Rheas are often compared to ostriches as they are unable to fly. Although they belong to the same family (ratites, or running birds), rheas have three toes on their feet, compared to two in the case of the ostrich. In the pampas of Argentina, they have an almost unlimited food supply: they are omnivores and, although they have a preference for succulent plants and shamrock, they will in fact eat anything (seeds, small vertebrates, etc.).
Rheas are found in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
During the mating season, male rheas form a harem of 2 to 12 females by performing an elaborate sexual courtship display. After mating, the male builds a nest: a shallow hollow in the ground surrounded by twigs and vegetation. Each female lays eggs in the nest, each on a different day over a period of 7 to 10 days. The male then broods 10 to 60 eggs. When the chicks hatch, he stays with them while they feed and protects them fiercely against intruders. In the spring, males become solitary, while the females form small groups and the one-year-old juveniles stay with them until they reach the age of two. Nowadays, rheas’ only enemy is humans, although chicks that stray from their father are potential prey for a large number of meat-eaters.
Grassland in South America and Amazon basin
Shamrock, thistles, insects and reptiles
The greater rhea long suffered from the onslaught of humans. Its meat and eggs were prized food sources locally, and its feathers were used in South America to make dusters. It now benefits from protected status and is classified as a species under threat.