Thursday, May 30, 2013

Really Weird Birds: The Horned Guan

Horned Guans are only native to the high mountainous pine/oak forests of southeastern Mexico and Guatemala. 

This is an extremely specific ecological niche.  By the early 1930s, loss of habitat and hunting greatly reduced their population. They are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List.  It is estimated that there are only between 1,000 – 2,499 individuals left.

These birds are named so because of their unusual red horn of bare skin on the top of their heads.  Their body feathers are black with a glossy blue-green sheen, except for down the front of their necks and chests, which is a mottled white.  They also have a white band on their tails.

Horned Guan at the Saint Louis Zoo. Photo by Dan Coulter

Both males and females have the strange horn-like structure on their head, so it’s not a weird thing males use for courtship; it’s just a weird thing!  It protrudes from their skull and unlike any other “horned” bird in the world, it is not connected with bill or feather.

They are related to and are about the size of a small turkey, and spend most of their time up in trees where they consume fruits, flowers, leaves, and the occasional insect.  Males are polygamous and will mate with several females.  Nests are built in high branches up to 66 feet off the ground.  Females will only lay one or two eggs, which also doesn’t help their population decline.

Local efforts have been made to help this endangered species.  The Saint Louis Zoo developed the Horned Guan Conservation Center to be the leading U.S. organization committed to the conservation of the species and its habitat.  They will help to initiate local education programs and actions to reduce threats caused by illegal tree removal and hunting.  

The Horned Guan plays an important role in the regeneration of mountain forests through seed dispersal.  The Saint Louis Zoo is currently studying the nutritional habits of this bird to aid in its conservation.

The World Bird Sanctuary helps endangered birds as well!  For example, we are currently breeding and releasing barn owls into the wild. 

If you want to help endangered birds, part of the World Bird Sanctuary’s mission is to secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.  You can help us fulfill our mission by simply visiting us and spreading what you’ve learned, becoming a member or friend, or adopting-a-bird, which helps feed that bird for a year!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist


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