CURASSOWS, GUANS, AND CHACHALACAS – Cracidae

CURASSOWS-GUANS-AND-CHACHALACAS

CURASSOWS, GUANS, AND CHACHALACAS FACTS

Length in the cracids (members of the family Cracidae) varies from 16.5 to 36.2 inches (42 to 92 centimeters) and weight is 0.8 to 9.5 pounds (0.4 to 4.3 kilograms). The slim birds are long-legged with short, rounded wings and long tails. Though short, the beak is strong and lightly curved. The feet are similar to those of moundbuilders, with well-developed toes. Plumage (feathers) is black or olive brown to reddish brown, and white marks are scattered throughout. Male curassows of many species have a fleshy knob on the root of the beak or brightly colored areas of naked skin on the head.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

These birds are found in south Texas through tropical South America as far as central Argentina. United States is home to only one species, whereas Colombia and Brazil harbor twentyfour and twenty-two species, respectively.

CURASSOWS, GUANS, AND CHACHALACAS HABITAT

Cracids live in tropical forest regions, plantations, and forested areas where there is a second, lighter growth of vegetation. Although most species prefer the warmth of lowlands, some do live in mountain forests of altitudes above 9,800 feet (3,000 meters).

CURASSOWS, GUANS, AND CHACHALACAS DIET

Though mainly plant eaters, cracids also feed on insects and other small animals. They enjoy berries and small fruits whole, but will bite into bigger fruit such as guavas and mangoes. They also eat seeds, soft leaves, and buds. Unlike other Galliformes, cracids won’t scratch the forest floor for their food.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

We don’t know much about cracid life because they are such shy birds. They seem to live socially in small groups or flocks, and their nests are found in groups. They are vocal birds whose calls are loud and cacophonous (having an unpleasant sound). Some of the mountain forest-dwelling species migrate to lower altitudes during the colder months.

Cracids build their nests in trees or bushes. The nest is a flat platform, usually longer than it is wide and built from twigs, plant stems, leaves, grass, and other similar items. Some of the species are polygamous (puh-LIH-guh-mus; having several mates in one season), but no one is certain about the others.

Curassow hens lay two eggs; chachalacas, three; and guans, three to four. Experts believe that only the female incubates (keeps warm before hatching) the eggs. Incubation periods vary from twenty-one to thirty-six days, depending on species.

Newborns are able to leave the nest very soon after birth. They are able to fly, hop, and walk along twigs when just a few days old. Cracids spend a great deal of time in the trees, hopping from branch to branch and walking on twigs. Cracids fall prey to jaguars and other big cats.

CURASSOWS, GUANS, CHACHALACAS AND PEOPLE

Hunters in Latin America value cracids as a rich protein source. However, because the reproduction rate of cracids is so slow, the population cannot withstand intensive hunting pressure. Cracids are greatly affected by habitat destruction. Native tribes use tail and wing feathers for ornamentation.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Cracids are more threatened than any other bird family in the Americas. Twenty-three of the fifty species are threatened with extinction, or close to being threatened with extinction, including 64 percent of curassows (nine species) and 16 percent of the chachalacas (two species). About 50 percent of guans are threatened (twelve species). Primary threats are overhunting and habitat loss.