Bird Families

Darwin's Nandu / Rhea pennata


Representatives of the Nandu order, which includes one family, are large non-flying birds, which are much smaller in size than ostriches. So, the growth of an adult male can reach 150 cm, while its weight is about 50 kg. Males differ from females only in large size. The keel of the sternum in the rhea, like in ostriches, is absent. The forelimb is underdeveloped, the tail feathers are absent, the pterilia and apteria are absent, and the entire skeleton of the rhea is not pneumatic. The head, as well as the long neck of the rhea, are covered with small feathers. The plumage overlying the body is gray. Strong legs, well adapted for fast running, but unlike ostriches, they end not with two, but with three fingers. Nandu are currently only found naturally in South America.

Nandas roam the South American pampas in small flocks, often in company with deer and guanacos. They avoid both steep mountain slopes and dense impenetrable forests. But in spring, and this is by South American standards in September - November, male rheas choose from a flock of two or four females that they like and take away from the flock. And then the courtship of the male rhea begins, which in general looks like an ostrich, but more simplified and not at all so picturesque. The male, ruffling his feathers, waves to the female standing in front of him with his neck inflated to the limit, emitting deep, throaty kriyas, which can be conveyed as: "Nan-du, nan-du." Hence their name.

Having finished his dance, the male leads his girlfriends to the nest, which is a small hole in the ground lined with grass. Each female lays one egg approximately once every two to three days, and in total this will amount to 10-15 eggs from each female, this is the rate and productivity of egg production in female nandu. The female, having laid the next egg near the nest, go to the side for feeding. And the male here carefully and carefully rolls the egg with his beak into the nest under him. Usually in the nest under the male, over time, there are about 20 eggs, but sometimes there can be much more of them, up to 80!

It is well known that the ostrich is a good caring father, but then the rhea is just great! The role of the female rhea is reduced only to laying only eggs; they leave all other worries about both eggs and future chicks to the male. The male patiently incubates eggs in the nest for about 40 days, mainly at night and in the morning, trying to cover all of them with both body and wings. Since the eggs were not laid at the same time, the chicks do not hatch in one day. This often leads to the fact that late hatching chicks perish, since the father, without waiting for their appearance, leaves the nest with his first-borns. Newborn babies have a yellow protective coloration with black stripes along the back.

But this does not happen often, and the male usually waits for all the babies to hatch, giving sound signals from the eggs. So that the first-borns do not run far away and do not starve, the male identifies the obviously dead "talker" eggs and deftly splits them with his beak. For such a treat, flies and other insects flock from everywhere, they are caught and eaten by the chicks.

The time comes and the ostrich gets up from the nest and forever takes striped chicks with it to where there is plenty of lush grass and leaves. And insects, lizards or small rodents will get in the way of a friendly family, all of them will be eaten by babies rhea. When an air or ground danger arises, the kids quickly hide under the wings of the male, which are quite large in the rhea, although it is a flightless bird. It is with such wide wings that it is much easier for the male to incubate eggs and defend chicks. In addition, during a fast run, they help to brake and turn sharply on the run. Only thanks to the wings, the run of the rhea is very maneuverable, and the path of the fleeing rhea is not straight, but zigzag. He easily rushes, from side to side, just like a hare, and the dogs chasing him now and then fly by. During such maneuvers, one wing of the rhea raises and the other lowers. They act like the ailerons of an airplane, so the braking and steering effect is excellent!

Six months later, young rhea reach their parents in height, but they change their children's plumage to an adult only after two or three years. By this time, they become sexually mature and quite ready to start their own family.

The males and females of the rhea have almost identical gray attire. Unlike African ostriches, their heads, necks and thighs are feathered. Darwin's nandu, which lives in cooler places (on the highlands of the Andes and in Patagonia), is smaller than usual, but more fat. It is distinguished by white edges at the ends of gray-brown feathers.

The meat of the rhea is tough, and the feathers are also of little value, since they are only suitable for brooms that sweep dust from polished furniture. But local hunters still hunt rhea with dogs and guns, and farmers are at war with rhea, claiming that these birds eat many grasses suitable for sheep. On the other hand, the rhea eat a lot of seeds of various local burdocks, which dig into the sheep's wool, spoil its quality and make it difficult to cut.

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Photo of "Darwin Rhea, Rhea Pennath, also known as the lesser Rhea." can be used for personal and commercial purposes according to the conditions of the purchased Royalty-free license. The image is available for download in high resolution quality up to 5563x3711.

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Description and features of the ostrich rhea

Unlike their African relatives, ostrich nandu in the photo - and the TV camera reacts calmly enough, does not try to hide or run away. If this bird does not like something, then the rhea emits a guttural cry, very similar in sound to the growl of a large predator, such as a lion or a cougar, and if you do not see that this sound is made by an ostrich, it is simply impossible to determine its belonging to the bird's throat. ...

Also, a bird can attack someone who comes too close, spreading its wings, each of which has a sharp claw, advancing towards a potential enemy and hissing threateningly.

Dimensions of the ostrich rhea much less than African birds. The growth of the largest individuals reaches only one and a half meter mark. The weight of South American ostriches is also significantly less than that of African beauties. The common rhea weighs 30-40 kg, and the Darwin's rhea carried even less - 15-20 kg.

The neck of South American ostriches is covered with soft dense feathers, and they have three toes on their legs. As for running speed, ostrich rhea can race, giving out 50-60 km / h, while balancing with wide-spread wings. And to get rid of the parasites, the rhea lie in dust and mud.

According to the descriptions of the first Portuguese and Spanish explorers, these birds were domesticated by the Indians. Moreover, not only in our usual understanding of poultry.

Nanda was not only given meat to people. Eggs and feathers for making jewelry, they acted as dogs, performing guard and, possibly, hunting and fishing functions. These birds swim well, even wide rivers with a fast current do not frighten them.

For a time, the population was under threat due to the high popularity of rhea hunting. However, now the situation has improved, and the popularity with the owners of ostrich farms is much higher than their African relatives.

The lifestyle and habitat of the ostrich rhea

The ostrich rhea lives in South America, namely in Paraguay, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. You can meet Darwin's rhea on high plateaus, this bird feels great at an altitude of 4000-5000 meters, they also chose the extreme south of the continent with a very harsh climate.

The natural environment for these birds is the vast savannas and lowlands of Patagonia, large mountain plateaus with small rivers. Apart from South America, a small population of rhea lives in Germany.

The fault of such a migration of ostriches was an incidental case. In 1998, a flock of rheas, consisting of several pairs, escaped from an ostrich farm in the north-east of the country, in the town of Lübeck. The reason for this was insufficiently strong aviaries and low hedges.

As a result of the farmers' oversight, the birds were free and quite easily adapted to the new living conditions. They live in an area of ​​about 150-170 sq. m, and the number of the flock is approaching two hundred. Regular monitoring of the livestock has been carried out since 2008, and to study behavior and life ostriches rhea in winter scientists from all over the world come to Germany.

These birds live in natural conditions in flocks of up to 30-40 individuals, during the mating season the flock is divided into small groups-families. There is no strict hierarchy in such communities.

The rhea is a self-sufficient bird, and the collective way of life is more likely not a need, but a necessity. If the territory in which the flock lives is safe, then older males often leave relatives and leave, starting to lead a solitary lifestyle.

Ostriches do not migrate, they lead a sedentary life, with rare exceptions - in the event of fires or other disasters, birds look for new territories. Very often, especially in the pampas, flocks of ostriches mingle with herds of guanacos, deer, cows or sheep. Such friendship helps survival, faster detection of enemies and protection from them.

Ostrich nandu feeding

What is common in the diet of nandu ostriches and cassowary, so this is their omnivorousness. Preferring grass, broad-leaved plants, fruits, grains and berries, they will never give up insects, small arthropods and fish.

They can feast on carrion and waste products of artiodactyls. It is believed that rhea are able to hunt snakes, and in a tamed form, protect human habitation from them. But there is no scientific evidence for this.

Although these birds are excellent swimmers who love to frolic in the water and catch a few fish, they can go without drinking water for quite a long time. Like other birds, ostriches periodically swallow gastroliths and small stones that help them digest food.

Reproduction and life expectancy of the ostrich rhea

During the mating season, rhea exhibit polygamy. The flock is divided into groups of one male and 4-7 females and retires to its own "secluded" place. Ostrich egg is equal to about four dozen chicken, and the shell is so strong that it is used for various crafts, which are sold to tourists as souvenirs. According to the records of European researchers, in Indian tribes, the shell of these eggs was used as dishes.

Females lay eggs in a common nest, in general, from 10 to 35 eggs are obtained in a clutch, and the male incubates them. Incubation lasts an average of a couple of months, all this time ostrich rhea eating what his girlfriends bring him. When the chicks hatch, they take care of them, feed them and walk them. However, most babies do not live up to a year for various reasons, not the least of which is hunting.

Although it is forbidden to hunt rhea in most of the countries in which they inhabit, these prohibitions do not stop poachers. Sexual maturity in females occurs at 2.5-3 years, and in males at 3.5-4. These birds live on average from 35 to 45 years, under favorable conditions, in contrast to their African relatives, who live up to 70.

Interesting facts about the ostrich rhea

Speaking about the ostrich rhea, it is impossible not to mention where such an interesting name of this bird came from. During the mating season, these birds exchange cries, in which the consonance of "nandu" clearly sounds, which became their first nickname, and then their official name.

Today science knows two types of these wonderful birds:

  • common or northern rhea, scientific name - Rhea americana,
  • Small rhea or Darwin, scientific name - Rhea pennata.

According to zoological classifications, rhea, like cassowaries and emus, are not ostriches. These birds were allocated in a separate order - the rhea in 1884, and in 1849 the family of the rhea was defined, limited to two species of South American ostriches.

The oldest excavated fossils, reminiscent of modern rhea, are 68 million years old, that is, there is every reason to believe that such birds lived on earth in the Paleocene and saw dinosaurs.