Red-legged seriema

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Red-legged seriema
Red-legged seriema (Cariama cristata) head.JPG
Pantanal, Brazil
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Cariamiformes
Family: Cariamidae
Genus: Cariama
Brisson, 1760
Species: C. cristata
Binomial name
Cariama cristata
(Linnaeus, 1766)



  • Microdactylus marcgravii É.Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1809
  • Palamedea cristata (Linnaeus, 1766)

The red-legged seriema or crested cariama (Cariama cristata) is a mostly predatory terrestrial bird in the seriema family (Cariamidae), included in the "Gruiformes" in the old paraphyletic circumscription, but increasingly placed in a distinct order Cariamiformes (along with three extinct families). The red-legged seriema inhabits grasslands from Brazil south of the Amazon to Uruguay and northern Argentina. The area over which it occurs is estimated at 5.9 million km², though the bird is not found everywhere in this region of course. The species is absent from the Mata Atlântica and planalto uplands along the coast of Brazil.[1]


Close-up of Cariama cristata

It is 75 to 90 cm (30 to 36 in) long and weighs about 1.5 kg, with a fairly long neck, tail, and legs. The plumage is medium brown above with black markings; pale brown on the head, neck, and breast; and white on the belly. The tail has a black band near the tip and a white tip. The beak and legs are red, and the eyes are yellow. Soft feathers emerge from the base of the bill to form a fan-shaped crest.[2]

Many other characteristics are shared with the black-legged seriema (Chunga burmeisteri), the only other living member of its family. Some of these traits are discussed in the Cariamidae article.

The song has a quality described as "a cross between 'the serrated bark of a young dog and the clucking of turkeys'".[3] At the loudest part of the song, the bird has its neck bent so its head is touching its back. Both members of a pair as well as young down to the age of two weeks sing; often one member of a family starts a song just as another finishes, or two sing simultaneously. The song can be heard several kilometres away; in Emas National Park, Brazil, in 1981–1982, observers often heard four red-legged seriemas or groups singing at once.[4]

The full song consists of three sections:

  1. Repeated single notes at constant pitch (1,200 to 1,300 Hz) and duration but increasing tempo
  2. Repeated two- or three-note subphrases of slightly higher pitch with increasing tempo
  3. Subphrases of up to 10 notes, shorter ones rising in pitch and longer ones falling, two-subphrase combinations increasing in number of notes and tempo and then decreasing in tempo.


The red-legged seriema prefers grassland habitat to any other. Though it likes to inhabit lush meadows near rivers, it will not readily move into wetlands or crop fields.[5] It is usually seen singly or in pairs, but sometimes in groups up to four, apparently families. It typically walks on the ground and can easily run faster than a human in its habitat. It will flee a car on foot at speeds up to 25 km/h (15 mi/hr) before flying.[4]

In one conflict between two birds, they jumped at each other feet-first, keeping their balance by flapping.[4]

This species nests on the ground[2] or in a bush or tree up to three m above the ground. In the latter case adults jump into the nest rather than fly.[4]



  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Cariama cristata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Holyoak, David T. & Heinsohn, Robert (2003): Seriemas. In: Perrins, Christopher (ed.): Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds: 222. Firefly Books. ISBN 1-55297-777-3
  3. ^ H. Burmeister, quoted and translated by Redford & Peters (1986)
  4. ^ a b c d Redford, Kent H. & Peters, Gustav (1986). "Notes on the biology and song of the Red-legged Seriema (Cariama cristata)" (PDF). Journal of Field Ornithology. 57 (4): 261–269. 
  5. ^ Accordi, Iury Almeida & Barcellos, André (2006): Composição da avifauna em oito áreas úmidas da Bacia Hidrográfica do Lago Guaíba, Rio Grande do Sul [Bird composition and conservation in eight wetlands of the hidrographic basin of Guaíba lake, State of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil]. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia 14(2): 101–115 [Portuguese with English abstract]. PDF fulltext

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