Darwin's rhea
Rhea pennata
kg lbs 

Darwin's rhea (Rhea pennata ), also known as the lesser rhea, is a large flightless bird, the smaller of the two extant species of rheas. It is found in the Altiplano and Patagonia in South America.

Animal name origin

It is known as ñandú petiso, or ñandú del norte, in Argentina, where the majority live. Other names are suri and choique. The name ñandú comes from the greater rhea's name in Guaraní, ñandú guazu, meaning big spider, possibly in relation to their habit of alternately opening and lowering their wings when they run. In English, Darwin's rhea gets its scientific name from Rhea, a Greek goddess, and pennata, meaning winged. The specific name was bestowed in 1834 by Darwin's contemporary and rival Alcide d'Orbigny, who first described the bird to Europeans from a specimen from the lower Río Negro south of Buenos Aires, Argentina. As late as 2008, it was classified in the monotypic genus Pterocnemia. This word is formed from two Greek words pteron, meaning feathers, and knēmē, meaning the leg between the knee and the ankle, hence feather-legged, alluding to their feathers that cover the top part of the leg. In 2008, the SACC subsumed Pterocnemia into the genus Rhea.


The lesser rhea stands at 90 to 100 cm (35–39 in) tall. Length is 92 to 100 cm (36–39 in) and weight is 15 to 28.6 kg (33–63 lb). Like most ratites, it has a small head and a small bill, the latter measuring 6.2 to 9.2 cm (2.4 to 3.6 in), but has long legs and a long neck. It has relatively larger wings than other ratites, enabling it to run particularly well. It can reach speeds of 60 km/h (37 mph), enabling it to outrun predators. The sharp claws on the toes are effective weapons. Their feathers are similar to those of ostriches, in that they have no aftershaft. Their plumage is spotted brown and white, and the upper part of their tarsus is feathered. The tarsus is 28 to 32 cm (11 to 13 in) long and has 18 horizontal plates on the front.



Biogeographical realms

Darwin's rhea lives in areas of open scrub in the grasslands of Patagonia and on the Andean plateau (the Altiplano), through the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. All subspecies prefer grasslands, brushlands and marshland. However, the nominate subspecies prefers elevations less than 1,500 m (4,900 ft), where the other subspecies typically range from 3,000 to 4,500 m (9,800–14,800 ft), but locally down to 1,220 m (4,000 ft) in the south.

Darwin's rhea habitat map
Darwin's rhea habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

The lesser rhea is mainly a herbivore, with the odd small animal (lizards, beetles, grasshoppers) eaten on occasion. It predominately eats saltbush and fruits from cacti, as well as grasses. They tend to be quiet birds, except as chicks when they whistle mournfully, and as males looking for a female, when they emit a booming call.

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The males of this species become aggressive once they are incubating eggs, even towards females. The females thus lay the later eggs near the nest, rather than in it. Most of the eggs are moved into the nest by the male, but some remain outside, where they rot and attract flies. The male, and later the chicks, eat these flies. The incubation period is 30–44 days, and the clutch size is from 5–55 eggs. The eggs are 87 to 126 mm (3.4–5.0 in) and are greenish yellow. Chicks mature by three years of age. Outside the breeding season, Darwin's rhea is quite sociable: it lives in groups of from 5 to 30 birds, of both sexes and a variety of ages.

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Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition



Darwin's rhea is categorized as least concern by the IUCN. The former southern nominate subspecies remains relatively widespread and locally fairly common. Its range is estimated at 859,000 km2 (332,000 sq mi). The situation for the two former northern subspecies is more worrying, with their combined population estimated as being possibly as low as in the hundreds. However, they are classified as Rhea tarapacensis by the IUCN, which regards it as being near threatened, with the primary threats being hunting, egg-collecting, and fragmentation of its habitat due to conversion to farmland or pastures for cattle-grazing.

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Patagonia National Park in Chile's Aysén Region hosts Centro de Reproducción para la Conservación del Ñandú (lit. Reproduction Centre for Darwin's rhea Conservation). The centre is run by Tompkins Conservation with the support of the National Forest Corporation.

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1. Darwin's rhea Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin's_rhea
2. Darwin's rhea on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22728199/132179491
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/304506

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