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The greater ani is generally shiny black in color, with glossy blue-green breast and wing feathers and back feathers broadly edged with bronze-green. Sexes are alike in plumage.
The wings are long and nearly square-ended. The beak is long and laterally-compressed.
Adult length is about 15 inches, with females being slightly smaller than males.
Distribution and Habitat
The greater ani is found in lowland South America from Colombia to Paraguay, into Central America as far as eastern Panama.
Unlike other anis, which favor open savannah and shrubby pastureland, this ani lives exclusively in forested habitats adjacent to water. It is most common along the edges of rivers and lakes, where it nests in emergent aquatic vegetation or in tree branches overhanging the water.
A very sociable bird, the greater ani lives and flies in flocks of 7-15 that usually have more males than females.
Each flock holds a communal territory and defends it against neighboring flocks. An individual anis rarely leaves its territory, but if its forced to do and accidentally enters another flock's territory it will be chased out. Within a flock, however, there is little quarrelling. If one member of a flock is hurt the others will crowd around it, as if protecting it.
Although it will take fruit, berries, and other vegetation, especially in the dry season, the greater ani's diet consists primarily of terrestrial insects and the occasional small vertebrate, including katydids, dragonflies, spiders, larval lepidopterans, and anoles.
Most food is taken while walking around and foraging, but they will also follow processions of army ants in order to feed on the insects and other animals fleeing from the ants. Cows are also a favorite "target," especially during the dry season. Anis also hunt for winged termites, waiting on a branch then flying out to catch one and returning to the perch to eat it.
Nesting starts soon after the rainy season has begun. Nesting groups are composed of two to four unrelated pairs that build a single nest in which all of the females lay their eggs. The nest is built from leaves and twigs plucked off neighboring trees, and is located on a fork of a thickly foliaged tree or in a bamboo. When finished it will be about a foot in diameter and 6 inches deep.
Each female lays 4-7 eggs, and as many as 26 have been found in one nest. All the flock members participate in brooding, which takes 13 days. Adults are apparently incapable of recognizing their own eggs or nestlings, so the young are raised in communal clutches.
There may be three broods raised in a year, and the older chicks help their parents feed the younger ones. Even after fledging, some of the chicks remain with their parents and breed within their natal flock the following year.
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This page was last updated on March 24, 2018.