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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 bill ornamentation.

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.

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 States.

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 vegetation.

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 large cracids.

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 sound.

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.

Wikipedia: Cracidae
Xenocanto: cracid sounds
Internet Bird Collection: cracid videos
Monterey Bay: CURASSOWS & GUANS Cracidae
Animal Diversity Web: Family Cracidae
IUCN: Executive Summary - Curassows, Guans and Chachalacas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan
IUCN: The Cracid Specialist Group
Birds of the World: Curassows, guans, chachalacas
North American Cracid Taxonomic Advisory Group Cracids
Taxonomic Reference List

Mainly photos
Flickr: cracidae
Mangoverde: Guans, Chachalacas and Allies
Cracid Specialist Group Photo Gallery
Nigel Hughes: Curassow, Guan & Chachalaca Oil Paintings
Picsearch: cracidae

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center: Plain Chachalaca
Birds of Suriname: Little Chachalaca Gray-headed Chachalaca
University of Windsor, Department of Biology - Dan Mennill: Crested Guan

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