A Rhea is a flightless ratite bird that is native to South America

A Rhea is a flightless ratite bird that is native to South America. There are two species that make up this classification: the Greater or American, and the Lesser or Darwin’s. Eather of these birds would remind most of us of an ostrich or big bird.

The Greater is the more widespread of the two species and can be found in area ranging from eastern Brazil all the way south to central Argentina. A large member of this species can reach up to five feet tall and weighs about 44 to 55 pounds.

The Lower Rhea has two populations that are separate from each other: one is found in the puna zone of northern Chile and the other population is located in barren steppes of southernmost Chile and Argentina.

Anatomy and Fast Facts Most birds have four toes, but the rhea has only three toes. The lack of the additional toe may be the reason they can run faster than other birds.

Both the male and the female have drab gray-brown plumage, but no tail feathers. The males are distinguished by the black on the base of the neck.

Their legs and bill are light brown in color. They have large wings, but they are useless (thus called flightless birds). They are extremely fast runners. When they run, their neck is almost horizontal with the ground. Rheas tend to assemble in flocks of 20 to 30 birds.

Breeding Habits of Rheas When it is time for the nesting season, the male rheas will compete for specific territories on the plains. Once a male secures his nesting area, he will then court several females. He does this by running quickly toward the females with outspread wings.

After he has the attention of a group of females, then he gives them a show with a grand voice and a wing-shaking display. Rheas are polygamous, so the male will court and mate with anywhere from two to twelve females.

After mating, the male will lead each female to the nest he has already prepared and there she will lay her egg(s). The male incubates the eggs (for six weeks) which could number from as few as 13 eggs to as many as 60 eggs.

The females will usually leave the nesting area and possibly mate with other males.

Hatching takes place within 24 to 48 days and the male will fiercely protect and care for the chicks for the next six months.

The youngsters will remain with their sibling group until the age of 2 to 3 years old, at which time they are considered an adult.

What do Rheas Eat? Rheas eat seeds, fruit, roots, insects and even small vertebrates, such as lizards. They are considered omnivorous since the bulk of their diet consists of broad-leafed plants.

Ratites What is a ratite? Most ratites are now extinct, but is essentially any bird that is a large flightless bird of Gondwana origin. They differ a bit physically from other flightless birds in that they do not possess a keel on their sternum and their breastbone looks like a raft.

Living Ratites The largest living ratite is the African Ostrich at nearly 9.9 feet tall. The largest member of this species can weigh in at an amazing 350 pounds and still be able to outrun a horse! Emu The Australian emu is another example of a living species of ratite. A member of this species can reach 6.6 feet tall, 132 pounds and also runs at a high speed. Despite his slight weight, he is very powerful. The Australian emu can be found in open plain and woodland areas.

Cassowary Next in size of the living species of ratites are the three species of cassowary. They are native to Australia and can be found primarily in thickly vegetated tropical forests. They are physically shorter than an emu, but very solid and pose a threat to humans if they are cornered or surprised.

Kiwi Kiwi is the size of a chicken and is the smallest living ratites. Five species of kiwi are found in New Zealand. These small birds are very shy and nocturnal, live in deep burrows, and eat small insects and grubs they find in the soil.

A Kiwi egg is rather large and can equal 15 to 20 percent of a female’s body mass. The Little Spotted Kiwi is the smallest species of kiwi, weighing in at a mere 2.7 pounds and only 16 inches in height


This emu is one of the ratites