Greater rhea

The largest native living bird of America

Nino Barbieri

A remarkable species that commands the open grasslands of South America as the largest bird on the continent. Its stature as the state bird of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil reflects its significance in South American culture and biodiversity.

Adorned with a coat of grey to off-white feathers, the Greater Rhea carries itself with an air of grace, courtesy of its long neck and strong legs, which are well-adapted for a life spent mostly on the ground. Despite being a flightless bird, the Greater Rhea retains large wings. These wings, although not used for flight, serve crucial functions. They are flapped energetically during running to aid in balance and maneuverability, and the males prominently display their wings during courtship rituals to attract females.

Adults of the species are generally silent, communicating through body language and subtle visual cues. They are social creatures, especially outside the breeding season, when they may forage in large groups known as ‘flocks’. These flocks can often be seen in the savannas and pampas, which constitute their native habitats.

Greater Rheas exhibit a fascinating breeding strategy where males construct nests and engage in the incubation of eggs and rearing of chicks. Multiple females may lay eggs in the same nest, leaving the male to care for the collective brood. This unusual reproductive behavior is a distinctive feature of rheas.

In an interesting twist of fate, a small population of Greater Rheas has managed to establish itself in northeastern Germany after some individuals escaped from a zoo or farm. This successful breeding and settlement in a non-native environment demonstrate the adaptability and resilience of the species.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Argentina
2022
Bolivia
2022
Brazil
2022
Paraguay
2022
Uruguay
2022

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No