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Plain Chachalaca

Ortalis vetula

Length: 22 inches Wingspan: 26 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: Unique in North American range.  Large size, plain brownish overall

Plain Chachalaca - Ortalis vetulaThe Plain Chachalaca is a unique, chicken-like bird that reaches the U.S. only in extreme southern Texas.  Around 50 related species live in the American tropics, but this is the only one that reaches the U.S.  They are named after their very loud Chac-ala-ala calls, a sound which is often one of the loudest sounds typically heard in their forested range. 

Habitat: Plain Chachalacas are found in forested areas, often near sources of water, such as riparian areas and forested areas adjacent to ponds and lakes. They also can increasingly be found in mature suburban areas with significant tree and shrub cover.

Diet: Mostly vegetarian, feeding on fruits and berries, seeds, leaves, flower buds, and flowers.  They will also sometimes eat insects, spiders, and small snails.

Behavior: Plain Chachalacas typically forage on the ground, or very close to it, moving in groups through dense vegetation as they feed.  They are not strong fliers, and will typically hop or run on the ground or through vegetation if alarmed.  Flight is often composed mostly of short flights and longer glides. 

Nesting: Nests in dense cover on a tree limb or fork of a tree.  The nest is made of sticks, leaves, and other vegetation, and takes the form of a flat platform, with a depression in the center filled with moss or other softer material.  The female incubates the eggs by herself, but both parents help to raise the young.

Song: Named after the very loud, long-carrying calls, often sung by pairs or groups  of birds in establishing territories.

Migration: Permanent resident throughout its range.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Plain Chachalaca sightings

Feeders: They will attend feeders in some locations where they've become accustomed to a human presence, and can be attracted with seeds and bread.

Similar Species: Generally unmistakeable in North American (ABA) range.  Unique structure and habits.

Conservation Status: There are currently no perceived major threats to Plain Chachalaca populations, and Birdlife International cites it as a species of "Least Concern".  Populations in the small U.S. portion of its range are stable.

Further Information: 1) Cornell's All About Birds - Plain Chachalaca

2) USGS Bird InfoCenter - Plain Chachalaca

3) Quinta Mazatlan - Birds of South Texas - Plain Chachalaca

Photo Information: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron County, Texas - Bill Bouton - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Additional Photos: Additional Photos Coming Soon!!


Click below for a higher-resolution map
Plain Chachalaca - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Non-resident in South Dakota

Additional Plain Chachalaca Photos (coming soon!!)