Southern Crested Screamer
Scientific Name: Chauna torquata
Screamers are extremely vocal; air sacs right above their black neck collar help amplify their distinctive trumpeting call, especially when threatened. Because of this behavior and their defensive nature, farmers will often take juvenile screamers and raise them with domestic fowl to help warn of potential predators.
Screamers mate for life. Both male and female help build the nest, a large pile or platform made of reeds and other plant matter located either in shallow water or on land near water. Two to seven eggs are laid, and both parents share incubation duties. Hatching occurs 42 – 45 days after laying. Both parents care for the chicks through fledging and a short period after – usually between eight to 14 weeks after hatching.
STATUS: The crested screamer is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, it is, as is other wildlife in South America, feeling pressure due to deforestation and destruction of wetlands.
HABITAT: The crested screamer is found in marshes, wet savannas, swamps, open lowlands and forest lagoons in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.
DIET: Screamers are primarily herbivorous, eating leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots of aquatic plants. They find food by grazing or digging in mud around shallow water. Occasionally, they will eat insects, especially during breeding season.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: This bird looks more like a turkey or a pheasant, but in reality, it is more closely related to a duck. The crested screamer is a large, heavy-bodied bird, about three and a half feet tall, with fluffy, gray plumage and a black tail. Its neck has a black collar and a lacy, prominent crest at the back of the head. The screamer’s beak is short, strong, and hooked, resembling the beak of a pheasant, and its eyes are black and have a rose colored bare patch around them. An unusual, and primitive, feature is the two long, sharp spurs on the leading edge of the wings, which are used in defending the screamer’s territory or against predators when threatened. It has long, pink legs and toes, and its feet have a tiny amount of webbing between the toes. Both male and female look alike; the male is slightly larger than the female.
Reluctant Water Birds
Screamers are considered to be a primitive form of water fowl, even though they more closely resemble game birds, like pheasants and turkeys. Their bones are hollower than those of any other bird – almost all their bones are hollow, including those in the wings and feet. This adaptation, along with air sacs below their loose skin and the trace amount of webbing on their feet, gives them the ability to swim (albeit reluctantly) and walk over muddy, marshy ground without sinking. Screamers are said to be sedentary and do not migrate. They do, however, travel long distances in search of food. They are powerful flyers, even though they do have a bit of trouble getting off the ground. Once airborne, they can soar at great heights for long periods of time.