Anhimidae – Screamers

Southern Screamer Chauna torquata ©James Lowen Website

The Anhimidae or Screamers are a small clade of birds. For a long time, they were thought to be most closely related to the Galliformes because of similar bills, but they are instead more closely related to ducks (family Anatidae), most closely to the magpie goose (which some DNA evidence suggests are closer to screamers than to ducks). The clade is exceptional within living birds in lacking uncinate processes of ribs. The screamers are represented by three species.

They only occur in South America. They are large, bulky birds, with a small downy head, long legs and large feet which are only partly webbed. They have large spurs on their wings which are used in fights over mates and territorial disputes and can break off in the breast of other screamers. The spurs re-grow and are, anyway, regularly renewed. Unlike ducks they have only a partial moult, and are able to fly throughout the year. They live in open areas and marshes with some grass and feed on water plants. One species, the southern screamer, is considered a pest as it raids crops and competes with farm birds.

They lay between 2 and 7 white eggs, with four or five being typical. The young, like those of most Anseriformes, can run as soon as they are hatched. The chicks are usually raised in or near water as they can swim better than they can run, which helps them to avoid predators. Like ducks, screamer chicks imprint early in life. This, coupled with their unfussy diet makes them amenable to domestication. They make excellent watchdogs due to their loud screams when encountering anything new and potentially threatening.

The IOC list just three species of Screamers in the family Anhimidae; which are:

Horned Screamer Anhima cornuta
Northern Screamer Chauna chavaria
Southern Screamer Chauna torquata

Both the southern and the horned screamer remain widespread and are overall fairly common. In contrast, the northern screamer is relatively rare and consequently considered near threatened. They are seldom hunted, in spite of their conspicuous nature, because their flesh has a spongy texture and is riddled with air-sacs, making it highly unpalatable. The main threats are habitat destruction and increased intensification of agriculture.

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 3

    All three species are monotypic
Other Links
  • Horned Screamer Anhima cornuta

    Observations on the Horned Screamer - Frank B. Gill, F. J. Stokes and C. C. Stokes, The Wilson Bulletin - Vol. 86, No. 1 (Mar., 1974), pp. 43-50
Photographers & Artists
  • Horned Screamer Anhima cornuta

    Pantanal BirdClub always see this magnificent species in our stakeout to the way to Emas NP...
  • Northern Screamer Chauna chavaria

    Northern Screamers are really cool birds we normally find in the Magdalena Valley while driving; these big birds are almost endemics to Colombia. This video if from the 1st trip from a series with US clients birding all Colombia...
  • Southern Screamer Chauna torquata

    Southern Screamer Pampastrip ~ Rurenebaque Bolivia

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