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Great Tinamou (Tinamus major) perched on a tree branch at night in the jungle near Luna Lodge, Carate, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Great Tinamou

(Tinamus major)

The Great Tinamou is more often heard than seen. That’s why it was a great honor to spot this Great Tinamou sleeping on a branch during our night walk through the jungle at Luna Lodge in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. Six tinamou species are found in Central America, and Costa Rica is the only country with all of them. Most tinamous are entirely terrestrial, except for the Great Tinamou which is often found roosting on a tree branch (a dead giveaway that this guy is a Great Tinamou.)

The weird thing about Tinamous (of which there are about 45 species in Central & South America) is that they are the closest living relatives of the “ratites”, the great flightless birds of the world (i.e. Ostriches, Emus, Cassowaries, Kiwis, and Rheas.) In fact, some place them within the Ratites. And yet, they still possess the ability to fly, unlike every other ratite on the planet. They are a very ancient lineage of birds, which I presume is why they always show up first in every bird field guide I own.

Another cool thing about Tinamous is their breeding system. Like other ratites, the male incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks after they hatch! A female will mate with a male and lay her beautifully bright-colored eggs in a shallow depression on the ground, leaving the male to care for them. Sometimes multiple females will lay eggs in the same “nest” and let one male raise them all. Then the female will move on and mate with other males and lay other clutches of eggs in the same breeding season, leaving various males to do all the parenting!

Photographed in Carate, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.