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Profitable Wonders

Regulars | By James Le Fanu | November issue

The upside-down world of the flamingo

Each of the 10,000 species of birds is exceptional in its own way, though some apparently are more exceptional than others.  The ‘Top Fifty’ of the ‘evolutionary most distinctive’, according to Professor Walter Jetz of Yale University, writing in the journal Current Biology, includes the ostrich, the world’s fastest animal on two legs, with a cruising speed of thirty mph. Then there is the heaviest – and only flightless – parrot, the New Zealand Kakapo, that gets by, breeding only once every three years. The female selects her partner from a fashion parade of potential suitors.  From Venezuela comes the monogamous, nocturnal, cave-dwelling oilbird that must, like the bat, rely on echolocation to find its food in the dark. Its stores of rich body fat are highly prized as cooking oil (thus the name).  The flamingo must be the most distinctive of all. Though its instantly recognisable long, slender neck, spindly...

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