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15 Birds With Fancy Feathered Noggins

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Special crests, crowns, and plumes can be found on birds all over the world, and can be used for anything from mating to intimidation.

1. Andean Cock of the Rock

The national bird of Peru is an interesting animal, known for its frog-like croaking and mud cup nests. The females are a dark orange, but the males display vibrant orange feathers and a disc-like puff of plumage on their heads. They spend most of the day croaking and displaying their unusual hairdos in hopes of attracting a female. As their name suggests, you can find these birds in the cloud mountains of the Andes. 

2. Guinea turaco

This fun green bird—which is very social and lives in flocks with as many as 30 members—has a little fluffy crest that puffs up when it's excited. Guinea turaco birds are monogamous: During courtship, the male bird will feed the female, and then they build a nest together. When the eggs are laid, they each take turns watching the nest.

3. Wilson's Bird of Paradise

These strange birds look like they're wearing skull caps. The male Wilson's birds of paradise are exceptionally colorful, featuring bright yellow, red, and green plumage; the inside of their mouths is a light yellow, and their tails curl into loose ringlets. The females are much more modest; their feathers are shades of brown, and their tails are plain. Both sexes have a turquoise head, which is, surprisingly, bare skin. When trying to woo a prospective female, males will tidy up an "arena" to perform a dance in. 

4. Royal Flycatcher

Royal flycatchers don't seem very interesting at first; their feathers are a drab light brown on top and light yellow on the underbelly. The bird's real beauty is in its crest, which normally lays flat on top of its head. When raised, it makes an impressive fan shape displaying either dark red for males or bright yellow for females. The fan is tipped with black and silver to further emphasize the pop of color.

It's believed the crest flies up when the bird is feeling stressed and threatened, as well as during courtship. They tend to move their heads back and forth in an almost hypnotic fashion, as seen above. 

5. King of Saxony

Male King of Saxony birds look like they have some really intense eyebrows. They use these head wires to attract females, by bouncing and inflating their feathers. To lure females in to the display, males will perch above their territory and call out to potential mates. The call sounds less like a bird, and more like a futuristic call alarm: 

6. Hoopoe

The Hoopoe lacks the vibrant colors of the other birds on the this list, but its black and white striped feathers are certainly eye-popping. Named for the sound it makes—a low "hoop, hoop"—the Eurasian Hoopoe is the national bird of Israel. The birds are fond of dust baths and sunbathing by spreading out their feathers. The crested avians are very territorial, and make their nests in holes in trees or walls. For added safety, females and nestlings contain a gland that smells like rotting meat to ward off predators and parasites. 

7. Wire-Crested Thorntail

Wire-crested thorntails are named for the tiny spike of feathers donned by the males of the species. Considered one of the smallest existing birds, they weigh in at 2.5g. Both sexes display iridescent coloring, but the males have crests and longer tails. Like most other hummingbirds, these tiny birds lead solitary lives and do not travel in flocks. Males and females will likely mate with several partners, and males have no involvement with nesting or raising the chicks. 

8. Golden Pheasant

Golden pheasants are native to China, but can also be found in the United Kingdom. The males look like tiny avian pharaohs with their nemes-like striped feathers. They use their vibrant plumage to attract the brown-and-black-feathered females by fanning out their neck feathers. The game birds have the ability to fly, but aren't very good at it, so most of their lives are spent on the ground.

9. Parotia

Males in the Parotia genus have brightly colored chests and distinctive blue eyes. Also known as the six-plumed bird of paradise, the bird has six plumes that emerge from the back of its head. When attracting a mate, the male will tidy up a space in the forest to set the stage. The bird will clear the floor of any debris, and will even use tools to scrub the branches. When everything is spick and span, the parotia will perform an impossibly silly dance that involves a lot of shaking and head bobbing.

10. Blue Crowned Pigeon

The blue crowned pigeon is the second largest type of pigeon in the world, and possibly one of the fanciest. The giant bird can weigh nearly five pounds. Its plumage is a nice toasty purplish blue with a fluffy crest on its head. Females are equally ornate to the males, but the males tend to be a little bit larger. 

11. Black Crowned Crane

Black crowned cranes live in the savannahs of Africa. They are black with pops of white and red, and a gold crown of feathers. The red pouch that hangs below their beak is called a gular sac, which is inflated to allow for loud mating calls. The elegant birds nest in the wetlands and eat small animals and bugs. Due to their disappearing habitat, the cranes are unfortunately considered a vulnerable species. 

12. Great Hornbill

The great hornbill is a big bird: they can be as tall as four feet and weigh as much as seven pounds. With a wingspan of five feet, its flapping can be heard from half a mile away. Their impressive beaks feature a fixture known as a casque, which is hollow; the rest of beak is also light, and filled with air pockets. The casque serves no known purpose, although some suspect it helps when finding a mate. Once courtship is completed, the female will imprison herself in a tree with a small opening for the male to bring her food. She will stay in the tree until her chicks grow feathers.

13. Cassowary

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These prehistoric-looking birds stand at six and a half feet tall, weigh over 100 pounds, and can run over 30 miles per hour; they are the second largest bird in the world (ostriches being the first). Similar to the hornbill, they have an impressive casque on top of their heads. The giant dinosaur-birds are generally peaceful, but shouldn't be taken lightly: they have claws and powerful kicks, and have been known to kill dogs. 

14. Red-whiskered bulbul

These punky birds sport tiny feathered mohawks. Both sexes have these black crests and will raise and lower them during courtship, like miniature curtsies. They originated from India, but have been established in Florida after some domestic bulbuls escaped a Miami aviary in 1960. 

15. Hawk Headed Parrot

The charming hawk headed parrot comes from the Amazon Basin, but you can find one at your local pet store. Hawk-heads look like normal parrots, but they have colorful feathers that they can raise into a colorful mane to look more threatening. 

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b
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Animals
Here's the First-Ever Video of Sand Cat Kittens Playing in the Wild

Sand cats are as elusive as they are adorable. Native to the isolated deserts of Asia and Africa, the nocturnal felines are adapted to desert life, and can go for long periods without water. They’re stealthy predators of venomous snakes and small rodents, and escape detection thanks to their pale sandy coats and furry paws, the latter of which make their tracks nearly invisible. These reasons, among others, are why sand kittens have never been captured on video—until now.

As The Independent reports, researchers from Panthera France, a wild cat conservation group, recently found and filmed three sand cat kittens in Morocco. Thought to be around two months old, they were hiding among vegetation as they waited for their mother to return.

Led by biologists Alexander Sliwa and Grégory Breton, the managing director of Panthera France, the researchers first embarked on their quest to locate and study the wild cat in 2013. Over the course of multiple expeditions, they encountered adults, but no offspring.

In April 2017, during their fifth expedition, Sliwa and Breton were heading back to camp at night when they spotted three pairs of gleaming eyes in the darkness. "They belonged to young sand cats, yellowish, small wild cats with broader faces and larger ears than domestic cats," Breton recounted on Panthera France's blog. Astonished, the scientists managed to record the kittens and identify and radio-collar their mother.

Experts think this is the first time that sand cat (Felis margarita) kittens have been documented in their African range. Until Sliwa and Breton locate even more baby cats for us to ogle, you can enjoy their video footage below.

[h/t The Independent]

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