The turkey-like Black-fronted Piping-guan looks like it emerged from a Buenos Aires hair salon on a crazy-good day. Looks aren’t enough. It’s almost extinct.
By Rex Graham
The Piping-guan also is a sad, cautionary tale for the other 56 species of guans, chachalacas and currassows in 11 genera of the Cracidae Family. All 56 species are hunted mercilessly and illegally from Mexico in the north to southern Brazil and northern Argentina.
Guans and other Cracidae species have low reproductive rates, long generation times, low clutch size, dependence on specific habitats that are being destroyed in many places, and poor dispersal qualities. “They constitute an important protein source in the diets of hunters in Latin America, and often represent a substantial portion of the prey base,” states a special monograph published in 1999 titled Biology and Conservation of the Piping Guans.
Black-fronted Piping-guan appearance
That flowing white crest makes this species the Tyler Glenn rock star of birds – one that other guans and related curassows and chachalacas can’t match. Turkeys? Forget it. It is named for its descending whistle.
Recordist: Roney Assis Souza, Xeno-Cato catalog number XC198701.
This mostly black guan also has color-coordinated white wing patches to match its eye rings and crest, but the white on the wing has rows of black polka dots. Very dude. It’s got a red throat a little darker than its red legs and feet. The male and female rock stars look alike.
The Black-fronted Piping-guan used to live in the Atlantic coastal highland forests and inland islands of southeast Brazil and another pocket of forest in extreme northeast Argentina, and it’s hunted on the shreds of that habitat that remain. It’s listed as endangered, rarely seen in the wild and its prospects are dire. Scientists are discussing captive breeding, which is the final sign that a species is becoming extirpated where it once lived.
“The largest continuous mainland Atlantic Forest (Serra do Mar massif) had the lowest density estimates and the species was absent in some regions of this mountain range,” said A 2011 paper published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. “The absence or low density estimates of the species in three survey sites is of special concern, because it is known that guans are important in seed dispersal, which may have long-term consequences for forest regeneration.”
Black-fronted Piping-guan – vanishing glamour
Indeed, a group of guans will eat every single fat- and sugar-rich palm fruits during winter before moving on.
However, the soft and delicious inner core of the growing bud of palm trees, called “heart of palm,” is considered a delicacy. It is harvested illegally from palm trees in some of South America’s national parks and protected areas, essentially robbing a critically important food from this and other guans, 30 other birds and 13 mammal species, including toucans, parrots, rodents, tapirs, deer and bats.
The heart-of-palm hunters are being controlled, but not illegal hunting of guans. If it can’t be stopped in Brazil and Argentina, remaining shreds of forests will no longer echo with the song of this vanishing rock star.