Cracids are fairly large birds, usually bigger than a chicken up to the size of a turkey. They include
several kinds of birds such as guans, chachalacas and currasows, in the family Cracidae, which is known
mainly from the New World tropics. In Amazonia up to four species of cracids may coexist in the same area.
A typical cracid has strong legs and feet and bills that resemble those of a chicken.
These birds typically have brown, black, or gray plumage, while some species have bright throat colors or
Many species have quite long tails and are generally dull-plumaged, although the curassows and some guans
have colourful facial ornaments.
In terms of size, the Little Chachalaca (Ortalis motmot), is the smallest, at about 38 cm (15 in)
and 350 g (12.5 oz), while the largest is the Great Curassow (Crax rubra), at nearly 1 m (40 in) and
4.3 kg (9.5 lbs). Males are generally larger than females.
Around 50 species of cracids are recognized. Three main groups include the chachalacas, guans and curassows.
Some studies indicate these birds are related to turkeys and pheasants, but the relationship is unclear.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Most cracids are forest dwellers, preferring warm humid forests. Species diversity is lower at higher
elevations and in drier areas. Only one species is found up to the treeline in mountainous areas. They do
not occur above 12,000 feet in elevation. Mostly the group is restricted to tropical and subtropical
Central and South America, while the plain chachalaca reaches as far as Texas in the southern United
Some cracids are occasionally terrestrial, whereas most cracids prefer tree habitats. Guans and curassows are
arboreal (live in trees),
particularly in dense forest, but chachalacas are found in more open, drier habitats which have less
FEEDING AND DIET
Cracid diet is primarily vegetation: fruits, seeds, green shoots. Insects and a wide range of other
invertebrates are regularly on the menu, while small vertebrates such as rodents, frogs and reptiles. Eggs
of other birds may occasionally be taken. The birds forage mostly at dawn or dusk, looking for food among
the trees or on the ground.
Among the species, we find various breeding systems. Breeding may begin as young as two years of age among
Most guans are monogamous with long-lasting pair
bonds. During courtship guans use sound to attract mates, and possibly to defend territories. During
flight, you might hear a wing rattle whereas the flutelike calls are common during the breeding season,
mostly heard early in the morning.
Chachalacas are mostly polygynous and nest in colonies
of several families. Among these birds, males help construct the nest. During breeding season, the skin of
the head or neck skin turns bright red.
Curassows are generally monogamous. Among curassows males and females differ in plumage color or pattern,
or the color of the cere (knob-like protrusion on bill). The cere increases in size in the male great
curassow (Crax rubra). Courting individuals will share food whereas breeding males make a humming
Nesting usually takes place in trees, although some species nest on the ground. From two to four eggs are
laid, taking three to five weeks to hatch. The female incubates the eggs alone.
Newly hatched chicks are well-developed with feathers (rather than just down) and the ability to perch on
branches. Within a day, the chicks leave the nest and are often fledged in less than a week. According to
one report, a great curassow lived 24 years in captivity.
These species are generally considered game birds, that is hunted for food or sport. In some areas they are
drastically over-hunted. Some species, such as chacalacas, do well near inhabitated areas and may even be
suited to domestication. These species are resilient and adapt well to temporary deforestation if habitat is
allowed to recover. Other species, notably the curassows, require undisturbed forests. Their populations
recover poorly, if at all, in the face of hunting pressure and habitat degradation.
Generally, the cracidae are in decline. Of the 50 or so species, about about half are threatened, while a
dozen are considered endangered or vulnerable. Hunting is a continuing problem for wild populations, while
habitat loss prevents successful recovery of populations.