Birds – The Curassows And Guans

Among the many birds confined to the New World not any are more eminently characteristic than the Curassows and Guans of Central and South America. In common with the Megapodes they have the hind toe well developed and inserted on the same level as the front ones, while they differ from them in having a tuft of feathers on the oil-gland, and, moreover, are distinctly arboreal instead of terrestrial, usually building their nests in trees and bushes and laying eggs of the usual kind and rearing their young as well-regulated birds should. They are large and on the whole rather striking and handsome birds, between sixteen and thirty-six inches in length, and are mostly provided with a crest or other ornamental enlargement on the head. They number about a dozen genera and sixty species, only one of which reaches the United States in the lower valley of the Rio Grande in Texas. They may be divided into two groups, in one the upper mandible being higher than broad, and in the other being broader than high. To the first belongs the true Curassows (Crax), which are all birds of large size with a semi-erect crest on the top of the head, the feathers of which are curled at the tips. They are all quite similar in appearance, the males being black above, glossed with purple or dark green, and white below, the crests being uniform black and never barred with white, while the females are more or less barred with black, white, rufous, buff, etc., and have the crest always more or less white-barred. The species are distinguished on minor considerations, as the presence or absence of a knob at the base of the upper mandible, wattles at the base of the lower mandible, white-tipped tail, etc. The males in common with others of the group have a long and convoluted windpipe and hence a loud and rather harsh voice. They frequent usually the loftiest trees, going in flocks of considerable size, and building a bulky nest of sticks, leaves, and grass, wherein are deposited the large white eggs. The Curassows are of a quiet, confiding disposition, and as some of them breed readily in captivity are often tamed by the inhabitants and reared for their excellent flesh. The Mexican Curassow (Crax globicera) was found by Richmond to be abundant on the Frio and Escondido rivers, where it is often kept in captivity. ” A fine male,” he says, ” on the Magnolia plantation was very tame, and answered to the name of ‘Touie.’ One of Touie’s peculiarities was an abhorrence of women. The moment a dress appeared on the plantation he began to show great distress, uttering his low, plaintive whistle, and running often to the object of his wrath, with body leaning forward and almost brushing the ground, head thrown back and tail raised, giving him a laughable appearance. After picking at the offending dress and following its wearer about for a time, Touie would quiet down a bit, but would continue to sulk and utter his note of complaint until the cause of the trouble had departed. The bird raised his crest when excited, but on other occasions kept it depressed.” The Crested Curassow (C. Alector) is another handsome species in which the male is black glossed with purple, except on the abdomen, flanks, and under tail-coverts, which are white. This bird is very abundant in French Guiana, frequenting the vast forests in flocks of large size. They perch on the high trees, but also spend much time on the ground searching for fruits and nuts, which constitute the principal part of their food. The nest is placed in a tree, and the eggs, from two to six in number, are pure white. Sclater’s Curassow (C. Fasciolata) is similar to the last, but has the plumage glossed with dark green, and the tail tipped with white; it occurs widely throughout the forests of eastern South America.