What’s that Screamer?

What has a chicken-looking beak, long legs with big toes, and screams like a two year old?  A Screamer of course! You’d never guess it by looking at them but these large birds are related to ducks and geese and live near tropical and sub-tropical wetlands in South America. 

Hunters beware!  The loud cries of the Screamer can be heard for miles around and help guard their habitat from approaching danger.  Many other species, such as the Blue Throated Macaw benefit from these bird watchdogs.  However, the Screamers themselves do not often need to worry about hunters.  Their skin contains tiny air sacs making their spongy meat not something someone would want to serve for a meal!  Their skeleton’s pneumatic (air filled) bones extend even to the outermost toe bones. 

Prepare to be screamed at!

There are three species of Screamers, all found in South America. 

  • The Horned Screamer has a calcified spike on its forehead and looks like a bird unicorn.  This bird, called Arauco in Spanish, is the official bird of the Department of Arauca and the Municipality of Arauca in Columbia. Listen to the Horned Screamer call.  
  • The Black Necked Screamer, or Northern Screamer, has a declining population and is classified as near threatened due to habitat loss.  Listen to the Northern Screamer call. 
  • The Southern Crested Screamer of east central South America is the species at Reid Park Zoo.  Listen to the Crested Screamer call.

More interesting than the average bird, literally!

  • Habitat loss is not the only threat to this species.  Some farmers will take them and use them to guard chickens with their danger scream.
  • They make a crackling sound when they fly due to the air sacs under their skin and around their bones.  
  • They have sharp bone spurs on their wings-and they know how to use them!!!  Although they are even tempered birds they will use these spurs to defend themselves and their territory.
  • The horn on the horned screamer is made of cartilage, easily breaks and grows back to about six inches in length.
  • Their long toes are used to grab vegetation while wading in the water. Sometimes they’ll even be seen swimming.  And this time of year, you have a good chance of seeing them swim at the Reid Park Zoo!

Screams sometimes translate as “Get away! That’s MY mate!”

Screamers are monogamous and mate for life.  Together they build a well hidden nest on land close to the water.  They share the duties of incubating the eggs and raising the chicks.  A clutch is typically 3-5 large eggs, hatching in about 45 days.  Although screamers are herbivores, while feeding the young they may feed on invertebrates and other small animals. The chicks are able to swim immediately and fledge in about 8-10 weeks.

Check them out

We have two Southern Crested Screamers at Reid Park Zoo.  Brothers Lionel and Echo were both hatched in Birmingham, Alabama from different clutches.  Lionel was hatched October 15, 2012, and now weighs almost 7 1/2 pounds.  Echo was hatched on June 11, 2017 and now weighs almost 8 pounds. Echo came to Reid Park Zoo on October 7, 2019. Lionel came to Reid Park Zoo from Atlanta on November 11, 2020.   

The next time you’re at the Reid Park Zoo, follow the path into South America.  There you’ll find two large Crested Screamers sharing their space with the capybaras.  Although they can be loud as their name suggests, these birds spend many hours enjoying their habitat.  Check out and enjoy the crested screamer at The Reid Park Zoo, and not too soon in the future, you’ll be able to  compare these fascinating creatures to many exciting new bird species in the Reid Park Zoo expansion!