There are many amazingly beautiful and colorful birds in the world, but the one with the most remarkable and distinctive display (imho) is the South American Sunbittern. How many birds go from very cryptic to wildly flashy by just spreading their wings?
And having such an unusual plumage display isn’t the only thing that is distinctive about this bird. It is the only member of its family, and its closest relative is the plain gray Kagu that lives in the mountainous regions of New Caledonia (east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean), almost 9000 miles away from Sunbitterns that range from Guatemala to southern Brazil.
How is that possible, you ask? Because until about 180 million years ago South America was part of a huge southern continent called Gondwanaland that included Africa, Madagascar, India, Antarctica, and Australia, plus many islands in the South Pacific. Close relatives were isolated from each other when the supercontinent split up into the land masses we recognize today.
Sunbitterns are one of just 12 species of birds in 5 different families that have been observed to use baits or lures to attract prey. Typically, birds drop the lure in the water in front of them and then wait to see what swims over to investigate, and then — zap, the prey is gobbled up.
The Sunbittern’s flashy display is meant to startle — which certainly works well on photographers with an itchy finger anxious to follow it in flight.
But Sunbitterns also perform displays with the wings positioned straight out, or on either side of their head that are meant to attract mates, or as threats to potential competitors. Check out the video below to see some Sunbittern displays…