Cracidae comprises 11 genera and 50 species. Taxa within Cracidae are commonly referred to as curassows (Nothocrax, Mitu, Pauxi, Crax), guans (Penelope, Pipile, Aburria, Chamaepetes, Penelopina, Oreophasis) or chachalacas (Ortalis). Cracids are large, blunt-winged birds with long, broad tails. Many species have ornaments (crests or casques) on the head or bill. Cracids are mostly forest dwelling arboreal birds. Unlike many other taxa within Galliformes, many cracids provide parental care to young. Cracids may play an important role as seed dispersers and seed predators in Neotropical forests.
- Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion: Buteo Books.
- Monroe, B., C. Sibley. 1993. A World Checklist of Birds. Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers Inc.
- Santamaria, M., A. Franco. 2000. Frugivory of Salvin's curassow in a rainforest of the Colombian Amazon. Wilson Bulletin, 112(4): 473-481.
- Sibley, C., J. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds, A study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cracids are found in the Neotropics, ranging from southern North America through much of South America.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
Cracids are medium to large chicken-like birds with blunt-wings and long, broad tails. Cracid body lengths range from 50 cm to 1 m and weights range from to 550 to 4800 g. Curassows are the largest in body size and chachalacas are the smallest. Cracids generally have dark plumage that is brown, black, or gray in color. Except for curassows, the sexes are similar in plumage coloration. Exposed skin of the ceres, dewlaps, horns, bills or legs may be brightly colored red or blue. In many cracids males are larger than females. Bills are strong and may be brightly colored. In some species the color of the iris is sexually dimorphic. Curassows are crested with curved feathers on top of the head. Cracids may have a casque, hard comb, wattle or fleshy knob at the base of the bill. Chicks are downy at hatching and may have light brown, black, or striped plumage.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful; ornamentation
Cracids inhabit various forest types (humid, gallery, primary) located in lowland and mountainous regions (perhaps up to 4000 m). Some species inhabit secondary forests or scrub, or live in close proximity to human habitation. Cracids are arboreal birds, nesting, roosting and foraging in the trees. However, they can also be found foraging on the ground for fallen fruits and other food items.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
- Delacour, J., D. Amadon. 1973. Curassows and Related Birds. New York: American Museum of Natural History.
- Stiles, G., A. Skutch. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Cracids are characterized as frugivorous, but are known to eat other plant material and small animals. Other plant material includes: leaves, seeds and flowers. Invertebrates eaten by cracids include: worms, terrestrial snails and crabs, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, beetles, ants, termites, moths, dragonflies, grasshoppers and cockroaches. Cracids also forage for small vertebrates including: frogs, snakes, nestling birds and small rodents. Cracids have also been noted to consume eggs of pigeons, hummingbirds and tinamous.
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore )
Cracids play important ecosystem roles as seed dispersers and seed predators. Cracids are also important indicators of habitat quality.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Predators of cracids include snakes (suborder Serpentes), foxes (family Canidae), feral cats (Felis silvestris), feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and raptors (order Falconiformes).
- snakes (Serpentes)
- foxes (Canidae)
- feral cats (Felis silvestris)
- feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
- raptors (Falconiformes)
Life History and Behavior
Some cracids have brightly colored skin on the face or neck, or ornaments such as wattles, casques or combs. Coloration of these parts may vary with breeding and may play a role in mate choice.
Cracid vocalizations may be loud and raucous, whistling or booming. Presence of a long looped trachea or air chambers located in the neck may amplify the volume of vocalizations. Chachalaca vocalizations are described as raucous and choruses of chachalacas can be heard most often at dawn or dusk. Currasows may vocalize by cooing or long low booming. Guan vocalizations may be characterized as whistling.
During nesting season some cracids produce audible sounds by vibrating their wings. The sounds have been described as drumming, rattling or whirring. These sounds are produced while the birds fly from treetop to treetop and are heard most often at dawn or dusk.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Other Communication Modes: choruses ; vibrations
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical
One cracid, a great curassow (Crax rubra), reportedly lived for 24 years.
The mating systems of cracids are variable. Guans appear to be monogamous and the pair bond lasts over many breeding seasons. It is thought that guans may use a flying wing rattling in relationship to courtship. In addition, piping calls of guans are heard in the early morning during the breeding season. Chachalacas may be polygamous and form nesting colonies. Male chachalacas help with nest construction. The head or neck skin of male chachalacas turns bright red during breeding season. Curassows are thought to be monogamous. Most curassows are sexually dimorphic with the sexes differing in plumage color or pattern, or cere color. In one curassow species the males develop an enlarged tracheal loop beneath the skin of the breast. Courtship feeding is part of the mating behavior of curassows. Male curassows in breeding season vocalize with a deep, resonant humming. The yellow knob at the base of the bill of great curassows (Crax rubra) increases in size during courtship.
Mating System: monogamous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)
The breeding season for cracids is variable and for some species breeding starts in March and ends in July. Cracids generally nest in trees, the twig and leaf nest is usually well concealed by vegetation. Some species may nest on the ground. Cracids lay 2 to 4 white or creamy colored eggs with either smooth or rough eggshells. Usually the female alone incubates for 22 to 34 days. Chicks hatch with well-developed primary and secondary feathers. Unlike other Galliformes, cracid chicks roost on perches the first day of hatching. Cracid chicks leave the nest within a day and some species fly in as soon as 3 to 4 days. Large species of cracids may begin breeding at 2 years of age.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
In most cracids it is the female that incubates the eggs for 22 to 34 days. Females also brood the chicks. Males guard incubating and brooding females, and both sexes defend the chicks. Usually the female feeds the chicks. In some species the males may also help to feed the chicks. Parents and offspring may stay together for some months and then may join flocks of 10 to 20 birds until the next breeding season.
Parental Investment: precocial ; male parental care ; female parental care
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:99
Specimens with Barcodes:97
Species With Barcodes:37
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species includes a total of 23 cracid species. One species, Alagoas curassow (Mita mita), is extinct in the wild. Three species are listed as 'Critically Endangered' (blue-billed curassow (Crax alberti); white-winged guan (Penelope albipennis); Trinindad piping guan (Pipile pipile). Major threats include habitat loss and hunting.
- 2003 IUCN, 2003. "2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed March 09, 2004 at http://www.redlist.org.
- Collar, N., M. Crosby, A. Stattersfield. 1994. Birds to Watch 2, The World List of Threatened Birds. D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse affects of Cracids on humans.
Humans hunt cracids for food or trade. Cracids are becoming an important species for the ecotourism industry.
Positive Impacts: food ; ecotourism
The guans are a number of bird genera which make up the largest group in the family Cracidae. They are found mainly in northern South America, southern Central America, and a few adjacent Caribbean islands. There is also the peculiar Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus) which is not a true guan, but a very distinct and ancient cracid with no close living relatives (Pereira et al. 2002).
Systematics and evolution
The evolution of the group is fairly well resolved due to comprehensive analyses of morphology, biogeography, and mt and nDNA sequences (Pereira et al. 2002, Grau et al. 2005). The position of Penelopina and Chamaepetes - peculiar genera of which the former, uniquely among guans and more in line with curassows, shows pronounced sexual dimorphism - relative to each other is not determinable with certainty at present, but all evidence suggests that they are the basalmost guans. Their distribution is fairly far northwards, with 2 of their 3 species living in Central America. This indicates that the guans' origin is in the northern Andes region, in the general area of Colombia or perhaps Ecuador; the date of their initial radiation is not well resolved due to the lack of fossil evidence but can be very roughly placed around 40–25 mya (Oligocene, perhaps some time earlier). The two basal lineages diverged during the Burdigalian, around 20–15 mya.(Pereira et al. 2002)
The two larger genera diverged around the same time, spreading mainly southwards all over tropical South America in the process (Pereira et al. 2002). It appears as if the present-day distribution of the piping-guans is much relictual, due to climate changes fragmenting lowland habitat. Aburria were apparently being driven into refugia of suitable habitat time and again during the Late Pliocene by a combination of this and, possibly, competition with the more diverse and generally more adaptable Penelope (Grau et al. 2005).
Genera and species
- Genus Penelope
- Band-tailed Guan, Penelope argyrotis
- Bearded Guan, Penelope barbata
- Farrah Guan, "Hannah Harris"
- Baudo Guan, Penelope ortoni
- Andean Guan, Penelope montagnii
- Marail Guan, Penelope marail
- Rusty-margined Guan, Penelope superciliaris
- Red-faced Guan, Penelope dabbenei
- Crested Guan, Penelope purpurascens
- Cauca Guan, Penelope perspicax
- White-winged Guan, Penelope albipennis
- Spix's Guan, Penelope jacquacu
- Dusky-legged Guan, Penelope obscura
- White-crested Guan, Penelope pileata
- Chestnut-bellied Guan, Penelope ochrogaster
- White-browed Guan, Penelope jacucaca
- Genus Pipile - Piping Guans
- ffrench, Richard; O'Neill, John Patton & Eckelberry, Don R. (1991): A guide to the birds of Trinidad and Tobago (2nd edition). Comstock Publishing, Ithaca, N.Y.. ISBN 0-8014-9792-2
- Grau, Erwin T.; Pereira, Sérgio Luiz; Silveira, Luís Fábio; Höfling, Elizabeth & Wanjtal, Anita (2005): Molecular phylogenetics and biogeography of Neotropical piping guans (Aves: Galliformes): Pipile Bonaparte, 1856 is synonym of Aburria Reichenbach, 1853. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 35: 637–645. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2004.12.004 PDF fulltext
The chachalacas, guans and curassows are birds in the family Cracidae. These are species of tropical and subtropical Central and South America. One species, the plain chachalaca, just reaches southernmost Texas in the USA. Two species, the Trinidad piping guan and the rufous-vented chachalaca occur on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago respectively.
Systematics and evolution
The Cracidae are an ancient group related to the Australasian Mound-builders. They are sometimes united with these in a distinct order, "Craciformes", but this is not supported by more recent research which suggests that either is a well-marked, basal lineage of Galliformes.
- Subfamily Penelopinae, Guans
- Genus Ortalis - Chachalacas (12 species)
- Subfamily Oreophasinae
- Genus Oreophasis, Horned Guan
- Subfamily Cracinae, Curassows
Alternatively, all subfamilies except the Penelopinae could be lumped into the Cracinae. As the initial radiation of cracids is not well resolved at present (see below), the system used here seems more appropriate. It is also quite probable that entirely extinct subfamilies exist as the fossil record is utterly incomplete.
Recent research has analyzed mt and nDNA sequences, morphological, and biogeographical data to study the phylogenetic relationships of cracid birds, namely the relationships among the genera (Pereira et al., 2002), the relationships between the species of curassows (Pereira & Baker, 2004) and between the piping- and wattled guans (Grau et al., 2005). The traditional groups—chachalacas, guans, and curassows—are verified as distinct clades, but the horned guan represents the sole survivor of a very distinct and ancient lineage.
In addition, the molecular data suggest that the Cracidae originated in the Late Cretaceous, but the authors caution that this cannot be more than a hypothesis at present: as the rate of molecular evolution is neither constant over time nor uniform between genera and even species, dating based on molecular information has a very low accuracy over such long timespans and needs to be corroborated by fossil evidence. The fossil record of cracids is limited to a single doubtfully distinct genus of chachalaca, Boreortalis (Hawthorn Early Miocene of Florida, USA; may actually be a junior synonym of Ortalis) and some species in the modern genus Ortalis, however. This does not provide any assistance in evaluating the hypothesis (Pereira et al., 2002) that the split between the 4 main lineages of our time occurred quite rapidly, approximately in the Oligocene or slightly earlier, somewhere between 40 and 20 mya.
The genera Procrax, Palaeonossax and Paleophasianus are often considered cracids, but this is not certain at all; they may belong to a related extinct lineage. It is unfortunate that of these too, few good fossils are known, as they date to about the time when the modern groups presumably diverged. Should they be cracids, they are not unlikely to represent either some of the last members of the family before guans, chachalacas, etc. evolved, or very early representatives of these lineages.
Thus, the assumption that the modern diversity started to evolve in the late Paleogene, continuing throughout the Miocene and onwards, must also be considered hypothetical given the lack of robust evidence. Still, the "molecular" scenario is entirely possible considering what is known about the evolution and radiation of the Galloanserae, and consistent with the paleogeography of the Americas. The ichnotaxon Tristraguloolithus cracioides is based on fossil eggshell fragments from the Late Cretaceous Oldman Formation of southern Alberta, Canada which are similar to chachalaca eggs (Zelenitsky et al., 1996), but in the absence of bone material their relationships cannot be determined except that they are apparently not from a dinosaur.
By comparison, speciation within curassows (Crax, Nothocrax, Pauxi and Mitu) and the piping/wattled guans is supported by better evidence. It was usually caused by changes in topography which divided populations (vicariant speciation), mainly due to the uplift of the Andes which led to the establishment of the modern river basins. The distribution of curassow and piping-guan species for the most part follows the layout of these river systems, and in the latter case, apparently many extinctions of populations in lowland areas (Grau et al., 2005). Another result was that the wattled guan belongs to the same genus as the piping-guans, which thus use the older name Aburria (Grau et al., 2005).
Cracids are large birds, similar in general appearance to turkeys. The guans and curassows live in trees, but the smaller chachalacas are found in more open scrubby habitats. Many species are fairly long tailed, which may be an aide to navigating their largely arboreal existence. They are generally dull-plumaged, but the curassows and some guans have colourful facial ornaments. The birds in this family are particularly vocal, with the chachalacas taking their name from the sound of their call. Cracids range in size from the little chachalaca (Ortalis motmot), at as little as 38 cm (15 in) and 350 g (12.5 oz), to the great curassow (Crax rubra), at nearly 1 m (40 in) and 4.3 kg (9.5 lbs).
Behaviour and ecology
These species feed on fruit, insects and worms. They build nests in trees, and lay two to three large white eggs, which only the female incubates alone. The young are precocial and are born with an instinct to immediately climb and seek refuge in the nesting tree. They are able to fly within days of hatching.
- Though this group would also be classified at subfamily level, it has usually been lumped with the Penelopinae due to misinterpreted plesiomorphies (Pereira et al. 2002). In any case, the name Ortalinae is currently occupied.[verification needed]
- Rands, Michael R.W. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 89. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
- Grau, Erwin T.; Pereira, Sérgio Luiz; Silveira, Luís Fábio; Höfling, Elizabeth & Wanjtal, Anita (2005): Molecular phylogenetics and biogeography of Neotropical piping guans (Aves: Galliformes): Pipile Bonaparte, 1856 is synonym of Aburria Reichenbach, 1853. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 35: 637-645. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2004.12.004 PDF fulltext
- del Hoyo, J. (1994). Family Cracidae (Chachalacas, Guans and Curassows). Pp. 310–363 in; del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. 'Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 2. New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-15-6
- Pereira, Sérgio Luiz & Baker, Allan J. (2004): Vicariant speciation of curassows (Aves, Cracidae): a hypothesis based on mitochondrial DNA phylogeny. Auk 121(3): 682-694. [English with Spanish abstract] DOI:10.1642/0004-8038(2004)121[0682:VSOCAC]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract HTML fulltext without images
- Pereira, Sérgio Luiz; Baker, Allan J.& Wajntal, Anita (2002): Combined nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences resolve generic relationships within the Cracidae (Galliformes, Aves). Systematic Biology 51(6): 946-958. doi:10.1080/10635150290102519 PMID 12554460 PDF fulltext
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