Published On: Fri, Nov 30th, 2018

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – CURIOUS PIG? NO, A CURASSOW

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Feather pattern of female Bare-faced Curassow

Feather pattern of female Bare-faced Curassow

GREAT CURASSOW, Crax rubra, Hocofaisán (Spanish), K’aambul

BARE-FACED CURASSOW, Crax fasciolata

A loud piercing whistle penetrates the air as two people meander along a trail in the Yucatan humid forest. It sounds like someone wants our attention.

6 Second Sound link: click on left white arrow, then click on gray to hear the whistle – https://www.xeno-canto.org/370071

“Who is that? Is someone whistling for us? Are we near a Maya village?”

“I don’t think we’re close to a village. That whistle is from a Great Curassow.”

“I didn’t know pigs could whistle. Is it a wild boar? Are we going to be attacked?”

“No, don’t be afraid.”

“Well, how do you know it’s a female pig and how do you know she is curious? Is she large since you called her “great”? Do sows make a different noise from boars?”

“That call is from a male Great Curassow, which is locally called a pheasant. I’m referring to a three foot long, turkey-like bird, not a pig. Maybe we can hear the call again.”

“No thanks. I’m returning to the eco-lodge. Thanks for your help.”

After several unsuccessful birding trips in the Yucatan to photograph the Great Curassow, a permanent resident, I’ve only heard this secretive bird which ranges from E. Mexico to Ecuador. Fifty or so species occur in this family that also includes chachalacas and guans. However, I recently photographed one of the Great Curassow cousins, the Bare-faced Curassow, Crax fasciolata, in Brazil’s Pantanal.  (All curassow photos from Brazil.)

DESCRIPTION OF MALE AND FEMALE:

The males look and sound similar; both have curly crests, black bodies, white bellies, white tail tips, and white under the tail. But the Bare-faced Curassow exhibits bare facial skin around the eye in both sexes.

White feathers of male Bare-faced Curassow

 

Bare-faced Curassow pair with male on left

 

Featherless facial skin around eye of Bare-faced Curassow

The Jeri-curled crests amuse me since I call them a feathered mood ring, dependent on alarm or calm, those feathers can rise or fall.

Low crest of male Bare-faced Curassow

 

Raised crest of male Bare-faced Curassow

At the base of the upper bill on the male is a yellow cere. This leathery skin in certain bird species can indicate health status of the males and can be used for sexual attraction. Similar to the crest, the top of this yellow skin can form a knob which rises or falls depending on the season. During the breeding season it inflates larger. (Of course it does.) It looks like an inflated yellow balloon. Unfortunately I have no photograph of it.

Front of Bare-faced Curassow

Females of both species sport curly crests too. But the females’ plumage differs from the males (sexually dimorphic) and may be barred, rusty, or dark in the Great Curassow, but only barred in the bare-faced.

Female Bare-faced Curassow running

DIET:

Curassows typically forage alone or in pairs and seem to play an important role in seed dispersal. They mainly feed on fallen fruit, but will also search leaf litter for seeds, flowers, and small invertebrates. Observations of the Bare-faced Curassow show it eats soil rich in salt even when found in giant otter feces. Hmm, must be a kind of salt-of-the-earth bird. Maybe that’s why it has to clean out its nose (nares).

Curassows often search for food in leaf litter

 

Even a bird has to pick its nose clean (Bare-faced Curassow)

BREEDING:

Little seems to be observed and recorded about their life history including breeding behavior. A male uses several perches in trees to lower the boom against rival males by using a booming call in his territory. The low-pitched boom reminds me of blowing across the top of a cola bottle. It also attracts females and then helps maintain a pair bond.

Hear the blowing-across-the-bottle-like sound at 7 seconds:

https://www.xeno-canto.org/108668

In captivity, curassows are monogamous. Some field research indicates observations of lek behavior. You know it’s a specific area of the ground where macho males display against other males while a female or more stand on the sidelines to mate with the victor or not. If it works, the curassow has a booming business or else its crest-fallen.

***

During this Christmas season, give yourself the gift to discover nature, even if it’s only in your yard or a nearby park. It will soothe your heart and nurture your soul. Perhaps you can donate to a conservation organization either locally, regionally and/or nationally to promote protection of nature for future generations. That gift keeps on giving.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, FELIZ NAVIDAD, HAPPY HANUKKAH, HAPPY KWANZAA, BUONE FESTE NATALIZIE, KURISUMASU OMEDETO, JOYEUX NOEL, FROEHLICHE WEIHNACHTEN, FELIZ NATAL, KRISMASI NJEMA, SAWAT DEE WAN, AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about these species:

Sal a Pajarear Yucatan, Birds & Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, Curassow and Related Birds

Tayler Brooks, XC108668. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/108668. https://www.xeno-canto.org/108668 (male hum with female too).

Johan Chaves, XC370071. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/370071.(Whistle)

https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/grecur1/overview

https://www.hbw.com/species/bare-faced-curassow-crax-fasciolata

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/William_Magnusson/publication/254214010

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247151780_Notes_on_the_breeding_ecology_and_seasonality_of_some_Brazilian_birds

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237021160_Density_estimates_of_the_Bare-faced_Curassow_Crax_fasciolata_in_the_Brazilian_Pantanal

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283848030_Population_densities_of_curassows_guans_and_chachalacas_Cracidae_Effects_of_body_size_habitat_season_and_hunting

http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/bare-faced-curassow-crax-fasciolata/text

 

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her monthly column features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and also wildlife beyond the Yucatan.

Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo



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