Plain Chachalaca: Loud, phesant-like bird. Drab in color with gray head, olive-brown back, buff belly, dark tail with green gloss. Male shows bright red gular stripe during courtship displays. Feeds on insects, fruits, berries, seeds, leaves and buds. Alternates rapid stiff wing beats with glides.
Range and Habitat
Plain Chachalaca: This species is found primarily in Mexico along the Gulf Coast and in the Neotropics. Its range extends into the U.S. in extreme southern Texas along the lower Rio Grande valley. Inhabits forested areas, particularly early successional and forest edges, thorn scrub, and brushy thickets.
The GALLIFORMES (pronounced gal-lih-FOR-meez) is an order of five families (some taxonomic systems only recognize four of these, classifying the fifth as a sub-family) found nearly worldwide that includes pheasants, the wild ancestor to the domestic chicken, and similar fowl-like birds such as guineafowl, megapodes and the chachalacas.
The Cracidae (pronounced KRA-kih-dee), a bird family almost entirely restricted to tropical regions in the New World, is composed of fifty-four species in eleven genera.
North America has eleven species of the Cracidae (commonly called “Cracids”) in six genera. The long-tailed and noisy chachalacas, arboreal guans, and turkey-like curassows are members of this family.
Cracids are known for being furtive, wary birds capable of remaining hidden despite their large size and loud calls. However, where they are not hunted, they can become quite tame and some species, such as the Plain Chachalaca, even come to feeders.
Members of the Cracidae are large, long-tailed birds with long, strong legs useful for running and clambering on the ground and through thick vegetation. They have a short bill and short wings similar to those of a chicken and are likewise reluctant to fly.
Dull colors such gray, black, and earthy browns predominate in the Cracidae. Several species, including chachalacas, have a red patch of bare skin on the throat and pale coloring at the tip of the tail. Although the bill and legs of the chachalacas are blackish, these features are bright yellow or red in some other Cracid species.
A bird family mostly found south of the United States, members of the Cracidae occur in rain forest, cloud forest, and tropical dry forest. The only Cracid species that reaches the United States is the Plain Chachalaca; a bird of the tropical brushlands of southern Texas.
Plain Chachalacas and other Cracids are resident, non-migratory birds.
The chachalacas are social, vociferous birds that typically forage in flocks of around fifteen individuals. These lanky, animated birds search for small creatures and fruits in low vegetation and small trees as well as on the ground.
A species that prefers second growth habitats, populations of the Plain Chachalaca are not threatened and are doing quite well. Many species of Cracids in Central and South America, though, are highly threatened and endangered by hunting and habitat destruction. The combination of having a low reproductive rate and being turkey-like birds that make for easy, tempting targets makes many Cracids particularly sensitive to hunting.
Plain Chachalacas are named after their loud, raucous calls; hoarse vocalizations that (with some imagination) sound like “chachalaca”. Waking up to a flock of these birds calling out their name makes for an impressive auditory addition to the hot bushlands of southernmost Texas.
In addition to being vociferous, several guan species also have impressive displays where they rattle their wings during short, gliding flights.