1 minute read

Wading Birds and New World Vultures: Ciconiiformes

Wading Birds, New World Vultures, And People

Myths and superstitions have kept many wading birds and New World vultures safe from harm. Native peoples have honored vultures and sacred ibises as gods. White storks were thought to bring babies and considered lucky by Europeans. Some of the wading birds that migrate arrived just as the rains came, and people treated them kindly as "rain-bringers." Hammerheads and bitterns were thought to bring bad luck and even death, so people often stayed away from them.


At first glance, the bills of the birds in this group might look very similar. But although the birds all have large bills, they come in many interesting shapes. The storks' bills are thick and exceptionally long. Most herons have thinner, dagger-shaped bills. New World vultures have beaks with hooked tips and sharp edges that are used for tearing meat. A hammerhead's bill is shaped like some of the storks' bills, but it has a hook on the end, which storks don't have. The bills of ibises turn downward, and shoebills have wide, hooked bills. Spoonbills have the most unusual bills of all. They are long and flat, with a "spoon" on the tip. Whether the bills are used to probe, swish, stab, or tear, they are just what the birds need in order to feed.

Other birds are not so lucky. Herons were killed in North America and Europe because some people thought the birds ate too many fish and were harmful to the fishing industry. Vultures were shot because some farmers thought they killed calves. And millions of egrets, ibises, and spoonbills were killed so their feathers could be put on fancy hats. Laws now stop people from killing birds for their feathers, but many of the birds in this group are still in trouble.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsWading Birds and New World Vultures: Ciconiiformes - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Wading Birds, New World Vultures, And People - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE