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Cariamidae

Seriema
Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata ©Will Price Website

The seriemas are the sole living members of the small bird family Cariamidae, which is also the only surviving lineage of the order Cariamae. Once believed to be related to cranes, they have been placed near the falcons, parrots and passerines, as well as the extinct terror birds.

The seriemas are large, long-legged terrestrial birds that range from 70cm to 90cm. They live in grasslands, savanna, dry woodland and open forests of Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

They forage on foot and run from danger rather than fly (though they can fly for short distances, and they roost in trees). They have long legs, necks, and tails, but only short wings, reflecting their way of life. They are among the largest ground-dwelling birds endemic of the Neotropics (only behind rheas)

Ecologically the seriema is the South American counterpart of the secretary bird. They feed on insects, snakes, lizards, frogs, young birds, and rodents, with small amounts of plant food (including maize and beans). They often associate with grazing livestock, probably to take insects the animals disturb. When seriemas catch small reptiles, they beat the prey on the ground or throw it at a hard surface to break resistance and also the bones. If the prey is too large to swallow whole, it will be ripped into smaller pieces with a sickle claw by holding the prey in the beak and tearing it apart with the claw.

Seriemas build bulky stick nests. They lay two or three white or buff eggs sparsely spotted with brown and purple. The female does most of the incubation, which lasts from 24 to 30 days. Hatchlings are downy but stay in the nest for about two weeks; then they jump down and follow both parents. They reach full maturity at the age of four to five months.

These birds are thought to be the closest living relatives of a group of gigantic (up to 10 ft or 3.0 m tall) carnivorous 'terror birds', the phorusrhacids, which are known from fossils from South and North America. They are brownish birds with short bills and erectile crests, found on fairly dry open country, the Red-legged Seriema preferring grasslands and the Black-legged Seriema preferring scrub and open woodland. They give loud, yelping calls and are often heard before they are seen. They have sharp claws, with an extensible and very curved second toe claw.

There are generally accepted to be just two extant species in this family, which are:

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

Family Links

Seriemas Cariamidae

Family Account

The seriemas are the sole living members of the small bird family Cariamidae, which is also the only surviving lineage of the order Cariamae. Once believed to be related to cranes, they have been placed near the falcons, parrots and passerines, as well as the extinct terror birds.

Seriemas Cariamidae

Family Account

When the BBC program "Life of Birds" with David Attenborough chose a modern bird to illustrate how prehistoric Archaeopteryx might have evolved the power of flight over epochs of time, from a fast-running predatory dinosaur to a short-gliding long-legged bird, they chose to morph the fossil beast into today's Red-legged Seriema.

Seriemas Cariamidae

IBC Family Account

IBC family account and taxonomy...

Seriemas Cariamidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Species Links

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile...

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

Cornell Species Account

Cornell species account...

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

Species Account

The black-legged seriema (Chunga burmeisteri) is one of two living species of seriemas in the family Cariamidae. It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests and subtropical or tropical dry shrubland.

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

IBC Species Account

IBC species account with video

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

HBW Species Account

HBW species account...

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

Webpage

Fauna Paraguay species account...

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species profile...

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Species Account

The red-legged seriema or crested cariama (Cariama cristata) is a mostly predatory terrestrial bird in the seriema family (Cariamidae), included in the "Gruiformes" in the old paraphyletic circumscription, but increasingly placed in a distinct order Cariamiformes (along with three extinct families). The red-legged seriema inhabits grasslands from Brazil south of the Amazon to Uruguay and northern Argentina.

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

IUCN Species Status

IUCN species profile...

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

HBW Species Account

HBW species account...

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Cornell Species Account

The Red-legged Seriema is a striking, unmistakable bird of open woodland, thorny scrub and hilly grassland. Its large size, bright red legs and bill, and prominent loose crest make it a visually distinctive species.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 2

Other Links

Notes on the Biology and Song of the Red-Legged Seriema (Cariama cristata)

Article

Journal of Field Ornithology - Vol. 57, No. 4 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 261-269

Photographers & Artists

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Video

Red-legged Seriema catching and eating a snake

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Video

Zoo and wild images

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Video

Red-Legged Seriema "kills" Lizard