Entries: World’s Prettiest Bird Contest

On Sunday I wrote a short post about “What’s the world’s prettiest bird?“. I gave my own choice, the Resplendent Quetzal, and then invited readers to submit their own choice of bird and a few words of appreciation.  Here are the selections. There is a Super Secret judge who will adjudicate the entries based on the bird’s appearance, the photograph submitted, and the words of appreciation. The winner (no prizes, sadly) will be announced around noon.

Entries are of course closed now, but feel free to mention (and give a photo link to) your own choice in the comments, or choose one of them shown below.

From Michael Fisher:

I look at beauty in animals in a more functional way rather than the razzle dazzle of colours. I have chosen the Atlantic Puffin  [Fratercula arctica] because of the sharply defined B&W colour scheme suited to a monochrome environment – topped off by the delineated ‘makeup of the face & the proud seasonal beak [or beacon?]

If this bird were an airplane it would be a tough, stubby USN carrier piston engined USMC fighter bomber – capable of recovering from the harshest of deck landings.

Here’s a pic of a puffin loaded with fish coming in on its final approach – webbed feet acting as air brake stabilisers. Now that’s ‘beautiful’!

From reader Amy Tovar:

I lived in Australia for 3 years. IMO the rainbow lorikeet [Trichoglossus moluccanus] is hard to match. They are very common so that one doesn’t need to travel to remote places.

From Rick Longworth:

This is my favorite. The black chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) I’ve been filming it this past summer and it is now my soul mate.

Debra Coplan like the clean design of a mankin:

The wire-tailed manakin (Pipra filicauda). I love this little bird. The colors are so vibrant. As a former graphic designer, I love simplicity and this bird has it with the three distinct sections of strong colors.  The thin and curled tail is a good contrast to that pudgy body. This is a male as it is a sexually dimorphic species.

From reader Paul:

The Tricolored HeronEgretta tricolor; Order: Pelecaniformes; Family: Ardeidae

Found in coastal estuaries, this small heron generally hunts alone by dancing with quick turns and starts in search of small fish.  I am lucky to encounter these beauties every time I explore the T.M. Goodwin Broadmoor Marshes for Cornell Ornithology’s eBird citizen science program.

From Mark Richardson:

One of my hobbies growing up was tying flies. One year, a great uncle gave my dad (which meant me) all of his fly-tying materials that he’d been collecting since the early 1920’s. There were true treasures in there: real jungle cock capes, polar bear hair, and my favorite, the entire dried carcass of a male Chinese golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictusd). I’d never seen a bird with such a variety of feathers and colors. So I choose the bird for its beauty and personal sentiment.

From Georgiana Hoffman:

The peacock [Pavo cristatus] is undoubtably the most beautiful bird, from the poms on his head to the eyes that swim on his vibrating tail. If he were only seen in his natural habitat, he would be the most sought after subject of photographs and film.

From Graham Ramsey:

I’m going to nominate the Northern Pintail duck [Anas acuta].

If you look up “elegance” in the dictionary, there is a picture of a male pintail. It is beautifully proportioned with a chocolate head atop a long slender white neck at the front and a sassy black and yellow vent with eponymous tail bringing up the rear. Its body is delicately vermiculated in silver and white with black, white and silver feathers artfully draped over the sides. A bi-coloured baby-blue and black beak is the finishing touch to a wonderful bird.

Here in Scotland pintails are mainly winter visitors; seen on visits to the local loch on ice-cold mornings with a backdrop of frosty pine trees and snow-covered hills. They gladden my heart.

Another golden pheasant, this time from reader Keith:

The Golden Pheasant, male (Chrysolophus pictus). All I can say is: well done girls, nice sexual selecting!

From ornithologist Bruce Lyon, who should know:

Quetzal is pretty hard to beat but when people ask me about prettiest or favorites, I always weasel and say I cannot pick one. Instead I go for top ten.

Here is my vote for a an extremely beautiful bird, the cedar waxwing [Bombycilla cedrorum]. They have such soft plumage with subtle colors and silkiness and then those gorgeous waxlike bead modified feathers, no doubt signals to show off carotenoid pigments, which birds (and other vertebrates cannot synthesize but have to get from their diet).

Since I am a bio nerd, some of the beauty of a bird has to do with its natural history. Quetzals are extra stunning because one sees them in the cloud forest. Waxwings are frugivores that feast on pretty berries and are interesting in terms of seed dispersal and species interactions. To me, that adds to their beauty.

[JAC: the photo below was taken by Bruce—from inside his house!]

From Linda Calhoun, who likes Australia’s Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius):

I love the colors.  And parrots usually have the personality to go with the colors.

From reader Vierotchka:

Birds of Paradise are in a class of their own, but with regard to “ordinary” birds, I would say that the Nicobar Pigeon [Caloenas nicobarica] comes in a close second. (A wild male peacock with full tail feathers taking flight at dawn in a misty jungle in India is a sight unparalleled, too.)

From reader summonzeus:

I am restricting my choice to birds that I have seen in the wild and my all time favorite is the Wallcreeper [Tichodroma muraria] seen in the Tatry Mountains of Slovakia:

From our own Greg Mayer, who chose the Numfor Paradise KingfisherTanysiptera carolinae:

The bird is a single-island endemic, from Numfor island in Geelvink Bay, in Indonesian New Guinea. The bird is of three strongly contrasting colors: coral red bill, cobalt blue body, and pure white tail, with two racket feathers each with a black rachis and pure white paddle.

While the coral red and pure white are essentially unvarying, the cobalt blue varies over different parts of the body and depending on the angle of the light, through shadings of blue to black. Adding to the bird’s interest (but not to the prettiness of a single bird) is that all related forms have pure white chests and bellies, while this island alone has the underside dark blue.

Reader (and biologist/naturalist) Lou Jost chose the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) as the prettiest bird after the quetzal (his favorite). I have to admit that this is one gorgeous bird, and I actually saw one, but at a distance and not in good light, when hiking in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal in about 1974.

Himalayan Monal: I love the riot of iridescence on this bird, shining simultaneously in almost every color of the spectrum; it is hard to imagine a greater contrast with the bleak monochrome snowscape of its
habitat in winter.  I’ve only seen these in captivity, but even then it stands out like a torch.

From Charles Jones:

I don’t know how I could pick the most beautiful species of bird (although the golden pheasant is quite lovely), but attached is the most beautiful individual bird. I believe it is a goldfinch, but I’m not sure why he looks so derpy.  My daughter says he looks like three cups of coffee wasn’t enough.


From reader P. Nash, who mentioned two birds but sent a photo of the painted bunting. I’ve linked to a photo of her other choice.

The mature male Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) has a most gorgeous royal blue colour while the juvenile male has a very interesting and sometimes exquisite shading of blue hues.  I’m torn simply because I spotted a shy one in my garden many years ago, and the thrill was unforgettable; however, in researching this little bird, I discovered the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) which I must submit as my entry.  Its colour palette and pattern remind me of a painterly Japanese silk kimono! I love its little sweet song which gladdens my heart.

Reader Stuart MacLeod sent two photos, one chosen by him, the other by his spouse:

My wife (Sandré) and my contributions to your prettiest bird competition.  Both are African birds.
Sandré:  Narina Trogon [Apaloderma narina]:
Stuart:  Knysna Lourie  (Tauraco corythaix) [JAC: I’ve put three photos sent by Stuart, one from a newspaper, to fully show this bird, which I’ve never seen either in the wild or in photos]:

Start thinking about what you’d choose as the ugliest bird—indeed, the ugliest animal. We may have another contest soon.


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Holy PCC(E), these are great!

    The waxwing I learned about here, and subsequently started noticing them in real life. Love it when that happens.

  2. Posted December 27, 2018 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    yes, those waxwings are gorgeous. and just last week i found a hoard Bohemian Waxwings here, which I hadn’t heard of. More gorgeous. But hands down? The puffin. I hope someday to be able to travel a bit north to see some. And the photo is stunning.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I must go with the bunting. Beautiful in a small package.

    On the Puffin, I wonder why piston engine?

  4. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Who’s the secret judge, Big Bird?

  5. BobTerrace
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I’m glad I don’t have to choose.

    I would just declare it a 22-way tie.

  6. Merilee
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 9:00 am | Permalink


  7. Liz
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I like the heron. So many beautiful birds.

    • Posted December 27, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      The elusive Agami Heron is definitely one of the most elegant birds:

      • Liz
        Posted December 27, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        Stunning. Beautiful colors.

      • Posted December 27, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        You should have entered this awesome, noble creature, Lou!!!

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 27, 2018 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Mind-blowingly beautiful, a worthy rival to the Quetzal. (IIRC Quetzalcoatl was the feathered snake god).

      • Bruce Lyon
        Posted December 27, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        What a great choice Lou! I should have thought of this bird too.

        • Posted December 27, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          I used to have to find this bird for my birder clients as a guide in the Amazon. It was very hard to find unless the water was low. The usual sighting was in the black floodwaters under a dark green jungle canopy, with the bird holding its body horizontally just above the water, its head and neck also horizontal, silently and slowly moving forward with perfect grace, and with the heron’s colors reflecting in the water.

          • Diane G
            Posted December 30, 2018 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

            My vote for most beautiful description. 🙂

            (Gorgeous heron. The chick in the Audubon article is a strong rival of the Ugly Duckling, however. 😀 )

  8. GBJames
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    You gotta love those little dinosaurs.

  9. Mikeyc
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Very pretty, all of them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though. There is no “prettiest”. We are to pick from the list, so I’ll go with the Cedar Waxwing.

  10. Andy Lowry
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I’ll join the voting bloc for the Cedar Waxwings. Had a slew of them at the bird-watering station last fall, and was astounded. I’d never seen one before and had to look them up on my birding application (Merlin). As I live in Arizona, they’re not an everyday sight. My visitors must have been on a migratory trip, or maybe they were just sightseeing.

  11. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    The Knysna Lourie is commonly seen in the forests and gardens of the Southern Cape. It is a spectacularly beautiful bird indeed.
    And what about the different sunbirds? (they converge with Kolibri’s, many of which are excessively pretty too)
    I don’t have photos, but I’d like to add (if that is possible without photographs ) Burchell’s Coucal, it does not look great on photographs, but in real life it is absolutely spectacular
    And that powderblue breasted little bird I don’t know the official official name of?
    The Malachite kingfisher?
    And then some of those birds of paradise with their out-of-this-world displays.
    I think this is a contest that cannot possibly have a winner, it is like asking what is the best piece of music ever written? There simply is no best, and as far as birds go no prettiest.

  12. Posted December 27, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    This was an excellent contest, as I learned about several birds I didn’t know about! I’m blown away!

    I’m captivated by the moon-walking abilities of the manakin but they are all gorgeous!:

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    All very fine! I am glad that I am not da judge.

  14. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    It illustrates that birds, much more than mammals are visual animals.
    It is fascinating that their colours and displays, mainly due to sexual selection, can also movee us, a not very closely related species, In fact, I find bird displays way more pleasing than the signs (female) of the much more closely related Chimps or Baboons 🙂
    We are, of course one of the relatively few mammals that are trichromates, not dichromates. However, birds are tetrachromates and have additional refining coloured oil droplets in their photoreceptors. What are we missing? Reminds us of the dreams of the born blind.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 27, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      And then I didn’t even mention the mantis shrimps, decatrichromats! And even better, the cephalopods that do not use pigments, but chromatic aberration to see colours. A hidden universe.

  15. Christopher
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I love seeing birds I’ve never heard of before, and there are several on this list.

    I wish I had made an entry though, as I feel woodpeckers deserve a bit of the limelight. The Yellow-fronted woodpecker, Melanerpes flavifrons for example, of the Bronze-winged woodpecker, Colaptes aeruginosus, or the Black-headed woodpecker, Picus erythropygius. Or any of the genus Celeus or Dryocopus, or maybe I just love woodpeckers.

  16. Claudia Baker
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Wow, these are all so beautiful. Impossible to pick a favourite.

  17. Posted December 27, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Yip. I give 10 out of 10 for all of them.

  18. Posted December 27, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful collection of stunningly beautiful birds…

    In my opinion, every single entry is a winner.


  19. Joe Dickinson
    Posted December 27, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I also like the pintail although I might describe it as “most elegant” rather than “prettiest”.

  20. Posted December 28, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous! Makes one happy that these little dinosaurs have survived.

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