We have a breeding pair of adult Darwin’s rhea. They arrived at Edinburgh Zoo in October 2011 from France.
Location in the Zoo:
The female rhea can be seen at the top of the hill and our male with the three youngsters can be found in the lower paddock next to the monkey walk-through.
Breeding Programme Category:
Our rhea are part of the European Stud Book (EBS) programme.
It is the male Darwin’s rhea that incubates the eggs, and he becomes very protective of his nest site and the paddock during the breeding season!
Darwin’s rheas are very difficult to breed in captivity and so our keepers are working closely with colleagues in other zoos to increase husbandry knowledge for the species.
In 2014 their hard work has paid off and our Darwin’s rhea produced nine chicks. They were successfully hand reared by keepers and have been moved onto other collections as part of the breeding programme.
On 31 May 2015 our male Darwin's rhea successfully incubated and hatched five chicks, which have also moved on to other collections as part of the breeding programme.
In May 2017 our keepers were delighted with the arrival of three chicks.
Darwin’s rheas (Rhea pennata pennata) are mostly found in the open grasslands of Patagonia and the Andean plateaus of South America. They inhabit steppes, shrubland, shrub-steppe and mallines (successional wetlands with bog, meadows and ponds) throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
Darwin’s rheas are ratites, which are a group of flightless birds that includes the African ostrich, the Australian emu, cassowaries, and kiwis.
Darwin’s rheas have brown and white spotted plumage and stand about 90 – 100 cm (35 – 39 inches) tall. Their wings are larger than those of some other ratites. Darwin’s rheas use their wings to balance themselves when they are running, sometimes reaching speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph)!
Outside of the breeding season, when the males become quite aggressive, this species is quite sociable, living in groups of 5 – 30 birds.
Some of the major threats to this species include hunting, egg-collecting and persecution by human populations, as well as habitat destruction due to farming and conversion of land for cattle grazing, as a result of this their numbers have declined rapidly in the wild.
Bird keepers at Edinburgh Zoo were delighted in 2014 with hatching of NINE of the super sized and increasingly threatened South American birds! Following on from this success 2015 saw the arrival of another five rhea chicks.
Darwin’s rhea chicks have only been born and successfully raised in a very small number of zoos in the UK and certainly never thrived in such large numbers.