greater rheaScientific Name-Rhea americana

Conservation Status-Near threatened

Appearance

The greater rhea is the largest bird in South America measuring up to 1.5m. They usually weigh in the region of 20-27kg. The female rhea is generally smaller than the male.

The rhea has grey feathers on its back. At the base of the neck is a ring of black feathers. They have long legs and a lengthy neck.

Lifespan                                                                                  

Greater Rheas will live for around 10.5 years in the wild.

Diet

The greater rhea is an omnivore which opportunistically eats a large range of foods. The majority of their diet consists of broad leafed foliage. For plant material they also eat fruits and seeds. For meat they hunt for lizards, insects, birds,

Due to the rough plant matter which they regularly ingest the rhea ingests pebbles which assist in grinding down the food in their stomach.

Habitat

The greater rhea hails from South America. More common in savannah areas the rhea prefers a habitat with some tall vegetation. They do not regularly venture into tropical rainforests though.

They can be found in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and through Bolivia.

They prefer a lower elevation with it being a rare occasion that they venture above 1,200 metres.

Reproduction

greater rheaAt the beginning of the breeding seasons the females separate into small groups.

The males will mark a territory defending in fights. This may involve fighting, kicking and intertwining necks.

The greater rhea has a deep resounding call mostly used by males in the breeding season.

The male will scrape out a nest in the ground which he lines with dry vegetation.

The females move around breeding with the males and laying their eggs in his nest. Many females may visit one nest. One nest usually has about 20 to 30 eggs in it. They have been found with up to 80 eggs though.

The egg is a golden colour which fades to white over time.

The male incubates the eggs for 29-43 days. The females do not assist in rearing the young.

All the eggs in a nest hatch within 36 hours of each other.

At the 14th month of age the greater rhea becomes sexually mature.

Behaviour

The greater rhea is part of the ratite family. As such these birds are not able to fly. Their wings are instead used for balance when they are running.

The cougar and the jaguar are the only natural predators of the adult greater rhea. The caracara preys on hatchlings and feral dogs go after young birds. Armadillos will sometimes eat rhea eggs.

Quick facts

In its native habitat the rhea is called a ñandú. This name comes from its call.

In some parts of the world they are farmed for their meat, skin and oil.

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