Tinamidae – Tinamous

Elegant Crested Tinamou Eudromia elegans ©James Lowen Website

Tinamous form an order (the Tinamiformes) comprising a single family, with two distinct subfamilies, containing 47 species of birds found in Mexico, Central America, and South America. One of the most ancient living groups of bird, they first appear in the fossil record in the Miocene epoch. Tinamous have traditionally been regarded as the sister group of the flightless ratites, but recent work places them well within the ratite radiation, implying basal ratites could fly.

They are generally sedentary, ground-dwelling birds and, though not flightless, when possible avoid flight in favour of hiding or running away from danger. They are found in a variety of habitats, ranging from semi-arid alpine grasslands to tropical rainforests.

Although some species are quite common, tinamous are shy and secretive birds. They are active during the day, retiring to roosts at night. They generally have cryptic plumage, with males and females similar in appearance, though the females are usually larger. They are opportunistic and omnivorous feeders, consuming a wide variety of plant and animal food from fruits and seeds to worms, insects and small vertebrates. They will dust-bathe as well as wash themselves by standing in heavy rain. They are heard more often than seen, communicating with each other by a variety of frequently given, characteristic calls, especially during the breeding season.

With occasional exceptions, a male tinamou maintains a territory and a nesting site during the breeding season, which a succession of females will visit, laying their eggs in the same nest. Females will wander through several territories mating with, and laying eggs in the nests of the resident males. Nests are always on the ground, concealed in vegetation or among rocks. Eggs are relatively large and glossy, often brightly coloured when laid, and are incubated by the males for a period of two to three weeks. The chicks can run soon after hatching and are largely self-sufficient at three weeks old.

Tinamous and their eggs have many natural predators, from falcons and vampire bats to jaguars and giant anteaters. They have also been extensively hunted by humans and sometimes persecuted as agricultural pests. However, the main threat to their populations is from habitat destruction through land clearing and agricultural development. Seven species are listed as vulnerable and another seven as near threatened.

They feature in the mythology of the indigenous peoples of their range.

Often translocated and easily bred in captivity, they have never been successfully domesticated.

The two subfamilies are broadly divided by habitat, with the Nothurinae being steppe or open country tinamous, and the Tinaminae being forest tinamous.

Panamanian tradition states that after the “Great Flood”, the great tinamou grew frightened of the bright colors in the rainbow. He flew away from the rainbow, the ark, and the rest of the animals, heading for the darkest part of the forest, where he has remained ever since.

Species List

According to the IOC the 47 species in this family are:

Grey Tinamou Tinamus tao
Solitary Tinamou Tinamus solitarius
Black Tinamou Tinamus osgoodi
Great Tinamou Tinamus major
White-throated Tinamou Tinamus guttatus

Highland Tinamou Nothocercus bonapartei
Tawny-breasted Tinamou Nothocercus julius
Hooded Tinamou Nothocercus nigrocapillus

Berlepsch’s Tinamou Crypturellus berlepschi
Cinereous Tinamou Crypturellus cinereus
Little Tinamou Crypturellus soui
Tepui Tinamou Crypturellus ptaritepui
Brown Tinamou Crypturellus obsoletus
Undulated Tinamou Crypturellus undulates
Pale-browed Tinamou Crypturellus transfasciatus
Brazilian Tinamou Crypturellus strigulosus
Grey-legged Tinamou Crypturellus duidae
Red-legged Tinamou Crypturellus erythropus
Yellow-legged Tinamou Crypturellus noctivagus
Black-capped Tinamou Crypturellus atrocapillus
Thicket Tinamou Crypturellus cinnamomeus
Slaty-breasted Tinamou Crypturellus boucardi
Choco Tinamou Crypturellus kerriae
Variegated Tinamou Crypturellus variegatus
Rusty Tinamou Crypturellus brevirostris
Bartlett’s Tinamou Crypturellus bartletti
Small-billed Tinamou Crypturellus parvirostris
Barred Tinamou Crypturellus casiquiare
Tataupa Tinamou Crypturellus tataupa

Red-winged Tinamou Rhynchotus rufescens
Huayco Tinamou Rhynchotus maculicollis

Taczanowski’s Tinamou Nothoprocta taczanowskii
Ornate Tinamou Nothoprocta ornata
Chilean Tinamou Nothoprocta perdicaria
Brushland Tinamou Nothoprocta cinerascens
Andean Tinamou Nothoprocta pentlandii
Curve-billed Tinamou Nothoprocta curvirostris
White-bellied Nothura Nothura boraquira
Lesser Nothura Nothura minor
Darwin’s Nothura Nothura darwinii
Spotted Nothura Nothura maculosa
Chaco Nothura Nothura chacoensis

Dwarf Tinamou Taoniscus nanus

Elegant Crested Tinamou Eudromia elegans
Quebracho Crested Tinamou Eudromia formosa

Puna Tinamou Tinamotis pentlandii
Patagonian Tinamou Tinamotis ingoufi

Species Links
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 47

Useful Reading
  • Ratites and Tinamous

    | By Stephen Davies, Mike Bamford & Danika Loomes | Oxford University Press | 2002 | Hardback | 310 pages, 12 colour plates, tables, distribution maps | ISBN: 9780198549963 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Other Links
  • Incubation in Great Tinamou Tinamus major

    Patricia L. R. Brennan - The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, Vol. 121, No. 3 (Sep., 2009), pp. 506-511
Photographers & Artists
  • Black Tinamou Tinamus osgoodi

    Secretive Black Tinamou Tinamus osgoodi hershkovitz
  • Great Tinamou Tinamus major

  • Great Tinamou Tinamus major

  • Little Tinamou Crypturellus soui

    Nesting. Boyacá, Colombia. Feb 2013
  • White-throated Tinamou Tinamus guttatus

    2010 P.V. Tono. Parque Nacional Manu ~1000m.

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