At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Chachalacas, Upland Ground Birds
Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Flap/Glide, Running, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
18-21" (46-53 cm). W. 26 (66 cm). A large, long-tailed, small-headed bird. Dull olive brown, grayer on head, buff on belly. May show red on throat. Wide black tail feathers have white tips.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Brown, Gray, Green, Red, White
Long, Rounded, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
Loud, raucous cha-cha-lac, often in chorus at dawn and dusk. Call of male lower pitched than female's.
Falling, Flat, Simple
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.
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2-3, sometimes 4. Creamy white. Incubation is by female only, about 25 days.
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.
Forages on ground or in shrubs and trees, often climbing about precariously in thin branches.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Plain Chachalaca. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Plain Chachalaca
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.