Southern helmeted curassow (Pauxi unicornis)

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Southern helmeted curassow, head detail
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Southern helmeted curassow fact file

Southern helmeted curassow description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGalliformes
FamilyCracidae
GenusPauxi (1)

This large forest bird, also known as the horned curassow, gets its curious common name from the long, blue, horn-shaped casque protruding above its bright red bill (2). Like other curassows, the male’s plumage is mainly black, with a snow white lower abdomen and under-tail coverts (2) (3). The tail has a broad white tip and the legs are pale red. The sexes are alike but the white colouration of the male is replaced by a dark reddish-cinnamon colour in the female. The casque is shorter and rounder in the subspecies C. u. koepckeae, which can also be distinguished by its fainter white tip to the tail (2).

Also known as
Helmeted curassow, horned curassow.
Synonyms
Crax unicornis.
Size
Size: 85 – 95 cm (2)
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Southern helmeted curassow biology

Very little has been documented on the biology of this species. Pairings have been noted from August, accompanied by male display songs and ‘booming’, and nests have been observed in October (2). Just a single egg is produced by females each season, a reproductive rate that is unusually low for gamebirds (5).

Like other curassows, the diet consists of fruit, seeds, soft plants, larvae and insects (2).

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Southern helmeted curassow range

The southern helmeted curassow is known from central Bolivia and central and east Peru. The nominate subspecies, C. u. unicornis, occurs in the adjacent Amboró and Carrasco National Parks, Bolivia. Only a single individual has been observed outside these protected areas in the last 30 years, in Cerros de Távara, Puno, Peru, in 1992 (2). The subspecies C. u. koepckeae is found on the Cerros de Sira in Huánuco, Peru, where it had not been seen since 1969 until its exciting rediscovery there in 2005 (4).

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Southern helmeted curassow habitat

Ranging from 450 to 1,200 m above sea level, the southern helmeted curassow inhabits dense, humid, lower montane forest and adjacent lowland evergreen forest. This bird usually stays above 550 m above sea level, but descends to lower levels during the dry season (2).

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Southern helmeted curassow status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Southern helmeted curassow threats

The southern helmeted curassow is now threatened with extinction due to over-hunting and habitat destruction (6). There has been widespread clearance of Bolivia’s forests within this bird’s altitudinal range for the cultivation of staple and export crops (2), such as coca and citrus fruits (7). Rural development, road-building and hunting are also thought to have dramatically impacted the survival of this rare bird. In Peru, oil exploration poses a threat to the species’ habitat, in addition to opening up the foothills to human colonisation and hunting (2).

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Southern helmeted curassow conservation

Fortunately, large parts of the southern helmeted curassow’s current range are protected by Amboró and Carrasco National Parks (2). A number of extensive surveys have been conducted in recent years (2), and continue, with the hope that the information gained will help inform a long-term conservation programme (8). Sadly, most surveys have met with little success in locating the species in many of the searched areas (2). However, surveys conducted by a team from Asociacion Armonía (BirdLife in Bolivia) resulted in the remarkable rediscovery of the subspecies C. u. koepckeae in Peru in 2005, being the first observation of this bird in 36 years. This work has subsequently been followed up with an environmental awareness project, involving educating local people about their unique bird, and distributing T-shirts and notebooks that depict the curassow along with words that inspire pride in the local fauna and emphasise the need to preserve it (4). The project appears to have had some success, with reports that there is a genuine enthusiasm amongst local people to protect their endemic bird now that they appreciated its global significance (4), which is a positive first step towards safeguarding its long-term survival.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Authentication

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: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk
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Glossary

Casque
A helmet-like structure or protuberance.
Coverts
Small feathers concealing the bases of larger primary feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2006)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. BirdLife International: species account (June, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=102&m=0
  3. Vaurie, C. (1967) Systematic Notes on the Bird Family Cracidae. No. 9. The Genus Crax. American Museum Novitates, 2305: 2 - 20. Available at:
    http://digitallibrary.amnh.org/dspace/bitstream/2246/3508/1/N2305.pdf
  4. BirdLife International: First curassow sighting for 36 years (June, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2005/08/curassow.html
  5. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  6. Asociación Armonía (June, 2006)
    http://www.birdbolivia.com/Armonia.htm#_Southern_Horned-Curassow_Pauxi_unic
  7. Mee, A. (1999) Habitat Association and Notes of the Southern Helmeted Curassow (Pauxi unicornis) Carrasco National Park, Bolivia. Bulletin of the IUCN/BirdLife/WPA Cracid Specialist Group, 9: 17 - 19. Available at:
    http://www.cracids.org/bulletin_CSG_09.pdf
  8. bp conservation programme: Assessment of Conservation Status of Newly Rediscovered Southern Horned Curassow and Associated Biodiversity in Peru (June, 2006)
    http://conservation.bp.com/projects/503006_proj.asp
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Image credit

Southern helmeted curassow, head detail  
Southern helmeted curassow, head detail

© Frank W. Lane / www.flpa-images.co.uk

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