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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 5:31 EDT

Plain Chachalaca, Ortalis vetula

The Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) is a large species of bird in the Cracidae family. It is found in tropical and subtropical environments from mezquital thickets in the Rio Grande Valley in southeastern Texas to northernmost Costa Rica. In Central America, this species occurs in the Pacific lowlands from Chiapas, Mexico to northern Nicaragua. It occurs solely as a separate population in Costa Rica. Its habitat is dry and moist forests, especially where interspersed with scrub and savanna.

Populations of this species is numbered anywhere from 500,000 to 5 million and as such, is listed on the IUCN Red List as not threatened. However, the subspecies, O. v. deschauenseei, was listed as extinct, until recent surveys have confirmed it still survives.

The adult Plain Chachalaca is 22 inches long and weighs about 1.4 pounds (22 ounces). It has a long neck with a small head and bare throat. The adult has a grayish head and neck with a dull olive-brown body and wings. The underbelly is pale to yellowish-brown and the tail is blackish with green gloss and buff-white tip. The iris is brown and the bill black. The feet are a dull gray.

This species is often found in groups of up to 15 birds. It is secretive and cautious and prefers to escape danger by running swiftly on the ground or leaping and gliding through brushy tangles. It feeds in trees or on the ground on fruit, seeds, leaves, and flowers. It can sometimes be a problem to farmers as it will occasionally pick at tomato and cucumber plants.

Its call is a loud, raucous RAW-pa-haw or cha-cha-LAW-ka. The call is often performed by several birds in a rhythmical chorus, especially in the early morning and evening, usually from trees. It will also produce peeping whistles and cackles.

The Plain Chachalaca breeds in the early wet season. The nest is a shallow saucer of twigs and plant fibers, lined with leaves, in thick vegetation. The female lays 2 to 4 rough-shelled white to cream eggs.

Image Credit: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Plain Chachalaca Ortalis vetula