Having now been to both the Cerrado and the Pantanal – two very different ecosystems – it is interesting to compare the types of birds we saw in each place.
In addition to parrots and toucans in the Pantanal, we saw many beautiful wading birds such as egrets, roseate spoonbills and the small brownish-red wattled jacanas. All these water birds have long legs, slender builds and large feet, well suited for moving quietly through riparian areas. Similar in build, but much larger, are the jabiru storks that can be seen in and around the lakes and still waters of the Pantanal.
Jabiru storks are one of the largest in the stork family, and can be easily identified by their stark white body and sharply contrasting black head, neck and bill, separated by a thick, red band around the neck.
||The term "raptor" comes from a Latin word meaning "one who seizes and carries away."|
Other water birds such as ducks, herons and anhingas can be found in the Pantanal as well. Anhingas are typically found in tropical and temperate areas, and are closely related to cormorants. The four species of anhingas have dark bodies that sometimes give off a green or blue iridescent shine when light is reflected off of them. They live on a diet of fish, amphibians and insect larvae.
In contrast to the Pantanal, the Cerrado is also rich in bird life but due to the abundance of scrub-like terrain, we see different types of birds that are better suited to this dry environment.
The Cerrado has numerous raptor species that are easily visible perched on barren tree limbs or tall termite mounds. The term "raptor" comes from the Latin word meaning "one who seizes and carries away." This is an apt description as raptors belong to the order of falconiformes, typically characterized by strong curved beaks, sharp talons and acute vision – all enhancing their well-honed hunting skills. Raptor species found in South America include falcons, vultures, eagles, hawks, kestrels and condors, among others.
While driving through the dry, scrublands of the Cerrado, we occasionally spot savannah hawks, osprey, white hawks, American kestrels and turkey vultures flying overhead. Another resident raptor, which appears to be fairly common, is the strikingly beautiful crested caracara. This abundant bird of prey is an opportunistic scavenger, and will eat carrion, garbage and dying animals of a wide variety.
Rheas are a common site in the Cerrado, as well as the Pantanal. These large flightless birds are members of a group called "ratites." The other surviving ratite species are kiwis,ostriches, emus, and cassowaries. There are also two species of ratite that went extinct relatively recently: the moas of New Zealand are believed to have disappeared as recently as the 1700s or early 1800s, and the elephantbirds of Madagascar were wiped out in the mid 1600's. All these species have a flat breastbone, and are – or were – distributed exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.
There are two species of rheas – the common, or greater, rhea and the lesser rhea – and they each have ranges confined to South America. Male rheas incubate the clutch of eggs and protect the chicks after they have hatched. Rheas sometimes stretch their short, flightless wings out for balance as they run, creating an almost cartoonish picture as they hastily stride forward.
<< Return to Main Day 8 Dispatch | Go to Day 9 Dispatch >>