Quebracho crested tinamou photo

Why the Quebracho Crested Tinamou is Upside Down

Its name sounds like a double sneeze, but there are far stranger things about this dinky South American bird.

It would rather run than fly

For instance, it forages for food on the ground and has been seen pecking at roads, presumably for grit rather than some kind of eco protest. When danger strikes it flees or stands completely still, using its mottled feathers to melt into its surroundings. As for its defenceless chicks, they lie in the nest with their heads on the ground, their white neck stripes breaking up their silhouette. And if you thought it was daft to nest on the ground, wait until you hear about its eggs.

The Easter Bunny would be proud!

Tinamous are known for their beautifully glossy eggs, and for the Quebracho crested, they range from bluish green to bright yellow. So utterly inconspicuous, given it lives in dry wooded forests or savannah, where almost everything is shades of brown or grey. Why would it want to attract attention? Possibly to encourage better parenting, or just outright passive aggression.

Daddy day care

The sole incubator and caregiver is the slightly smaller-bodied, smaller-crested male, and it’s thought the eggs are outrageously coloured to make sure he sits on them. Both sexes enjoy a birdy bonanza, so there could be eggs from multiple females in the same nest. Either way, newborn chicks can run almost immediately, and will follow Dad to safety. You’d think a forest dwelling bird would choose the treetops for cover, but nope, yet again we’re in topsy turvy land. It just doesn’t have the heart to fly.

drawing of a quebracho crested tinamou
It would mess up its quiff, for one thing.

Fire in the breast

Despite its heaving bosom, the Quebracho crested tinamou has a tiny heart, barely a quarter of a percent of its body weight, and so can’t sustain flight for long. It’s more an eye-rolling emergency move for when a predator is almost standing on it, and even then it risks injury by smacking into branches when startled. Another unfortunate knee-jerk reaction, at least for the ladies, is egg-laying. A dead female was found on a rooftop with a single egg poking out, and since she had no others in transit and was another 8 short of a clutch, it was something else that caused her death. But let’s move on to happier topics, like its beautiful song. Which it also sings at night.

Moon music

It enjoys a night time chirrup or two in its native Paraguay, and in Argentina, it can be heard up to 40 minutes before dawn and after dusk. Its main advertising call, “fooooeep, foooeep,” sounds a bit like a vehicle reversing, but it also has an alarm and roosting call. Sensibly, it usually hangs around in groups of 4, and likely plays happy families all year round.

Being related to large ground dwelling “ratites” like the emu might explain some of the Quebracho crested tinamou’s oddities. And it can’t be completely bonkers, because it’s considered Least Concern and comparatively common. Still, living in Paraguay and Argentina, it’s at pretty much the same latitude as Australia, so yet another reason to consider it upside down. At least its home habitat hasn’t been upended. Yet.

TLDR

Latin: Eudromia formosa

What? Small ground bird with a funky head crest

Where? Paraguay and Argentina, in arid areas of the Chaco

How big? From 37.5 cm /14.7 inches to 41 cm /16 inches long

Endangered? No, currently Least Concern and considered fairly common

Probable motto: I seem both crazy and down to Earth!

They look cute. Do they need my help at all?

Not per se, as they’re relatively common. Habitat loss and farmland conversion may pose a bigger problem down the road, however.

WWF has a campaign to protect the Gran Chaco habitat in Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.

Just to prove I’m not fibbing:

Eudromia formosa“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Quebracho crested-tinamou“. No date. Avibase – The World Bird Database.

Quebracho crested tinamou Eudromia formosa“. No date. BirdLife International.

Sick, Helmut. No date. “Tinamou“. Britannica.com.

Smith, P. 2014. “Quebracho Crested-Tinamou (Eudromia formosa)“, version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Smith, Paul, and Garrett, Kimball L. 2016. “The juvenile plumage of Quebracho Crested-Tinamou
Eudromia formosa (Aves: Tinamidae)”. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 24(4), 335–337.

Smith, Paul, et al. 2013. “An unusual record of Quebracho Crested Tinamou Eudromia formosa from the dry Chaco of Paraguay, with comments on distribution, breeding and vocalisations of the species“. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 133(1):19-23.

Walter, Michael. 2006. “Colour in birds’ eggs: the collections of the Natural History Museum, Tring“. Historical Biology 18(2):145-208.

Featured image credit: “Quebracho Crested Tinamou – Eudromia formosa formosa” by Fabrice Schmidt

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