Cariamiformes – Seriemas

The seriemas are large, long-legged territorial birds

An intriguing and specialized order of birds that includes only two extant species belonging to the family Cariamidae: the red-legged seriema (Cariama cristata) and the black-legged seriema (Chunga burmeisteri). These species exhibit unique traits and behaviors that reflect their adaptation to terrestrial life in the open grasslands and savannas of South America.

With its striking appearance, the red-legged seriema can be found across a broad range of the continent, spanning Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay. In contrast, the black-legged seriema has a more limited distribution, primarily residing in the more temperate climates of Argentina and Bolivia, with some populations extending into Paraguay.

Both species share a preference for a ground-dwelling existence. They can fly but generally opt to walk or run, which they do with remarkable speed and agility. This behavioral adaptation is partly due to their habitat preferences, which include open spaces where running is more efficient than taking to the air.

Seriemas are omnivorous, feeding on a diet that includes insects, small reptiles, and amphibians. Their presence around cattle is a unique ecological interaction, as they benefit from the insects that livestock disturb as they graze. This relationship highlights the seriemas’ role in the ecosystem as pest controllers, a service that indirectly benefits the cattle by reducing the number of biting insects.

Despite their visibility and relative commonality within their habitats, there are significant gaps in our knowledge regarding the seriemas’ breeding habits and other behavioral aspects. The breeding season of seriemas is thought to coincide with the rainy season when food resources are abundant. They are known to construct large nests in trees or shrubs, with both parents participating in caring for the young.

Furthermore, these birds exhibit some fascinating behaviors. For instance, they use their powerful legs for running and defense, delivering strong kicks to deter predators. They also have a loud, distinctive call that can be heard over long distances, playing a role in territory establishment and mate attraction.