Tinamous are species of ground-dwelling birds which are found in central and south America. They superficially resemble Partridges and Quails but have limited flight capability, preferring to walk or run rather than fly. Tinamous have traditionally been regarded as the sister group of the flightless ratites (Ostriches, Emus, Cassowaries, and Rheas). They are found in a variety of habitats, ranging from semi-arid alpine grasslans to tropical rainforests. Tinamous are also divided into two distinct subfamilies, the steppe or open-country tinamous and the forest tinamous.
In general, the tinamou is a plump and compact bird with a slender neck and a small head. The body is quite heavy, with a high rump outline from an enormous development of rump feathers, which generally hide the extremely short or even rudimentary tail. The sexes are alike, except that the female is often slightly heavier and has brighter coloration. Tinamous are found in many colours that allow them to conceal themselves in their surrounding environments and in a great diversity of weights that range from 150 g to 2 kg.
Tinamous are opportunistic and omnivorous feeders, consuming a wide variety of plant and animal food from fruits and seeds to worms, insects and small vertebrates. Tinamous will also dust-bathe as well as washing themselves by standing in heavy rain. They are heard more often than seen, communicating with each other by a variety of frequently given, characteristic calls, especially during the breeding season.
Certain tinamou species have well-defined breeding periods, and others breed throughout the year. Courting birds raise their thickly feathered rump and display their brightly coloured under-tails. Tinamous make their nests on the ground, concealed in vegetation or among rocks. It is the male who constructs and defends the nest. Females will wander through several territories mating with the resident males and laying their eggs in their nests. The eggs are among the most beautiful of all bird eggs, always monochromatic and highly glazed. The colours include light chocolate brown, near black, purple, dark bluish green, light yellowish green, and even red. More than one hen may place her eggs in a male’s nest, thus the clutch may become quite large, numbering from 8 to 16 eggs. The male does the incubation for a period of 2–3 weeks and guides the chicks for several weeks after hatching.
Tinamous and their eggs have many natural predators, from Falcons and Vampire Bats to Jaguars. They have also been extensively hunted by humans as fine game birds however, the main threat to their populations is from habitat destruction through land clearing and agricultural development.