Rufous-vented Chachalaca

The Rufous-vented Chachalaca (Ortalis ruficauda), is a member of an ancient group of birds of the Cracidae family. It breeds in northeast Colombia and northern Venezuela where this bird is known as Guacharaca or Guacharo and in Tobago where it is known as the Cocrico. It is also found on Bequia and Union Island in the Grenadines where it may have been introduced. It is an arboreal species but also can be found in more dry, scrubby habitats.

These are medium-sized birds, similar in general appearance to turkeys, with small heads, long strong legs and a long broad tail. They are typically 21 to 23 inches long. The female weighs 19 ounces and the larger male weighs 22.5 ounces. They have fairly dull plumage, dark brown above and paler below. The head is grey, and the brown tail is tipped rufous or white depending on race.

The Rufous-vented Chachalaca is a very noisy species. The male’s call is a loud low ka-ka-rooki-rooki-ka, answered by the female’s high-pitched watch-a-lak. The twig nest is built low in a tree, and three or four large white eggs are laid. The female incubates them alone. It is also a social bird, often seen in family groups. It walks along branches seeking the fruit and seeds on which it feeds, or flies off with a flap and glide.

This species is one of the national birds of Trinidad and Tobago and is featured on that county’s coat of arms along with the Scarlet Ibis, the Ibis representing Trinidad and the Cocrico, Tobago. The Cocrico is currently a pest in its native island of Tobago and agriculturists in Trinidad and Tobago are currently experimenting with ways of utilizing the animal to benefit humans and to maintain a healthy population in the wild.

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