Seriemas are the last remaining descendants of giant carnivorous flightless birds that lived in South America more than 60 million years ago. Seriemas are among the largest ground-dwelling birds in South America. They rarely take flight, preferring to walk in search of food. With a hawk-like head; a small, hooked bill; and the ability to kill snakes, lizards, and rodents, they resemble raptors. Seriemas will even take on venomous coral snakes. They grasp prey with their bills and dash it against a rock or the ground to dispatch it. This also helps to break down bones and shred prey into bite-sized chunks.
Seriemas are known for their loud calls, which can be heard over a mile away. The sound is described as high-pitched yelps resembling the yaps of a puppy. Mating pairs usually vocalize in the early morning hours to announce their territory. One member of the pair starts the song, and the other answers in a kind of duet. Other pairs nearby may respond. Seriemas do not migrate. While mostly terrestrial, they can fly for short distances and will roost in trees. Family members may sleep side by side at night on the same branch. Like many birds, the red-legged seriema likes to sunbathe and dust bathe. Seriemas will run to escape predators, reaching speeds greater than 40 miles per hour. If necessary, they will fly to a higher perch. Seriemas breed during the rainy season. The male’s courtship display consists of strutting before the female, stretching out his flight feathers, and lowering his head to show his crest. Both sexes build their nest in low bushes and trees so parents can jump to the nest instead of flying. The nest is made of twigs and branches and lined with leaves and mud. Two to three eggs are usually laid and incubated by the female for about a month. The chicks, covered in long, light-brown feathers, are fed by both parents. They are able to leave the nest when they are 12 to 15 days old and will trail after their parents on the ground.
These birds can be found in grassy and lightly wooded areas of eastern South America, including Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and central Argentina.
Although omnivores, seriemas are highly carnivorous and dine on insects, small rodents, birds, lizards, snakes, and frogs. They will also eat seeds, fruits, and crops such as corn, beans, and grains.
These birds are about 3 feet tall and weigh about four pounds. Males are slightly larger than females. Lifespan in the wild is 20 to 30 years. In human care, the oldest known bird lived to 48 years.