The Not So Plain Chachalaca

There is something mundane about a bird that has “plain” in it’s common name. But when that is paired with “chachalaca” now we are talking about a bird that birders will travel to the deepest depths of Texas to add to their life list, because of it’s very limited range in the US, confined to the lower Rio Grande Valley. The great news for birders wishing to add this species to their list is that it is very common and in some parts of Hidalgo County, it is a backyard bird.

The only thing plain about the plain chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) is it’s uniformly brown plumage. The name “chachalaca” is in imitation, according to the Nahuetl language, of it’s loud and raucous call, most often heard during the breeding season. And I was in southern Texas during it’s breeding season. When chachalacas call, they are very hard to ignore and worthy of a spread in my journal.

While I was hawk watching on the observation tower at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, it afforded views, down into the tops of trees. I would often see, and hear,  chachalacas calling from the tallest branches.

Looking down on yet another plain chachalaca calling from the top of a tree, Santa Ana NWR. Digiscope photo.

After my hawk watch I headed over to the National Butterfly Center to visit their feeders, and to look at butterflies. Here the chachalacas where so tame that they were within grabbing distance. (I kept my hands to myself.)

Getting up close and personal with a plain chachalaca at the feeders of the National Butterfly Center. No zoom or scope required.

A quick field sketch from the National Butterfly Center.

I sometimes wish all birds were this easy to identify. A plain chachalaca under a sign featuring the most common birds of the Rio Grande Valley. National Butterfly Center.

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