Photo: Chris Loebner/Audubon Photography Awards

Plain Chachalaca

Ortalis vetula

Our only representative of a distinctive tropical family. Plain Chachalacas are common in a limited area of southern Texas, where their flocks live in thickets or riverside woods. Frequently, especially at dawn and dusk, a flock will perch in a tall tree and give voice to a disorganized clattering chorus of cha-cha-lac calls.
Conservation status In Texas, numbers probably stable, with good populations at a few protected parks and refuges. In Mexico and Central America, probably declining but still locally common.
Family Chachalacas
Habitat Subtropical woods, river groves, dense brush. In south Texas usually found near water, as around ponds, resacas, riverbanks. Generally in native woodlands of ebony, hackberry, huisache, and mesquite, but also found around edges of overgrown orchards and well-wooded suburbs of Rio Grande Valley towns.
Our only representative of a distinctive tropical family. Plain Chachalacas are common in a limited area of southern Texas, where their flocks live in thickets or riverside woods. Frequently, especially at dawn and dusk, a flock will perch in a tall tree and give voice to a disorganized clattering chorus of cha-cha-lac calls.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages on ground or in shrubs and trees, often climbing about precariously in thin branches.


Eggs

2-3, sometimes 4. Creamy white. Incubation is by female only, about 25 days. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Both parents care for young, feeding them by regurgitation at first. Young can flutter short distances within a few days after hatching, can fly up into brush at 2-3 weeks, but not full-grown until sometime later.


Young

Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Both parents care for young, feeding them by regurgitation at first. Young can flutter short distances within a few days after hatching, can fly up into brush at 2-3 weeks, but not full-grown until sometime later.

Diet

Mostly berries, leaves, buds, seeds. Diet in south Texas is mostly vegetarian, eating various parts of a wide variety of plants; includes berries of coyotillo, pigeonberry, and hackberry, and others, plus seeds, leaves, buds, and flowers. Also eats a few insects and snails. Where accustomed to humans in certain parks, will come to eat birdseed, popcorn, bread, and other junk food.


Nesting

In southern Texas, usually nests in woods very close to water. Nest site is on limb or in fork of branches, sometimes in vines or in broken-off stub, in tree within dense cover. Usually 4-15' above ground, sometimes up to 35'. Nest is a flat platform of sticks, twigs, weeds, leaves, Spanish moss, with a depression in the center; an old nest of some other bird may be used as the foundation.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident.

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Migration

Permanent resident.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Loud, raucous cha-cha-lac, often in chorus at dawn and dusk. Call of male lower pitched than female's.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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