The rhea, a species of ostrich from South America

Like the ostrich, which it strongly resembles, the rhea has wings but cannot fly. Meeting with the most large American bird.

Who is the rhea?

The rhea (Rhea americana) is a closely related species to the ostrich of the Rheidae family. It belongs to the ratite group, running birds whose morphological characteristic (a sternum devoid of breasts, large flat bone in the middle of the chest on which the muscles are fixed), makes it unfit to fly. The rhea is about 1.50 m tall and weighs an average of 25 kg. The animal lives in South America where there is a second species, the rhea Darwin, which does not exceed 1 meter high for a maximum weight of 10 kilos.

What does the rhea look like?

Most rheas feature brown plumage with a white belly. The animal has strong legs three-toed (three fingers) while the ostrich only has two. Its long wings play a role of pendulum, helping him to maintain balance and suddenly change direction when running at high speed (up to 60 km / h). In case of threat, the bird indeed practices a race in zigzag, by spreading the wings more or less. The sexual dimorphism is weak, the male showing a size slightly larger than the female.

Where does the American rhea live?

Rhea’s range is in South America, from northeastern Brazil to central Argentina via Paraguay. These animals sedentary live in groups in pampas dry or wet which provide it with almost unlimited nourishment. The rhea also frequents wooded savannas and lush forests. However, it avoids the meadows completely open to which it prefers open areas dotted with high vegetation. During the nesting season, it is found near rivers, lakes and marshes.

Rhea of ​​America: what character?

In the spring, the males show themselves lonely while females form small groups. At the end of the summer, males, females and chicks form large groups of up to 30 individuals, or even a hundred, in order to face the months ofwinter together. From the age of 6 months, the juveniles gather in small clans until their sexual maturity (around 2 years old). Less aggressive than the ostrich, the rhea can be easily tamed from its earliest youth.

What does the American rhea feed on?

Omnivorous, rhea shows a preference for succulents and for Clover but broadens its food spectrum to a wide variety of seeds, leaves, roots, thistles and fruits. Continually moving in search of food, it roams the meadows to find food. big insects grasshopper type, small vertebrates such as lizards, frogs, birds and snakes. The animal drinks little because its needs water are largely satisfied by ingesting plants.

How does the rhea breed?

During the breeding season, males go in search of a territory that they arrogate to themselves at the end of quarrels with their adversaries marked by bites and paws. The winner, polygamist, grants himself the right to mate with several females, sometimes ten. After mating, the male builds a nest in the form of a cavity shallow that he dug into the ground and surrounded by twigs and various vegetation. For 7 to 10 days, each of its partners takes turns laying eggs. From then on, they are chased away by the progenitor and leave to mate with another companion. Theincubation, provided by the male, lasts 35 to 40 days. While the brood usually has 10 to 20 cream-colored eggs, not all of them will succeed. maturity. Namely that the female can lay unfertilized eggs in a nest serving as a decoy in order to protect the real nest. The cubs with gray striped plumage are nidifuges and quickly leave the nest. However, they remain accompanied by their father during their education.

Is the rhea endangered?

If the chicks which move away from their father represent preys potential for predators, the adult rhea knows few predators apart from theman. These birds have long been exploited for their feathers, their meat, their fat (used to calm inflammation) or their eggs. Today the animal suffers from the reduction of its habitat (to graze the cattle) and of the hunting carried out by the farmers when it attacks the crops. Although protected, its population shows a steady decline, threatening it withextinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the species as “near threatened”. The rhea has a life expectancy of 15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.