Eurypygiformes – Kagu & sunbittern

Medium-sized, almost flightless ground-living birds of New Caledonia & tropic Americas

Comprises a unique and fascinating group of birds that include two distinct species: the Kagu and the Sunbittern. These medium-sized, non-migratory birds are known for their complex and striking plumage patterns, which serve as camouflage and play a role in their social and defensive behaviors.

The Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) is an extraordinary bird found exclusively in the dense forest habitats of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean. This bird is highly adapted to its environment, with an almost ghostly presence amidst the underbrush. Its plumage, a tapestry of greys and whites, blends seamlessly with the forest floor, where it hunts for insects, snails, and other small animals. Unlike most birds, the Kagu’s eyes face forward, giving it binocular vision—a trait that is crucial for discerning prey among the leaves and debris. This adaptation is indicative of their evolved hunting strategy, which relies on sight over scent or sound.

In stark contrast to the solitary Kagu, the Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) inhabits the lush rainforests stretching across Central and South America. This bird is as enigmatic as its forest home, often seen walking with deliberate steps along riverbanks or under the cover of forest canopies. Its plumage is equally remarkable, featuring a complex pattern that includes a burst of colors on its wings, resembling the rays of the sun—hence its name. When it comes to hunting, the Sunbittern is an adept predator, using its slender, sharp bill to snatch fish, amphibians, and invertebrates from the water or forest floor.

Both the Kagu and the Sunbittern are examples of convergent evolution, where unrelated species develop similar traits to adapt to comparable environments or ecological niches. Their survival is a testament to the intricacy of evolutionary pressures. Despite their differences, both birds share a common vulnerability to habitat loss and predation by invasive species.