Rhea Symbolism and Meaning

an ostrich with its mouth open in a fenced in area

The rhea is a large, flightless bird that inhabits the grasslands and savannas of South America. With its long legs, long neck, and brown feathers, the rhea bears a resemblance to the ostrich and emu. While not as widely known as some other large birds, the rhea holds a special place in the myths and symbolism of South American cultures.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the different symbolic meanings associated with the rhea throughout history. We’ll look at how ancient peoples viewed the rhea, its role in mythology, and what it can represent to us today.

Overview of the Rhea

Before diving into symbolism, let’s look at some key facts about the rhea itself. There are two species of rhea:

  • Greater Rhea – Also called the American rhea, this is the larger of the two species. It can reach up to 5 feet tall and weigh over 50 pounds. Native to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.
  • Lesser Rhea – A bit smaller than its greater cousin, the lesser Rhea inhabits parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. It grows to about 3 feet tall and 40 pounds.

Both species of rhea are flightless, with small wings relative to their body size. They use their wings primarily for balance and making quick turns when running.

Speaking of running, rheas are fantastic runner. They can sprint up to 40 miles per hour for short bursts. Their long, strong legs make them perfectly adapted for speeding across the plains.

Rhea Symbolism in Mythology

Rhea Symbolism in Mythology

The rhea has been an important symbol in South American myths and folklore for centuries. Indigenous peoples revered the rhea for its speed, power and grace.

To the Mapuche people in Chile and Argentina, the rhea was a solar symbol associated with strength. Mapuche warriors would incorporate rhea feathers into their battle gear before riding off to fight rivals. The feathers represented the fleet-footedness of the rhea and were believed to grant similar speed to the warrior.

According to Guarani mythology in Paraguay and surrounding areas, the rhea was created when the moon goddess Arasy attempted to lure a handsome man named Kerana away from his wife. When Kerana resisted Arasy’s advances, the angry goddess turned him into the first rhea. This tale illustrates why the rhea’s legs are so powerful – it is still trying to escape from the moon goddess.

Rhea Symbolism By Attribute

The rhea has several attributes that lend themselves to symbolic meaning:

Speed and Agility

With its ability to sprint swiftly across the plains, the rhea epitomizes speed and agility. As such, it can represent:

  • Quick thinking, rapid responses
  • Taking prompt action when opportunities arise
  • Having the energy to tackle tasks without delay

Its running prowess also symbolizes having goals and chasing them with zeal, without losing steam.


The rhea is among the most powerful birds in South America. Its strong legs and muscular body allow it to fend off predators with forceful kicks.

As a symbol, the rhea can represent:

  • Raw power and strength
  • Ability to stand your ground against threats
  • Resilience in the face of opposition


Rheas are highly independent creatures. Males and females form breeding pairs only temporarily during mating season. The rest of the year, rheas travel and forage individually or in same-sex groups.

Due to this autonomy, the rhea signifies:

  • Self-sufficiency
  • Reliance on your own abilities
  • Freedom from external constraints


In some South American cultures, the rhea is associated with fertility and fecundity. This stems from the fact that female rheas typically lay over 30 eggs in each breeding season. The eggs are relatively large as well.

Thus, the rhea can represent:

  • Fruitfulness, creativity, bringing new ideas to life
  • High productivity
  • Abundance in numerous areas of life

Rhea Encounters and Omens

For rural South Americans, encountering a rhea has long been considered an omen of sorts. Here are some of the most common rhea omens:

  • Seeing a lone rhea means you will achieve an important goal through self-reliance and perseverance.
  • Witnessing two rheas together signals harmony and fruitful teamwork in your near future.
  • Noticing a rhea feather on the ground indicates you will soon experience a burst of creativity.
  • Having a rhea suddenly cross your path signifies that an opportunity for rapid growth will soon present itself.

Incorporating Rhea Symbolism

The rhea is infused with so much symbolic meaning that it lends itself well to incorporation into art, writing, design, and other creative works.

Here are some ways you can integrate rhea symbolism:

  • Depict the rhea in paintings, drawings, or sculpture pieces as a symbol of speed, strength, or fertility
  • Feature rhea feathers in crafts, jewelry, or accessories to represent swiftness or creativity
  • Use the rhea in logos, banners, and branding for companies wanting to project independence and self-sufficiency
  • Include the rhea as a character in stories, myths or poetry as an archetype of power, freedom, and resolve
  • Decorate homes or offices with rhea imagery to encourage swift action and productivity

So in summary, this graceful giant of the South American wilds has accumulated rich symbolic associations over the ages. The rhea’s speed and strength have earned it respect, while its solitary habits have signified self-determination. With so many layers of meaning, the rhea serves as an captivating muse for creatives and storytellers alike.

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