August 14, 2014
Horned screamers have to be the most bizarre bird I have ever seen. I like to think of them as a cross between a giant goose, a unicorn and a vulture. The giant goose analogy is fairly self explanatory- perhaps the latter 2 are a little more ambiguous. The unicorn resemblance comes from the quill like structure that protrudes from their foreheads. Whilst some individuals have structures reaching nearly 30cm, others are very short. I found little in the scientific literature explaining these weird protrusions- I think they are probably used in courtship- a large structure indicates a high quality individual.
Locally these birds are referred to as Camungo so it might come as a surprise if I told you that none are found on lake Camungo at Tambo Blanquillo. The best place to see them is in fact lake Blanco where it isn’t unusual to see 15 in a short boat trip. Horned screamer were once in abundance on Camungo, hence the name, but changes in the course of the Madre de Dios river altered conditions on the lake causing the screamers to move. The vulture analogy comes from their appearance in flight.
It’s common to see them in pairs but on Blanco, they are often in larger groups.
The chicks are much prettier than the adults- white little fluff balls. Certainly not a case of the ugly duckling!
If the appearance of the adults compared to the relatively normality of the chicks wasn’t strange enough- just wait until the adults open their mouths to call. The only words I can use to describe the call of the horned screamer are those I used when I first heard it, ‘What? How? Ehh?’ All that I can recommend is that you come to cocha Blanco to hear it for yourself!