Greater Rhea (Rhea americana)
Greater Rhea, Emas, Goiás, Brazil, April 2001 - click for larger image Brazil

The rheas belong to a group of birds known as ratites which includes the Ostrich (Struthio camelus) from Africa, the Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) and Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) from Australia and kiwis (Apteryx spp.) from New Zealand. It is interesting to note that all these birds are flightless and that all the regions mentioned used to form the ancient continent of Gondwanaland. The rheas are also closely related to the tinamous.

Greater Rhea, near Emas, Goiás, Brazil, Sept 2000 - click for larger image The Greater Rhea has many similarities to the Ostrich but it is about half the height at 1.5 metres and it has a feathered rather than a bare neck.

Its behaviour is also similar. It will try to escape predators by running and can suddenly "disappear" by laying flat on the ground with its head straight out in front. (Hence the putting head in sand reference)

Greater Rhea, Pantanal, Brazil, Sept 2000 - click for larger image Another similarity is its breeding habits. The male will establish a territory and build a nest on the ground. He will then attract a group of about 3 to 6 females with whom he will mate and they will then lay about 20 to 30 eggs in his nest. While the females go off to mate with other males the male will incubate the eggs and look after the chicks on his own (unlike ostriches where the male shares brooding responsibilities with a female.)
Greater Rhea, Barra do Quaraí, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, August 2004 - click for larger image The Greater Rhea is classified as Near Threatened (See Threatened Birds of the World, Page 630) or their webpage here. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the number of rheas that we saw while driving through the monocultured soya deserts of Mato Grosso but they are hunted for food and are regarded as a pest by some farmers.

They are also killed for their feathers which are used in feather dusters to be sold mainly in Japan and the USA.

The male gives out a low booming call which can carry some distance during the mating season.

There is a distribution map at NatureServe and more information is available via Avibase.

There is an excellent detailed article at Hodes, C. 2010 .Greater Rhea (Rhea americana), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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