The Greater Rhea is a species of South American ‘ratite’. It is the larges bird on the American continent, which led to Charles Darwin describing it as a “South American Ostrich”, (Though it is of no relation). The Greater Rhea stands at up to 1.4 metres tall and can weigh as much as 25kgs. Due to their large size, the Rhea is unable to fly but is an excellent runner being able to cover large distances with its long legs. Unlike almost any other bird, the Rhea has a real bellowing call similar to the ‘ROAR’ of a lion; this impressive call is usually produced by males during courtship.
Outside of the breeding season, the Greater Rhea will live in social groups of up to 30 individuals. This, however, all changes in August and the breeding season starts. Females will begin separating into smaller groups and males will start becoming territorial, competing with rival males for the best bit of real estate. Once a territory is established, the male will pull off his best moves to attract a group of females. These include; calling, wing shaking and feather ruffling. Should he be successful he will then create a nest for all the females to lay their eggs in. These nests can hold as many as 80 eggs, all of which are incubated and cared for by the male. Within 40 days the eggs will hatch and the adult male will have ALOT of work to do!
Threats in the wild
In recent years, the Greater Rhea has seen a marked decline down in part to hunting for its meat, skins and eggs as well as for its feathers which are often used as feather dusters. These threats, coupled with habitat loss and persecution by farmers means that the Greater Rhea is currently listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red list.