Great curassow (Crax rubra)

Spanish: Pavón Norteño
GenusCrax (1)
SizeMale height: up to 93 cm (2)
Male weight: 4.3 – 4.8 kg (2)

The great currasow is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The great curassow (Crax rubra) is a magnificent bird, so named for its conspicuous size of almost a metre tall (2). The striking species is instantly recognisable by the tousled crest of forward-curling feathers that adorn the length of its crown, and its vivid yellow bill with a bulbous yellow knob at the base that swells and brightens at the height of the breeding season (4) (5) (6). The plumage is predominantly black, faintly glossed with a deep lustrous blue or purple glow, while the belly and under-tail coverts are a contrasting snowy white (5) (7). Females vary in colour, ranging from black to chestnut-brown, sometimes with black and white barring on their breast, head, wings, and tail (4) (6), while the belly and vent are white to a tawny-buff (5) (8). Females can also be distinguished from males by their conspicuous lack of the distinctive yellow bill-knob (9).

The nominate subspecies, C. r. rubra, is distributed from eastern Mexico south through Central America (Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama) to western Colombia and western Ecuador (6) (10). The rarer subspecies, C. r. griscomi, is confined to Cozumel Island off Mexico, where just 300 birds were estimated to survive in 1996 (10) (11).

The great curassow is found in undisturbed humid evergreen forest and mangroves, and also seasonally dry forest in some areas (10), at low to medium elevations (6).

Like other curassows, this large forest bird spends much of its time stalking about on the forest floor in search of fallen fruits, berries and seeds, as well as large insects and the occasional small animal (4) (6). The great curassow is monogamous and travels in pairs or in small groups, with the male curassow leading his family and uttering a high-pitched whining whistle when there are signs of danger (4) (6). At other times the group communicate by low-pitched grunting sounds (4) (6). When disturbed, this shy and cautious bird often runs rather than flies away, but will also seek protection up in the trees (2).

The great curassow builds its nest of leaves and twigs in forks and depressions in trees (4), into which the female lays two eggs between March and May (9). Once hatched, the chicks develop rapidly and are capable of flight at around 20 days (2), after which they soon leave the nest (2).

The great curassow is not immediately endangered because it still has a wide distribution, but it has undergone considerable decline as a result of hunting and habitat loss, and is becoming increasingly dependent for survival upon a few well-maintained reserves (10) (11). Due to its large size and palatability, this bird is a favourite target by hunters, and is widely hunted for food and therefore now highly reduced in numbers near settlements (10) (11). Additionally, deforestation of humid and deciduous tropical forests is a major threat to the survival of this sizeable bird, which is severely reducing and fragmenting its remaining habitat, whilst at the same time opening up the forest to settlements and poachers (4) (6) (10). Whilst subsistence hunters normally take only one bird at a time and are thought to have relatively little impact on populations, the existence of commercial hunting in certain areas is of greater concern, since this typically involves taking entire groups of curassows in one go, which could rapidly lead to local extinctions (12).

The great curassow is legally protected across much of its range, and occurs in a number of protected areas, in which it remains relatively common or has now recovered from depleted numbers (10).

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Ojasti, J. (1996) Wildlife Utilization in Latin America: Current Situation and Prospects for Sustainable Management. (FAO Conservation Guide - 25). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – FAO, Rome. Available at:
  3. CITES (June, 2006)
  4. Rainforest Alliance (June, 2006)
  5. Sutton, G.M. (1955) Great Curassow. The Wilson Bulletin, 67(2): 75 - 77. Available at:
  6. Central America’s National Parks (June, 2006)
  7. Rainforest LIVE (June, 2006)
  8. Zimmer, B. (1999) Observations on a barred morph of the greater curassow (Crax rubra) in Belize. Bulletin of the ICN/BirdLife/WPA Cracid Specialist Group, 8: 18 - 19.
  9. Área de Conservación Guanacaste (June, 2006)
  10. BirdLife International (June, 2006)
  11. Zoological University of the University of Amsterdam (June, 2006)
  12. Eisermann, K. (2004) Status of great curassow (Crax rubra) in Punta de Manabique, Guatemala: habitat, population size and human impact. Bulletin of the ICN/BirdLife/WPA Cracid Specialist Group, 18: 8 - 14.