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Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata



Distinguishing Characteristics

A large, brown bird with primarily terrestrial habits. Stands nearly a meter tall. Distinctive features include the long, bright-red legs and the brushy crest extending from the base of the upper bill. Carnivorous, actively hunts a variety of small animals. Unmistakable when seen clearly.

Similar Species

There are only one other species that could be mistaken for the Red-legged Seriema. This is the species' closest living relative; the Black-legged Seriema (Chunga burmeisteri). The Black-legged Seriema is much smaller, darker, and most distinctively, has no crest.

Detailed Description

The Red-legged Seriema is a very distinctive bird. It has a crest that is comprised of tufts of stiff feathers that are permanently raised vertically from the base of the upper bill. It is one of the only birds in South America with such a crest. Males have larger crests, with some feathers reaching up to 10 cm in length. These feathers are gray at the base with black tips. The body feathers are predominantly gray with shades of brown, except on the abdomen, which is white. The plumage is loose around their neck and underparts. The skin surrounding the eye is blue and the iris is yellow. These birds also have unique, eyelash-like feathers around their eyes. The wing and tail feathers have bands of black and white coloration. The bill and distinctive long legs are both red in color. This species has three toes facing forward, and one in the back, which is common among both other ground dwelling birds and raptors. This comes as little surprise, as seriemas catch and eat their prey much like raptors; by holding their prey in their claws, and tearing flesh with their beaks. As evidenced their general body structure, these birds are better adapted to running than flying. They have been known to run upwards of 25 km/hr, reportedly reaching speeds approaching 70 km/h. They tend to only fly if they cannot outrun their pursuer, or to reach an elevated perch. (USA 2007)


This bird follows a simple basic molt pattern, with no special colorations or patterns emerging, except in a few cases of color abberations found in specimens (Olson 1973)

Bare Parts

The Red-legged Seriema has exposed skin around its eyes, extending out to its nares. This skin is blueish in color in the facial area, and it turns red to match the beak at the very tip of the nares. In addition, the legs are exposed, and red in color, as per the common name. (USA 2007)


Weight: 1-3 kg

Total body length: 75-90 cm, males larger then females

(USA 2007)

Recommended Citation

Red-legged Seriema (Cariama cristata), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: