The plain chachalaca is a long-tailed bird that lives in North and Central America, spanning from Texas to Costa Rica. Distantly related to chickens and turkeys, these birds are named after their unique call, which sounds like "cha-cha-LAW-ka". 

Physical Description

Chachalacas are long-tailed, round-bodied birds that are roughly the same size and weight as a pheasant. They have small heads, bare legs, and tails with white tips. Adults have light brown feathers on their chests and dark brown feathers on their backs and necks. Unlike many tropical bird species, males and females can be difficult to tell apart.

Size

Adult chachalacas can reach up to 19-23 inches (48–58 centimeters) tall, and weigh between 1 and 1.8 pounds (0.5-0.8 kilograms). Females are a little heavier than males.

Native Habitat

Chachalacas live in areas with lots of vegetation, like forests and brushlands, where their brown coloring helps them blend into their environment. They can also be found in rainforests, highland areas, coastal scrublands and maritime forests. These birds are native to Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and the southernmost part of Texas. 

Communication

Chachalacas are known for their loud and raucous calls, which sound like "cha-cha-LAW-ka". These calls typically occur early in the morning or evening. Groups will often deliver these calls together, taking turns and singing in rounds. 

Food/Eating Habits

Chachalacas are omnivores, and forage for food in small groups. They have a wide and varied diet, and eat invertebrates (like caterpillars, beetles, tiny snails, and grasshoppers), fruits, and plant material, such as trees, flowers, buds, and leaves. When foraging in trees, they will use their long necks and feet to grip the nearest branch and stretch out to reach out-of-the-way fruits and buds. They can even hang upside down.

Social Structure

During the breeding season, chachalacas form family groups made up of a pair of adults and their recent offspring. As a defensive mechanism, these groups will crowd predators, like large owls and small mammals, calling out loudly as an intimidation tactic. When the offspring reach maturity, these groups will usually merge with larger flocks.

Conservation Efforts

As a species, plain chachalacas are not considered threatened. However, threats like habitat loss and environmental degradation have put local populations at risk. Overhunting poses a threat to these birds in many parts of their range. There are fewer than 2,500 plain chachalacas in the United States, nearly all of which live in protected parks and wildlife refuges.

Animal News

Aspen and Juniper: A Beaver Love Story

February 09, 2024

Public Can Help Name Cotton-Top Tamarins at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

February 05, 2024

White-Naped Crane Dies at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

January 31, 2024