Plain Chachalaca

This is the only member of the family Cracidae that can be found within the United States, and within a very small area at that.

Plain Chachalacas spotted in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

The first (and so far only time) that I’ve seen a chachalaca is when we had gone down to South Padre Island and then drove through the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. We saw a group of them around the visitor’s center along with a couple of green jays.

Technically it is a subspecies of the plain chachalaca that is found in southern Texas, with the other three subspecies being strictly within Central America (and the southern most subspecies possibly being extinct).

The plain chachalaca is a large chicken size bird (larger than most quails but smaller than a pheasant or turkey) that has a long tail, long legs, but a small head with a short beak.

They live year round in the brushy habitats (thorny trees with well developed understories and brush) in southern Texas, though there have also been colonies introduced to several islands off the coast of Georgia as well.

The range of the plain chachalaca. Map (c) birds of the world

In Central America, they can also be found within rainforests as well as shrub lands.

To spot them–look within the trees (listen for their calls), or if you’re in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, they may be feeding near the visitors center (which is where I spotted them years ago).

Plain chachalacas (parent and young) spotted at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife refuge

Their diet consists mainly of fruits, grains, and insects. While they will forage on the ground for insects and snails, they’re mainly tree foragers who will move among tree branches eating the flowers, leaves, seeds, and berries of different trees.

They will usually forage as a family (parents and young), where they will graze on various trees and plants (such as southern hackberry, honey mesquite, coyotillo, roughplant, and the Texas sable palm), and invertebrates such as caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and small snails.

Plain Chachalacas

Some other interesting facts about the chachalaca:

The young can cling and climb branches with both wings and feet as soon as they’re dry after hatching.

If you hear a chachalaca (and it isn’t sunset or sunrise) it could mean that the weather is changing, as they call when storms approach their areas or there are other changes in the weather.

While I’m proud of the photographs that I got of a family of chachalacas, I would still like to possibly get a picture of them grazing in the trees, and possibly a picture of youngster climbing in the trees near a nest.