has a head crown, which is more pronounced in males than females.
Magpie Goose mates for life – though the male may have two females and generally feeds on aquatic plants and seeds.

2. Shoebill


Besides its queer characteristics such as that flat-spade beak which resembles a shoe, this incredible looking bird also has an ability to emit cries that resemble sounds of a machine gun.
This Eastern Africa dweller shares same similarities with herons and pelicans though it is usually identified as a stork. Still, genetic evidence has led taxonomists to classify the birds in its own family. Unfortunately its closest relatives, named Goliathia and Paludavis from ancient Egypt, are extinct.
The shoebill is an extremely aggressive and unforgiving bird is a nightmare to its preys. It ventures to places undesirable in swamps, and combats its preys such as Nile monitor lizards, snakes, and baby crocodiles to submission.

3. Hamerkop


This wader has major physical attributes of Ciconiiformes (stork-like birds) and Pelecaniformes (water birds). It has some features that resemble those of Shoebills, Pelicans and Boat-billed herons.
However, it has very unique characteristics that set it apart from its closer relatives. This has enabled it to be identified under the family Scopus, and remains the only living bird in this family. A similar bird, though extinct, was identified in 1984.
The bird has many other monikers such as Hammerkop, Hammerkopf, Hammerhead, Hammerhead Stork, Umbrette, Umber Bird, Tufted Umber or Anvilhead and is found mostly in Africa, south of the Sahara.

4. Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird

The bird is believed to have gotten its name because of features resembling those of Elizabethan-age secretaries: black feathers sprouting at the back of its head resemble goose-quill pens carried behind the ears. The grey body and long black tail feathers resemble a tailcoat while the black feathers on its legs look like short pants worn by the secretaries in 1800s.
The secretary bird has a body and head of an eagle with legs of a crane or flamingo. This raptor shares characteristics with other diurnal raptors such as kites, hawks, vultures, and harriers (Accipitriformes). Due to its more distinct features and further determined through molecular systematics, it was however classified under its own family Sagittariidae.
The bird is a common symbol on the coats of arms of Sudan and South Africa. It is found in sub-Saharan Africa and its range extends from Mauritania to Somalia and south to the Cape of Good Hope.
It is a ruthless killer that dispatches its victims by clubbing and kicking with its long legs. Even highly venomous snakes are no match for the bird!

5. Osprey

Also known as fish hawk, river hawk, sea hawk, the Osprey is a large diurnal raptor that is found in all continents with the exception of Antarctica.
The bird has unique and specialized characteristics that aid in its ability to effectively catch fish; its predominant prey. These distinct traits include toes of equal length, rounded talons and a reversible outer toe. This is helpful to maintain a better grip when grabbing slippery prey.
All these have enabled the Osprey to be identified under the family Pandionidae. It is the only bird in existence that falls under that family name. The Eastern Osprey, one of the three subspecies has been upgraded and is now a full species.

There are many other birds that have been classified in their own families due to their unique characteristics.
They include Limpkin, plovers such as Magellanic, Egyptian and Crab, Ibisbill, Plains-Wanderer, Hoatzin, Oilbird and Wallcreeper.
Others are Przewalski's Rosefinch, Sharpbill, Stitchbird, Rail-Babbler, Cuckoo-Roller, Sapayoa and Olive Warbler.