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Welcome Visiting TMNers

Chachalacas

-- Something to look for during the 2023 Texas Master Naturalist Annual Conference in McAllen


Published in the October 2023, South Texas Chapter, Texas Master Naturalist newsletter


Article by Anita Westervelt, South Texas Border Chapter, Texas Master Naturalist


Plain Chachalaca. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

If you’re coming to the TMN Annual Conference, plain chachalacas (Ortalis vetula) are something you won’t be able to miss – especially if you’re up early and on one of the field trips.


More often than not, you’ll hear the gregarious disharmony of a company of chachalacas before you see these unique, ungainly birds.


Bigger than male great-tailed grackles and noisier, if you can imagine, plain chachalacas have been described as a long-tailed, tropical chicken that lives in the treetops. They are 22 inches in length with a wingspan of 24 to 28 inches.


Chachalacas are in the Cracidae family. They dance through the treetops with great skill – silently, until they begin their boisterous chorus, which can be rather ear-splitting, if they’re right above you.


Chachalacas travel together in family groups in the mornings and evenings, announcing themselves with great clatter as they crash into the tree branches and then go silent. Their call is echoed in distant trees from another group. They are great at hiding and moving around through the tree branches, which is frustrating when you’re trying to photograph them.


Chachalacas are fairly common in the Rio Grande Valley brush and thorn forests and south in Tamaulipan brushlands of Mexico and into Central America.


They frequent bird feeding stations in our Rio Grande Valley state parks and nature preserves which provide great opportunities for photographing the birds. Chachalacas eat birdseed, milo and cracked corn and also fruit, plant matter and invertebrates, especially insects from the ground or foraged from among tree branches. They will eat stamens, flowers, buds, leaves, seeds, berries, mangoes, grapes, and persimmons, according to allaboutbirds.org.


The English name, chachalaca, is a transliteration of the raucous calls the flocks make. Colloquially in Mexico, Central America, Guatemala and El Salvador, the word can mean babbler, yapper, chatter and chatty, according to Wiktionary.org.


It’s an experience you won’t want to miss if you’re not familiar with the species. And an accomplishment when you get a photo of one or more of the birds!

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