Often called the “black cuckoo,” the greater ani looks much like its relatives the smooth-billed and groove-billed ani. However, while it may look and act similar to its cousins, there are a number of differences that set this bird apart. Living mostly in Central and South America, the greater ani can be found in such countries as Panama, Trinidad, and Argentina. Slightly larger than its counterparts, it measures about 19 inches head to tail, and can be identified by its glossy plumage that radiates variations of blue and black. Along with its distinctive plumage, it has a long tail that accounts for roughly half of its length, and a white iris that makes it easy to identify.
Where Does The Greater Ani Live?
One of the most distinctive differences between the greater ani and other anis is their preferred habitat. While others can be found in open fields and pastureland, the greater ani prefers certain areas located near water. In most cases this includes aquatic vegetation or tall tress near the edges of rivers and lakes, and can also include mangrove swamps or thick brush near water. Especially fond of trees that overhang water, this bird will often perch on a branch with several others, where each bird will spread its wings to soak in the sun.
What Does the Greater Ani Eat?
Just like other ani and members of the cuckoo family, the greater ani has a varied diet. Large insects, such as grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars are high on its list of favorites, along with lizards, frogs, and smaller snakes. Occasionally the greater ani will find its way onto the backs of various animals that find their way to the water for a drink, where they will pick off insects and parasites. And when there are nearby bushes, the greater ani will also make a meal out of various fruits, berries, and seeds. Since these birds are virtually always seen in groups, they can be found feeding together as a flock, usually running and hopping on the ground.
Raising Their Young
When it comes to their breeding habits, the greater ani is also much like other ani. Since a group often consists of four or five breeding pairs, all members of the flock join in when building the nest, which is used by each female. Found no more than 15 feet high in a tree, the deep bowl-shaped nest consists of twigs, weeds, and leaves, and when finished is ready for the group’s females to start laying their eggs. While each female may lay as many as seven eggs in the nest, many get tossed out by other females, resulting in a final total of 10-12 eggs. Males and females take turns incubating the eggs, which hatch within two weeks. Once the eggs hatch, babies are fed by all members of the flock, and leave the nest usually within three weeks.
Songs and Calls
Like other anis, the greater ani is a very noisy bird, so when it’s alarmed you’ll have no trouble discovering its location. Known for having a repertoire of croaks, grunts, hisses, and whistles, this bird’s song is a series of gobbling “kro-koro” that are actually quite melodious, and are repeated in rapid succession. However, when it gets alarmed, don’t expect to hear a melodious song. Instead, be prepared for harsh rasping notes that get repeated several times, in an effort to alert other members of the group.
Staying in small groups, the greater ani prefers to stay hidden in thick vegetation much of the time. If the group gets disturbed, the birds will fly out one at a time, looking to find another nearby patch of thick vegetation. Along with this, the group stays together year-round, and will defend its territory very aggressively.
Like most birds, greater anis flock together day and night. However, when they roost together at night in close proximity to one another, they give off a rather offensive odor, which scientists believe is used to deter potential predators. And when these birds fly, don’t expect to see a smooth flight. Instead, their flight is looked at as jerky and clumsy, almost looking as if each flight is its first. However, this jerky flight does serve a useful purpose, as it helps an ani flush out insects when it flies through thick vegetation.
With its interesting flight pattern, willingness to aggressively defend its territory, and variety of songs and calls, the greater ani is one of the most interesting birds on the planet. While it may be difficult to find at times due to its reclusive nature, it’s well worth the effort to track down. By doing so, you’ll have a chance to observe a bird that will give you plenty to talk about with your fellow birdwatchers.