4 Poisonous Birds

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Toxins: they're not just for snakes and spiders! While no bird currently known to science wields a venomous bite, a fair number do in fact release noxious poisons from their skin, making them dangerous to consume... including one species upon which humans have been precariously dining for centuries. Here's a quartet of toxic avians.

1. Hooded Pitohui (Pitohui dichrous)

Though New Guinea natives have long known that these stunning orange and black songbirds (above) are indeed quite poisonous, the scientific community didn't catch on until relatively recently as explained in this video:

2. The Little Shrikethrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha)

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Back in 2000, a team of researchers collected a pair of these insect-eating Oceania natives and discovered that the feathers of one specimen actually contained secretions of a toxin similar to that used by the notorious poison dart frogs of Central and South America.

3. The Spur-Winged Goose (Plectopterus gambiensis)

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In nature, you are what you eat. Case in point: Just as flamingos acquire their pinkish hue from the crustaceans they gobble up, the Spur-Winged Goose absorbs poisons from toxic beetles it periodically ingests, making its own flesh deadly to consume.

4. The Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix)

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The toxins of these odd-looking yet familiar birds have been affecting human chefs and diners for so long that a new word—“coturnism”—was eventually coined to describe the phenomenon of being poisoned by a quail, resulting in vertigo and spasms; the predicament was even described in the Biblical book of Numbers. In fact, these symptoms became so widespread throughout the Mediterranean that the Roman Empire officially banned the eating of quail in the 1st Century CE.

So what makes these seemingly harmless fowl so dangerous to nibble on? Though many scientists suspect that something in the birds' diets may once again provide an answer, the precise causes remain unknown.

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July 17, 2013 - 5:00pm
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