Whether you’re a casual birdwatcher or an avid ornithologist, we can all agree that birds are some of the most fascinating creatures to grace the Earth. From the mechanics of flight to their dietary habits, it’s hard not to be impressed by our avian brethren. But one of the most interesting things that some birds do is puff up their chests.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about birds that puff up their chest, with photos and facts to accompany them.
1. Greater Sage Grouse
The first bird on this list is the greater sage grouse, one of the most visually exciting birds you’re likely to see. The sage grouse sports black and gray feathers, a fluffy white collar, pointed tail feathers, and two yellow gular sacs inflate during courtship. These sacs give the grouse a beautiful, almost otherworldly appearance.
2. Victoria Crowned Pigeon
If the greater sage grouse looks almost otherworldly, the Victoria-crowned pigeon falls neatly in the same category. It has red eyes, steel blue feathers, and a wispy crest of fathers akin to a peacock, giving it a look akin to a spectral fairy.
Unlike the greater sage grouse, though, the Victoria-crowned pigeon doesn’t puff its chest up for courtship; it and other pigeon species puff their chests up in rituals to establish dominance with other birds.
3. Rock Dove
Despite its mighty, poetic name, this bird is more familiar than you realize. It is more commonly known as the rock pigeon and is the pigeon you most often run into in cities worldwide.
Often, lookers-on are so focused on (or irritated by) the pigeons’ bobbing necks that they miss the rock dove’s chest-puffing, which males perform as part of mating rituals.
If there’s one bird synonymous with chest puffing, it’s this one. Unlike pigeons but like the greater sage grouse, the frigatebird’s puffed chest is a gular sack, a featherless patch of skin that can inflate at will. It’s hard to miss, too, with its blazing crimson color–and we assume that that’s what the frigatebirds think, too, since they love to inflate their balloon-like sacs to attract mates.
5. Royal Penguin
Also called the macaroni penguin, these fascinating birds inhabit the islands outside the Antarctic, where they consume more sea creatures than any other seabird! Macaroni penguins puff out their chests as part of mating dances, during which they also bob their necks and loudly gurgle.
The macaw is one of the most beautiful birds on the planet. But as many macaw owners know all too well, it can be complicated to live with them, especially given the fact that they can often give enigmatic chest puffs. Sometimes, the macaw puffs its chest out of fear, other times out of anger, and other times out of happiness.
7. African Penguin
The African penguin is the second of the flightless checkerboard birds to grace our list, but this one lives relatively far from the Antarctic, inhabiting the waters around the coast of South Africa. They’re noteworthy for their stout beaks, pink eye glands, and donkey-like bray. But if you’re lucky, you’ll also see the males puff up their chests to intimidate one another.
8. Double-Crested Cormorant
Cormorants are relatives of frigatebirds, but the family resemblance might not be immediately evident. They both look like lanky blackbirds, but what ties them together?
Their relationship becomes apparent when the cormorant descends from a flight. As it lands, the cormorant puffs out its orange gular sac, like its red-necked cousin, the frigatebird.
9. Vogelkop Superb Bird-Of-Paradise
The bird-of-paradise is aptly named– this particular bird-of-paradise, also known as the crescent-caped lophronia or the curl-caped bird of paradise, has stunning black feathers that absorb over 99% of the light that strikes them.
On top of all that, the crescent-caped lophronia makes a habit of puffing up its chest and shuffling its feet to attract a mate.
10. Pectoral Sandpiper
The pectoral sandpiper may be the best aptly named bird on this list. “Pectoral” means chest, and this sandpiper has quite a remarkable chest.
Like frigatebirds and cormorants, pectoral sandpipers have gular sacs on their chest, which they puff up while they’re in flight to attract females; as they pass one, they expel air to make an odd hooting sound.
11. Parakeet Budgie
These birds are adorable–their striking white-and-powder-blue coloring makes them a real treat to gaze upon, which is why they are the third most popular pets in the world!
Budgies, also called budgerigars, are indigenous to Australia, which is why they have adopted a variety of techniques in their worldwide homes–such as puffing up their chests to keep warm.
12. African Gray Parrot
The next bird on our list is another tropical bird, the African gray parrot. With its subdued, beautiful combination of steel gray and white feathers, it’s a visual treat–and you can tell when they’re irritable, excited, or even sick based on when they puff out their chest.
13. Sharp-Tailed Grouse
The second grouse on this list is the sharp-tailed grouse, which inhabits areas as south as the Great Plains and north as the Arctic Circle. They are noteworthy for the smallish purple sacs at the base of their necks, which they inflate during elaborate mating rituals–which also entail making cooing noises and running fast.
The cockatiel is another variety of parrot, boasting a cute lemon-yellow face and bright red cheek flush. Like the other parrots on this list, the cockatiel has become incredibly adaptable at surviving various environments–they puff themselves up to stay warm at night.
15. Lesser Prairie-Chicken
This bird is one of the more bizarre-looking entries on this list. Ordinarily, they look like run-of-the-mill fowl, like a cross between an ordinary chicken and an ordinary grouse. But when the birds engage in male-on-male competition, a bizarre sight unfolds: the feathers on the side of their necks turn skyward, forming a shape like horns, and their bright red sacs inflate as they stomp at one another.
Starlings are beautiful songbirds with coats of multicolored feathers. But beyond their conventional beauty, they are also remarkable for their puffing ability. They make themselves look large to scare off possible threats, from birds to humans.
17. Emperor Penguin
The emperor penguin is the largest of all living penguins, reaching 39 inches (100 centimeters) in height–the size of a four-year-old child! The emperor is the only penguin that breeds during the frigid winters of the southern reaches, and as part of this process, the males puff up their yellow-tinged chests to attract females.
18. Bateleur Eagle
The Bateleur eagle is one of the more expressive birds on our list: its face changes colors depending on its mood, and it puffs up its chest feathers to express its rage. As interesting as it might look, you do not want to see this big bird when it gets angry.
19. Rockhopper Penguin
Rockhopper penguins are not the most attractive birds in the penguin family, but they are some of the most interesting–and some of the most numerous. Like other penguins, they make elaborate chest puffery and screaming displays to attract mates.
Unlike many other birds on this list, gannets have inflated chests with rather practical purposes. As they descend from flight toward their watery hunting grounds, gannets inflate gular sacs to cushion the blow. A perfect 10!
21. Sandhill Crane
The final entry on this list is the sandhill crane, which, despite its elegance, somehow feels the need to puff up its chest to attract mates. You do you, sandhill crane!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions about birds that puff up their chest.
What does it mean when a bird puffs out its chest?
Different birds puff out their chests for various reasons, though they are most often related to mating rituals or self-preservation. The male pectoral sandpiper, for instance, puffs out its chest to attract females, while the starling does so to scare off predators, and the macaw puffs itself up to keep warm.
Do birds puff up when scared?
For many birds, especially parrots, puffing up can reflect different moods. Some birds puff up when they’re happy, others when angry, and some get puffy when they’re anxious.
Why does a dove puff up?
Doves and pigeons (their less popular cousins) usually puff up for either comfort or seduction. Rock doves, for example, puff up their chests to attract mates, though other doves do so to keep themselves warm.
Now that you understand more about the most well-known birds that puff up their chest, you are ready to dive deeper! So go ahead and get a pair of binoculars, puff up your chest, and get birding!