Cracidae – Chachalacas, guans & curassows

Long-tailed, arboreal birds of Central and South America are generally considered important indicators of habitat quality

This family is often described as the Neotropical equivalent of pheasants and turkeys and encompasses a diverse group of birds that play vital roles in their forest ecosystems. This family includes curassows, guans, and chachalacas, each varying in size from the smaller chachalacas to the larger curassows, which can rival a turkey in stature.

Cracids are characterized by robust bodies and broad, long tails that provide stability and maneuverability during flight. Their wings are short but broad, allowing them to navigate through the dense forest canopies where they spend most of their time. Flight in these birds is usually a loud affair, with rapid wingbeats followed by a gliding phase, and is often used for short distances from one tree to another or to escape predators.

A distinctive feature of some cracid species is the presence of ornamental crests or casques on their heads or bills. These structures can be quite elaborate and are most commonly found in curassows. They serve various purposes, including sexual selection, where the ornaments are used to attract mates and as a status symbol within their social structures.

Cracids are primarily arboreal, residing high in the treetops of Neotropical forests. They are known to build their nests in trees, with some species constructing platforms out of twigs and leaves, while others may use natural tree cavities. Chicks of cracid species are precocial, meaning they are relatively mature and mobile from birth. This is advantageous in the predator-rich environments of the forest, as it allows the young birds to follow their parents and take cover quickly if necessary.

These birds are predominantly frugivorous, consisting of fruits from trees and shrubs. However, they are also known to forage on the forest floor for plants and small animals, such as insects, which supplements their diet. This varied diet makes cracids important seed dispersers, contributing to the regeneration of their forest habitats. As they consume fruits, they pass the seeds through their digestive systems, depositing them in different locations with droppings, often ready to germinate.