With a unicorn-like horn, awkwardly large feet, and an echoing cry, the horned screamer is unlike any other bird. It can be spotted near the wetlands of South America, living in small communities of its own species. The large, forward curving horn is not a threat and is thought to have an ornamental purpose. However, if you look close, this bird possesses another seriously dangerous weapon…

Physical Features

The horned screamer gets quite large, comparable to the size of a turkey. It has a white underbelly with black and dark grey feathers covering the rest of its body. Its feet are partially webbed, making it a great swimmer. With its chickenlike beak and ringed neck, people often mistake the horned screamer for a game bird. This is not the case, though; this bird’s closest relative is the goose.

What makes this bird so unique is its bones; it’s the most pneumatic skeletal system known. This means its bones contain a bunch of air sacs. In fact, its toe bones are completely hollow. Even its skin contains tons of these little air sacks. Due to this, you can often hear a crackling sound when the bird moves around — similar to someone cracking their knuckles.

These birds don’t hatch with a horn but will eventually grow one that can get up to 6” in length. They’re the only bird with this trait. The horn is made up of cartilage and loosely attached, so it’s not uncommon for it to fall off and grow back again. Because of its weak build, it doesn’t make for a good weapon; instead, the bird wears this simply for style.

Question: What is another name for the horned screamer?
(Answer at the bottom!)

A. Horned swimmer
B. Spiked screamer
C. Horned banger
D. Pointed wailer

It’s also only one of two birds that lack uncinate processes (prongs on its ribs). Traditionally, prongs are present on birds’ ribs to strengthen them by creating an additional layer that overlaps each rib.

The bird comes equipped with sharp, pointed bone spurs protruding from their wings. They use these for fighting, which can get pretty intense. Fragments of these bones have been found broken off and lodged deep into the bird’s rival. That’s one mean screamer!

Illustration of a horned screamer

Habitat & Diet

Horned screamers are a type of waterfowl. They can be seen near riverbanks, tropical wet savannahs, and vegetated marshes. Countries with this bird reach from Columbia and Ecuador down to southern Brazil. They’re not migratory birds; they rarely fly, occupying one location in groups of 10-15.

There’s no mystery in why the horned screamer spends so much time by the water. It’s an herbivore that enjoys eating both hydrophytes (plants living in water) and macrophytes (plants living around water). This includes grasses, vines, leaves, roots, and flowers.

Behavior and Lifespan

We’ve discussed its outlandish horn, which gives the horned screamer part of its name. Now, let’s get into the “screamer” part. This bird is loud! Much like its goose relative, you can hear a distinct screech from this bird from great distances away. The sound of the call is described as “mo-coo-ca”, which lends to indigenous peoples’ name for this bird, mahooka.

Finding a mate can be a long process, but when they find the right partner, it can last a lifetime. The males display courtship by walking around the female and bowing their heads politely. Feathers and wings are partially erect. This display is known as social preening.

Nests are built upon floating vegetation, usually consisting of about 3-5 greenish-brown colored eggs. The female usually incubates during the day, while the male incubates at night. When the hatchlings are born, they can run immediately. Horned screamers typically live up to 10-15 years of age. This bird is not necessarily scarce but is considered near threatened due to a loss of habitat in the northern tip of South America.

Answer: The horned screamer is also known as…

C. Horned banger