Endangered Red-Billed Curassow Chicks Hatch at UK Zoo

There are fewer than 200 of the rare birds left in the wild.

red-billed curassow chicks
One chick is about 30 days older than the other.

Chester Zoo

With a little help from a warm incubator, two endangered red-billed curassow chicks recently hatched at the Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom.

Keepers found the eggs, but discovered that the parents weren’t caring for them. They gently scooped them up and placed them into an incubator for about a month, hoping they would hatch.

“With the birds being so rare, we just couldn’t take any chances,” Andrew Owen, the zoo’s curator of birds, said in a statement.

After each of the eggs hatched, the newborn chicks were able to meet their parents. The chicks were born about 30 days apart.

“We carefully returned the chicks to the parent birds for rearing and they were quickly welcomed back into the family,” Owen said. “It’s been great to use our avicultural experience to hatch the eggs and wonderful to see the parent birds rear their chicks naturally—a technique which may help in the conservation of this species in the future.”

Close to Critically Endangered

red-billed curassow chick

Chester Zoo

Once widespread in their native east Brazil, red-billed curassows (Crax blumenbachii) are now primarily found in the country’s Atlantic Forest region. They prefer lowland, humid forests, but may also live in more mountainous forest regions. They eat fruit, seeds, and insects.

The birds are classified as endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are estimated to be between 130 and 170 of the rare birds in the wild with their population numbers decreasing due to habitat loss and hunting. According to the IUCN, the species is very close to qualifying as critically endangered.

Conservation groups have successfully reintroduced captive-bred red-billed curassows into the area, including 28 birds that were released and radio-tracked in 2006 and 2007. But the total species population is still very small.

Conservation Efforts

red-billed curassow chicks and adult bird

Chester Zoo

Adult red-billed curassows are mostly black with a white underside and curly black crest. Males have the namesake reddish-orange wattle around their bills. Chicks are brown and speckled which helps keep them camouflaged and hidden from predators in the forest leaves.

“On hatching, the plum-sized chicks weigh just 100 grams [3.5 ounces], but they’ll grow to be 3.5 kilograms [7.7 pounds], around the same size as a turkey, after just one year. That’s why in their native Brazil they’ve been hunted for meat by local people and feral dogs,” Owen said. “They, like many other bird species, are declining due to habitat loss, forest fragmentation and deforestation.”

Red-billed curassows make their nests on a platform of sticks, usually built about 6 to 20 feet (2-6 meters) off the ground. They usually lay two eggs. During breeding season each fall, the male makes a showy display, including attracting a mate with a booming call.

“These magnificent birds are on the verge of becoming extinct in the wild, with estimates of less than 200 left in the wild,” Owen said. “For that reason, these two chicks are very important additions to the global population and the conservation efforts to help save this unique species from extinction.”

View Article Sources
  1. "We've Hatched One of the World's Rarest Bird Species!" Chester Zoo, 2021.

  2. "Red-Billed Curassow." IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2016, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2016-3.rlts.t22678544a92777952.en

  3. "Red-billed Curassow." World Land Trust.