Rhea is a member of the flightless bird group. The rheas are the largest bird in South America. There are two types of rhea: Greater or American rhea and Darwin’s rhea. They differ in size and type of habitat they live in. Rheas can be found in open grasslands, pampas, and forests of Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, and Brazil. The rhea is also farmed for its meat, eggs, and skin. Rheas are distantly related to the ostrich and emu.
Rheas have three toes on each foot, while ostriches have two.
American Rhea can reach 5 feet in height and weight of up to 55 pounds. Darwin’s Rhea can reach 3 feet in height and 22 pounds in weight.
Body of rhea is covered with grey-brown plumage with dark patches on the neck and back. Abdomen and thighs are covered with white feathers.
A rhea’s head, neck and thighs are covered with feathers, but the bird has no tail feathers.
Rhea has strong legs with three toes that are designed for running.
Its plumage is mostly gray and brown with white underparts.
Rhea has large wings, but it is a flightless bird because it lacks breast bone which connects muscles required for flying.
Rheas cannot fly, but they have unusually long wings for flightless birds.
Although it is unable to fly, rhea can run very fast and reach the speed of up to 40 miles per hour. Wings provide stability during running.
They use their wings like an airplane rudder to help them dodge predators and for balance while running.
Rhea consumes both meat and plants (an omnivore). Different kind of seeds, fruits, roots, plants, lizards, insects, reptiles and rodents are normal part of rhea’s diet.
They weigh between 33 and 66 pounds (15 and 30 kilograms) and stand 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall.
Rheas also like to consume agricultural crops. Because of that, farmers often considered them as pests.
Males rheas are typically larger than the females.
Rhea is a silent animal most of the time. During mating season males produce sounds that are similar to the roars of mammals.
During the breeding season, rheas stay near rivers, lakes or marshes.
During the winter, rheas gather in group composed of up to 50 animals of both sex. Group of rheas is called a “flock”. They sometimes even combine with other, unrelated animals, such as deer or guanacos.
Rheas continuously move as they feed.
Rheas are polygamous animals which mean that males and females mate with more than one partner during the mating season.
Rheas generally live in groups, although breeding males are solitary for part of the year.
Unlike other animals, males are fully responsible for building of the nest and care of the eggs and chicks after hatching.
Their breeding season is from August to January, depending on the region.
Male can mate with between two and twelve females. He will build a nest in the ground where each female will deposit her eggs. Number of eggs can vary from 12 to 50, depending on the number of mating partners.
Males develop a dark collar at the base of their neck during the breeding season.
Male will keep the eggs warm throughout the whole incubation period that lasts 6 weeks. He also takes care of the chicks after hatching, keeping both female rheas and predators away.
Each of the females lay up to five gold- colored eggs in the male’s nest over a period of seven to 10 days. They can lay up to 60 eggs total.
Young rhea grows quickly and it reaches adult size in six months. However, it will not mate until it reaches the age of 2 to 3 years old.
The male incubates the eggs for about six weeks and cares for the chicks alone.
Maximum lifespan of the rhea in the wild is 15 years.