Darwin's rhea

(Rhea pennata)




Facts about this animal

The Darwin's Nandu is a ostrich-like bird, incapable of flying and with short feathers on the neck. It is the smaller of the two rhea species. The total length is 94-100 cm, the height is up to 160 cm to the head. It has long and strong legs with only three toes, all pointing forwards. The colour of the feathers is generally dull greyish. The upperparts and primaries are partially white and grey, the secondaries with white tips. The back may sometimes be brownish grey and it has brown shoulder.

Rheas are polygamous. The females of a harem group lay their eggs - one every second day for up to ten days - in a common ground nest, which ultimately may hold 50 eggs or more. The eggs are initially yellowish-green, changing later to pale ochre. The male incubates the eggs of all its mates for six weeks and cares for the newly hatched young. The chicks are grey and brown in colour with dark brown spots that are surrounded by white or light brown.

Rheas feed on both plant and animal material, including grasses, fruit, and seeds, insects, lizards, birds, and other small vetrebrates.

Did you know?
that male Darwin's rheas become aggressive once they are incubating eggs? The females thus lay the later eggs near the nest, rather than in it. Most of the eggs are moved into the nest by the male, but some remain outside, where they rot and attract flies. The male, and later the chicks, eat these flies.


Class AVES
Name (Scientific) Rhea pennata
Name (English) Darwin's rhea
Name (French) Nandou de Darwin
Name (German) Darwin-Nandu
Name (Spanish) Avestruz de Magallanes
Local names Argentina: Choique
CITES Status Appendix I (except nominate race which is in Appendix I)
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Jeremy Vandel



Range Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru
Habitat High plains and semi-desert grass- and scrublands
Wild population Unknown but decreasing (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population 36 reported to ISIS (2005)

In the Zoo

Darwin's rhea


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 20 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Vladimír Motyčka

Why do zoos keep this animal

The Darwin's rhea is not an endangered species. Zoos keep them primarily for educational purposes, because of its evolutionary adaptation to a flightless life, its interesting social and reproductive behaviour, and as an essential part of South American grassland or Andean exhibits.