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Tinamous (Tinamidae)

Tinamous make up the family of Tinamidae, a species of ground dwelling, terrestrial, medium sized, and plain colored birds of Central and South America. There are 46 species within the family and they all have subtle variance in characteristics, but most prefer to live in scrapes in grasslands, forests, or in brush, prefer to run or walk than fly, and eat fruit and seeds. The color of the bill and legs are likely telling of what species you are identifying.

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Types of Tinaamous

Tinamous are related to Ostrich and look kind of like Partridges, although they are not related. Tinamous are brown and gray with a very textured pattern which works well to protect the animal as it can easily blend in with its environment. It's bill can be short or long and curves downward. Their necks are long, and they have short, rounded wings that like other ground dwellers are used more as wind-ores than for flight. They also have very short tails, and very strong legs. Tinamous have three short front toes and a third behind that is either elevated or hidden.

The smallest Tinamous is the Dwarf Tinamous that stands approximately 15 centimeters and weighs 5 ounces. The largest of Tinamous is the Great Tinamou that stands approximately 50 centimeters and weighs 4 pounds. Contrary to many species, the female is the larger and brighter colored of the two, but they are often hard to tell apart.

Tinamous are great, swift runners, but if are forced to run without warning and for an extended period of time, they quickly tire and are likely to fall or stumble. Their muscles are developed well, but there circulatory system seems inadequate for strenuous activity and their hearts and lungs are small. If they are being chased or stalked by a predator, they are likely to use a hole to hide in such as an abandoned armadillo hole.

Many of the species make melodious and distinct calls. All Tinamous make whistling sounds when they “fly”. Their diets vary greatly by species' bodies, locations, and seasons. Some mate during certain seasons, others mate all year long. Courtship displays also vary by species, even some it's the female who does “the dancing” such as in the Ornate Tinamou species. They travel in pairs or small groups, some mate with many and others have more stable pairs. Behaviors between species varies a lot, you see.

Nests often have 8-16 eggs and it's the female who runs off to mate with additional males. The eggs laid by Tinamous are of the most beautiful in the world. They vary and are brightly colored like Easter eggs and the reason remains unknown. Some researchers suggest that they are brightly colored to force the male to have to sit on, incubate, and protect them when the female leaves.

In South America, the bird is a popular game bird because it tastes good. The destruction of their habitat and heavy hunting has minimized the populations largely, but only 2 species have made it to the endangered species list. Some countries hunt and market the meat of the Tinamou, but many countries have protected the bird by law and only allow hunters to shoot them for sport. Frozen Tinamous was once sold to the United States from Argentina using the name South American Quail.