Rhea Birds: Characteristics, Reproduction and Species

Rheas are large flightless birds, distantly related to ostrich and emu. They are native to South America. There are two species of the Rhea birds known, American Rhea and Darwin’s Rhea; the rest are extinct. Both the species prefer grassland and open areas.


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Rheiformes

Family: Rheidae

Genus: Rhea


  • They are three-toed.
  • No keel on the sternum.
  • Plumage grey-brown in colour.
  • Large body with long neck and legs.
  • They store urine separately in an extension of the cloaca.
  • They are omnivorous.
  • They are polygamous.
  • They tend to be vegetarian mostly, eating broad shaped leafy plants and some insects like rodents and grasshoppers.
  • When not breeding, they tend to gather in flocks and feed on deer and cattle.
  • Their wings span up to 8.2ft.


They are polygamous, that is, mate with multiple partners during their lifetime, be it male or female. The female lays up to 50 eggs in the nest made by the male and moves on to mate with another male. The male makes the nest by digging the ground and laying it with leaves and grass. The males incubate the eggs and take all the preventive measures to save their little ones from humans and predators.

As a decoy, they lay down some eggs on the outside of the nest, so that the predator can feed on those eggs and spare the ones inside the nest. The eggs hatch at an interval of 36 hours to each other. They grow to a full-sized adult in a time of six months; however, they do not reproduce until 2 years of age.

American Rhea

The American Rhea or the Greater Rhea are distributed in the areas of Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Their scientific name is Rhea americana. They grow up to 170cm tall and weigh up to 40kg.

Darwin’s Rhea

Darwin’s Rhea or the lesser Rhea are distributed in Peru to southwards in Patagonia. Their scientific name is Rhea pennata. They are comparatively smaller than the greater Rhea.

Human Use

  • Their feathers are used as feather dusters.
  • Skin is used for making cloaks and leathers.
  • They serve as staple meat for people living in those areas.


The Greater Rhea is approaching vulnerable status and needs to be conserved. The lesser Rhea, on the other hand, are plentiful and need no special attention.

Explore BYJU’S Biology for more such topics.

Frequently asked questions:

What kind of bird is a rhea?

Rhea is the common name for birds with large necks, legs, three-toed feet, and flightless birds.

In the taxonomic hierarchy, Rhea belongs to the kingdom Rhea, Phylum: Chordata, order Rheiformesand Family: Rheidae.

Where are rheas native to?

These birds are the habitat of an open and treeless country. These birds are native to Australia, South America, etc.

Given any two examples of rhea?

The greater or American rhea and lesser or Darwin’s rhea (R. pennata) are examples of rhea.

The rheas resemble the emus of Australia and ostrich of South America.

Can rheas fly?

No. Rhea are flightless birds.

The body of these birds is characterized by a body with large legs, a long neck, and three-toed feet.

How do rheas reproduce?

Rheas are polygamous- having more than one mate.

  • The male bird’s court between two and twelve females.
  • After mating, the male bird builds a nests
  • Each female bird lays her eggs in the nests
  • Later the male bird incubates the eggs.

The male birds can incubate eggs from ten to sixty eggs.

What is the mode of nutrition in Rhea?

Rhea feeds only on broad-leafed plants and eats fruits, seeds, and roots. Some species also feed on insects such as grasshoppers, small reptiles, and rodents. During the non-breeding season, these birds gather in flocks and feed with other herbivores, including cattle, deer, etc.

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