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Curassow, Great

Great Curassow bird at the LA Zoo (Photo Credit: Tad Motoyama)

Scientific Name: Crax rubra

Great curassows are quite long-lived; some individuals survive up to 24 years. The great curassow is the largest member of the family Cracidae; these birds are pheasant-like in appearance and often hunted as food.

Family Life

The great curassow is monogamous. Unlike galliformes (chicken-like birds), the cracids build their nests in forks or depressions in trees. The nests, however, are small in relation to the birds. Each female lays two eggs, and the chicks develop quickly. They are able to roost on perches after one day and may be able to fly and leave the nest after 20 days.  Although these birds are capable of flight, their preferred method of locomotion is running, which they are adept at on limbs of trees as well as on the ground.

Great curassows are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss and over hunting. In some areas, this bird is hunted commercially.

The great curassow lives in the humid, lowland forests from eastern Mexico through Central America, western and northwest Columbia.

While largely frugivorous (fruit-eating), the great curassow spends much time scratching around the forest floor looking for leaves, some invertebrates, and small vertebrates. As with many rainforest dwellers, figs make up a large part of its diet.  The great curassow is an important disperser of seeds in the rain forest.

This striking bird’s basic body shape is similar to that of the pheasant. The male is black with a bright yellow beak that sports a large knob at its base. This knob increases in size during courtship. The underside of the body is white. In addition to the colorful and baroque beak, both male and female have a crest of forward curling feathers. The male crest is usually black, and the female crest is striped. The female appears in three morphs, or forms: the barred morph females have a barred stripe pattern on its neck, mantle, wings, and tail; rufous morphs have plumage that is overall reddish brown and a barred tail; and the dark morph female is solidly dark.

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