Seriemas range in size from about 28 to 35 inches (70 to 90 centimeters) in length and 2.6 to 3.3 pounds (1.2 to 1.5 kilograms) in weight. They have long legs, long tails, long necks, and short, rounded wings. Seriemas have sturdy, hooked bills that resemble those of hawks. Their backs and necks are light brown in color, whereas the belly is pale or white. Male and female seriemas are similar in size and general appearance.
Seriemas are found in central and eastern South America, from portions of Brazil to as far south as Argentina.
Seriemas are found in grassland habitats as well as areas of open forest or brushland.
Seriemas are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both plant and animal matter. They hunt a wide variety of prey, including small animals such as insects, snails, and worms, as well as larger animals such as rodents, snakes, and lizards. These birds frequently smash medium-sized prey, such as rodents, against rocks to make them easier to swallow whole. They tear larger prey into smaller pieces using their strong, sharp bills. Seriemas hunt during the day by stalking, or quietly following, potential prey. They will also eat some fruit and other plant matter.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Seriemas are often found either alone or in pairs, made up of male and female mates. Sometimes larger groups, consisting of parents with their offspring, are also seen. They spend most of the day on the ground hunting for food. They spend the night in trees. Seriemas tend to run away rather than fly away when threatened. Among birds, they are very fast runners and can achieve speeds as high as 37 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour). Their call has been described as a yelping noise. Seriemas often stand in trees or on top of termite mounds to call, which helps the call travel further.
Seriemas are territorial, that is, they defend areas of land from other members of the same species. Disputes over territories are decided by intense calling as well as kicking. Offspring often help their parents defend territories by calling.
Seriemas breed during the rainy season, generally between September and May each year. To convince females to mate, male seriemas perform struts and leaps and also show the normally hidden feathers of their wings and tails. Both the male and female help in building the nest, which is made from sticks and twigs and lined with either clay or cattle dung. Nests are usually built in trees and may be anywhere from 3 to 30 feet (1 to 9 meters) above the ground. The female lays two or three eggs at a time, and these hatch after anywhere from twentyfour to thirty days. Offspring are able to leave the nest after two weeks, and reach adult size at five months of age.
SERIEMAS AND PEOPLE
Seriemas are sometimes hunted for their meat. They are also used by humans to guard chicken coops, since they will make loud warning calls if predators approach. Seriemas are also believed to benefit humans by killing a large number of venomous snakes.
The two species of seriemas are not currently considered threatened. However, their populations are declining in some areas due to hunting and habitat destruction.