Helmeted Curassow Pauxi pauxi


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a very small population comprising very small subpopulations, which are declining owing to habitat loss and hunting. It therefore qualifies as Endangered.

Population justification
Comments from P. Salaman (in litt. undated) and C. Sharpe (in litt. undated) indicate that the population fell below 2,500 individuals during 2007. It is thus placed in the band 1,000-2,499 mature individuals, equating to 1,500-3,749 individuals in total, rounded here to 1,500-4,000 individuals. Population density in Venezuela has been estimated to be 2 individuals / km2 in Aragua, 8 individuals / km2 in Yaracuy, and 5 individuals / km2 in Lara state. In Colombia 4.8 individuals / km2 were found in Tamá National Park.

Trend justification
A moderate and on-going population decline is suspected on the basis of rates of habitat loss and levels of hunting.

Distribution and population

Pauxi pauxi occurs in west Venezuela and north Colombia. Nominate pauxi was formerly common from the Cordillera de la Costa west to the Cordillera de Mérida, Venezuela, and on the north-eastern slopes of the East Andes in Colombia (Norte de Santander, Boyacá and Arauca) and adjacent Venezuela (south-west Táchira). It is also known from three mountain ranges in Falcón, Venezuela, but may have recently disappeared from one (in Morrocoy National Park) (Silva 1999). It might once have occurred as far east as Monagas (Silva 1999). The population has declined considerably, and the species is now generally rare and occurs at low densities (Silva 1999, Wege and Long 1995). In Venezuela, there is a strong correlation between its current distribution and national parks (Silva 1999). Race gilliardi from the Sierra de Perijá on the Colombian-Venezuelan border is also believed to be declining.


It is restricted to subtropical cloud-forest in steep, mountainous regions at 500 to 2,200 m (mostly 1,000-1,500 m), where it favours humid gorges with dense undergrowth. It tends to avoid forest edges. Nests are built in March, and young hatch around mid-May. Pairs or family parties forage, mainly terrestrially, for fallen fruit, seeds, tender leaves, grasses and buds (Schäfer 1953, Silva 1999). Five nests in Yacambú National Park were located between 5.5 and 15 metres up in trees (J. Ortega in litt. 2012). It may make some seasonal altitudinal movements (Strahl et al. 1997).


Its decline results from hunting and long-term destruction, fragmentation and modification of its habitat. The Sierra de Perijá is being progressively deforested in both countries for cattle-ranching at lower altitudes and for narcotics cultivation higher up (C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1997). Hunting continues (even in long-established, and relatively well-resourced protected areas such as Henri Pittier National Park [C. J. Sharpe. J. P. Rodríguez and F. Rojas-Suárez in litt. 1999]) and is probably even increasing in the wake of infrastructure development. Birds are hunted for food and, at least formerly, for traditional jewellery; for instance in the buffer zone of Tamá National Park (Colombia) each household had at least five skulls and eggs as hunting trophies (V. Setina in litt. 2007), and thirty skulls and an egg were found in one home (Setina et al. 2008).Within the Tamá National Park itself, all of 45 inhabitants interviewed in 2006-2007 had eaten Cracids, stating that they preferred Helmeted Curassows to Wattled Guans (Setina et al. 2008). In the same area, the U’wa indians hunt the species for food, for sale at local markets and for the helmet, which is used to make aphrodisiacs (Setina et al. 2010). It was considered Endangered in a recent global assessment published by the IUCN-SSC Cracid Specialist Group (Naveda-Rodríguez and Strahl 2006), and is classified as Vulnerable and Endangered in Colombia and Venezuela respectively (Renjifo et al. 2002, Sharpe 2008). It is one of the four top priority species for bird conservation in Venezuela (Rodríguez et al. 2004)

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species is managed under the North American Cracid Taxonomic Advisory Group.  In northern Venezuela, almost all remaining forests are now legally protected (Silva 1999), but this has not averted threats. There are records from 18 Venezuelan national parks and the ineffectively protected El Cocuy National Park, Arauca, Colombia (Wege and Long 1995). Captive breeding and reintroduction in Venezuela has been proposed (humboldt.org.co, 2006) whilst captive breeding programmes already exist in Columbia and the US (Brook and Strahl 2000). In Venezuela, it is legally protected (República de Venezuela. 1996a, b) and an education programme draws attention to the species and its habitat (Strahl et al. 1997). A new reseve, appropriately named Pauxi pauxi Bird Reseve has been established in the Cerro de la Paz to protect the species (P. Salaman in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Determine its status in the Colombian East Andes. Enforce existing laws on hunting and habitat protection (Strahl and Silva 1997). Develop educational programmes to combat hunting (Strahl and Silva 1997). Further develop captive breeding programmes to support future reintroductions.


91 cm. Large, black, terrestrial, cracid, with bizarre bluish fig-shaped casque on head. Dull red bill and legs. Male and normal-phase female mostly black with greenish and bluish gloss to mantle and breast, and dull black scaling. White belly, undertail-coverts and tail tip. Rare rufous-phase female rufous-brown, finely barred and vermiculated black. Blackish head and neck. Blackish tail broadly tipped buffy-white. White belly and underparts. Voice During breeding season, male sings low, ventriloquial droning boom, like groan of old tree, 6-10 four-part drones per minute. Alarm call a soft, repeated tzsuk.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Symes, A., Mahood, S., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A.

Salaman, P., Cortés, O., Rojas-Suárez, F., Setina, V., Strahl, S., Rodríguez, J., Sharpe, C J, Ortega, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Pauxi pauxi. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/12/2022.