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Adventures of a Patagonian rhea

An unexpected natural event occurred recently in the pampas surrounding Tierra Patagonia. Very close to the hotel, a family of Patagonian rheas (ñandús) came up against a tense moment, when a fox and a condor threatened to snatch their newborns away. The people who were able to observe this spectacle were humbled by the experience.
January 24, 2022

Diego Salas

Since its beginning, Tierra Patagonia has been committed to profoundly repsecting the area in which it is located.  A clear example of this is during its construction, in order to prevent any environmental damage, landscapers Catalina Phillips and Gerardo Ariztía temporarily removed the vegetation around the area, carefully transferred it to a greenhouse, and, once the work was done, re-planted them around the hotel. 

Thanks to their efforts, the original ecosystem was preserved, and today we receive wild animal visitors from the Torres del Paine National Park and its surroundings.

This is how an unexpected event occurred recently that kept all of those in the hotel on their toes: a rhea decided to make a nest to hatch its eggs very close to the hotel.  Over approximately a month, this giant flightless bird, similar to an ostrich, waited for its young to hatch, or its “charitos” as the locals call the babies of this Patagonian species.

Being careful to always maintain a respectful distance without bothering the rhea, guests and hotel staff followed along the story of this new friend as it patiently brooded.

The Patagonian rhea

Kineret Múñoz, Sub-Head of Excursions at Tierra Patagonia, was one of the most enthusiastic witnesses of this event and told us about it with much excitement.  “We were super lucky,” she says, adding that even though it is normal to see animals like guanacos, foxes, and even pumas near the hotel, “it isn’t common that these birds build their nests here.”

The rheas that inhabit Patagonia measure about 93 centimeters long and their color, a grayish-brown, allows them to blend in with their surroundings.  They mainly feed on grains and grass, and although they cannot fly due to their large size, they are excellent runners, reaching speeds of up to 70 km per hour.

The females lay between 20 to 30 eggs, each about 10 cms in length, and from this moment, the male takes charge of keeping them together, maintaining the nest, brooding and protecting them from predators.

“We followed the entire process from the hotel.  One day, at around 10 in the morning, the eggs finally broke and the ‘charitas’ were born, and the rhea father quickly took them to another place close by,” Kineret recounts.  Nevertheless, one of the eggs did not hatch, and a culpeo or Andean fox that was keeping an eye on the situation, made his move to steal the egg.  “We had a laugh watching this, because the fox could barely carry the egg, it was too big for him.”

The rhea stayed alert in his place protecting the hatchlings, while people inside the hotel continued to observe.  The mission of the father is to take care of them, so he cannot move away for even an instant.  However, it seems he couldn’t resist so much time without food and went to search for a bite to eat.  He did not expect what would happen in just a few minutes…

“A condor began to fly over the sector where the baby rheas were located.  All of us realized the intentions of this predator as it continually got closer.  Suddenly, we see the rhea come running at full speed and dive head-first to protect his charitas.  It was very impressive,” a moved Kineret tells us.  “The poor father managed to protect them, but he could not eat and had to stay with his babies until they were grown enough to quietly leave the nest.”

The nature of the extreme south of Chile can surprise you at any moment, especially if you attentively observe the behavior of the animals inhabitating this marvelous place.  At Tierra Patagonia, we have a varied selection of excursions which allow you to get close, while maintaing a respectful distance, with these natural events.  When making your reservation, you can also let our team of expert guidees know your interests so that they can prepare to make your visit just as you dreamed it.



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