The chachalacas, guans and curassows are birds in the family Cracidae. These are species of tropical and subtropical Central and South America. The range of one species, the plain chachalaca, just reaches southernmost parts of Texas in the United States. Two species, the Trinidad piping guan and the rufous-vented chachalaca occur on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago respectively.
Temporal range: Oligocene to recent
|Yellow-knobbed curassow (Crax daubentoni)|
The family Cracidae was introduced (as Craxia) by the French polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1815. 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.
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 and Palaeonossax 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).
Originally interpreted as a turkey by Othniel Charles Marsh, Meleagris antiquus was referred to as Cracidae in 1964 by Pierce Brodkorb. It is nowadays considered unambiguously to be a Cariamiformes under Bathornithidae, and indeed a very different animal from cracids, being a 2 meter tall terrestrial predator. Similarly, Palaeophasianus has been reassigned to Geranoididae, a lineage of large, ostrich-like stem-cranes.
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 oz), to the great curassow (Crax rubra), at nearly 1 m (39 in) and 4.3 kg (9.5 lb).
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.
The bare-faced curassow (Crax fasciolata) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae, the chachalacas, guans, curassows, etc. It is found in Brazil, Paraguay, and eastern Bolivia, and extreme northeast Argentina, in the cerrado, pantanal, and the southeastern region of the Amazon basin. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.Black curassow
The black curassow (Crax alector), also known as the smooth-billed curassow and the crested curassow, is a species of bird in the family Cracidae, the chachalacas, guans, and curassows. It is found in humid forests in northern South America in Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas and far northern Brazil. Introduced to Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Lesser Antilles. It is the only Crax curassow where the male and female cannot be separated by plumage, as both are essentially black with a white crissum (the area around the cloaca), and have a yellow (eastern part of its range) or orange-red (western part of its range) cere.Curassow
Curassows are one of the three major groups of cracid birds. Three of the four genera are restricted to tropical South America; a single species of Crax ranges north to Mexico. They form a distinct clade which is usually classified as the subfamily Cracinae.Galliformes
Galliformes is an order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding birds that includes turkey, grouse, chicken, New World quail and Old World quail, ptarmigan, partridge, pheasant, francolin, junglefowl and the Cracidae. The name derives from "gallus", Latin for "cock" or "rooster". Common names are gamefowl or gamebirds, landfowl, gallinaceous birds, or galliforms. "Wildfowl" or just "fowl" are also often used for the Galliformes, but usually these terms also refer to waterfowl (Anseriformes), and occasionally to other commonly hunted birds. This group has about 290 species, one or more of which are found in essentially every part of the world's continents (except for the innermost deserts and perpetual ice). They are rarer on islands, and in contrast to the closely related waterfowl, are essentially absent from oceanic islands—unless introduced there by humans. Several species have been domesticated during their long and extensive relationships with humans.
This order contains five families: Phasianidae (including chicken, quail, partridges, pheasants, turkeys, peafowl and grouse), Odontophoridae (New World quails), Numididae (guineafowl), Cracidae (including chachalacas and curassows), and Megapodiidae (incubator birds like mallee fowl and brush-turkeys). They are important as seed dispersers and predators in the ecosystems they inhabit, and are often reared as game birds by humans for their meat and eggs and for recreational hunting. Many gallinaceous species are skilled runners and escape predators by running rather than flying. Males of most species are more colorful than the females. Males often have elaborate courtship behaviors that include strutting, fluffing of tail or head feathers, and vocal sounds. They are mainly nonmigratory.Guan (bird)
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).Guineafowl
Guineafowl (; sometimes called "pet speckled hen", or "original fowl") are birds of the family Numididae in the order Galliformes. They are endemic to Africa and rank among the oldest of the gallinaceous birds. Phylogenetically, they branch off from the core Galliformes after the Cracidae and before the Odontophoridae. An Eocene fossil lineage, Telecrex, has been associated with guineafowl. Telecrex inhabited Mongolia, and may have given rise to the oldest of the true Phasianids such as Ithaginis and Crossoptilon, which evolved into high-altitude montane-adapted species with the rise of the Tibetan Plateau. While modern guineafowl species are endemic to Africa, the helmeted guineafowl has been introduced as a domesticated bird widely elsewhere.Highland guan
The highland guan (Penelopina nigra) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found in the highlands of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, southern Mexico, and Nicaragua.Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forest. Its population has declined much in recent times: Listed as a species of Least Concern in 1994, it was uplisted to Near Threatened in 2000 and, as it was determined to be less common than previously believed, to Vulnerable in the 2007 IUCN Red List.Horned curassow
The horned curassow (Pauxi unicornis), or southern helmeted curassow, is a species of bird in the family Cracidae found in humid tropical and subtropical forests. It was first described by James Bond and Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee in 1939 from a specimen collected in Bolivia, and further birds that were described from Peru in 1971 were thought to be a new subspecies. However, the taxonomical position (as subspecies or independent species) of the birds found in Peru in 1971 is unclear. The horned curassow as originally described is endemic to Bolivia. It is a large, predominantly black bird with a distinctive casque on its forehead. It is an uncommon bird with a limited range and is suffering from habitat loss, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated its conservation status as being "critically endangered".Marail guan
The Marail guan (Penelope marail) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found in Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.Mitu (bird)
Mitu is a genus of curassows, large birds in the family Cracidae. They are found in humid tropical forests in South America. Their plumage is iridescent black with a white or rufous crissum (the area around the cloaca) and tail-tip, and their legs and bills are red. The genders are alike.Nocturnal curassow
The nocturnal curassow (Nothocrax urumutum) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical swampland.Razor-billed curassow
The razor-billed curassow (Mitu tuberosum) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found throughout a large part of the Amazon Rainforest, though largely restricted to regions south of the Amazon River. Unlike other members of the genus Mitu, its crissum (the area around the cloaca) is deep chestnut and the tail-tip is white. The razor-billed curassow was formerly treated as a subspecies of Mitu mitu, but today this scientific name is restricted to the extremely rare Alagoas curassow.Red-throated piping guan
The red-throated piping guan (Pipile cujubi) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found in northeastern Bolivia and Brazil, where its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.Rufous-headed chachalaca
The rufous-headed chachalaca (Ortalis erythroptera) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found in Colombia and adjacent Ecuador and Peru. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, subtropical or tropical moist montane forest, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, and plantations . It is threatened by habitat loss.Salvin's curassow
The Salvin's curassow (Mitu salvini) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.
A prized game bird, the Salvin's curassow is declining throughout the human-inhabited areas of its range, which also includes Colombia and eastern Ecuador. But the turkey-size bird seems to be doing well in areas without hunting pressures.Sickle-winged guan
The sickle-winged guan (Chamaepetes goudotii) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae.
It is found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forest. In Ecuador, it is noted that the guans from the Eastern slope, at 61-63.5 cm (24–25 in), were much larger than birds from the Western Andean slope, at 51-54.5 cm (20–22 in).Spix's guan
Spix's guan (Penelope jacquacu) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest. Its estimated global range is approximately 5,000,000 km² and is common in at least parts of this range. It is therefore considered a least concern species by the IUCN.The common name commemorates the German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix (1782-1826).Wattled guan
The wattled guan (Aburria aburri) is a species of bird in the family Cracidae. It is a fairly large black cracid with blue-based, black-tipped beak and a long, red-and-yellow wattle.
It is found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest. The wattled guan is a fairly shy species that is mostly seen when it perches on the outer edge of the canopy from a distance. Like many tropical forest birds, it is heard more often than seen. It is threatened by habitat destruction and the IUCN has assessed its conservation status as being "near threatened".