Cariamidae – Seriemas

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata ©James Lowen 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 (although they can fly for short distances, and they do 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 smaller than 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 the fossil record of 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.

Species List

According to the IOC there are just two extant species in this family, which are:

Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

Species Links
  • Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri

    Webpage
    Fauna Paraguay 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

    Cornell Species Account
    Cornell species account...
  • 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

    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

    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.
  • Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

    IUCN Species Status
    IUCN species profile...
  • Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
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

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