The Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis Vetula) is a social bird that lives in small groups of 4-6 and prefers tall, thorny thickets and scrubland along the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, Mexico south to Honduras and Costa Rica. This native, non-migratory gamebird is approximately 21.7 inches in length, weighs anywhere from 10.6 oz. to 24.2 oz. and is considered a large chicken like bird. The chachalaca is named after the loud, ear-splitting chorus (cha-cha-lac-a) that the flock makes which is most commonly heard in the morning hours and is particularly prevalent during the February-March breeding season. The chachalaca is drab in color with a gray head and olive-brown back, buff belly, and a dark tail with green glossy feathers. The male shows a bright red gular stripe during courtship displays.
Unlike most chicken like (galliform) birds, the Plain Chachalaca prefers to spend time in trees, which has earned the bird the nickname of Mexican Tree Pheasant. The chachalaca will run along larger tree limbs and through interior branches to consume leaves, berries and seeds. Chachalacas feed in groups of 4-6 and have a tendency to choose ripe fruit; they can be found feeding in unexpected and precarious positions including upside down enabling them to reach the best selections of fruit and seeds. Unlike chickens, chachalaca do not scratch on the ground to find food but they will eat insects and invertebrates when they find them.
The feeding activities of the chachalaca can be found near native food sources. The Chachalaca will consume food that is supplied by humans and the birds have a particular fondness for cracked corn. The flight of the chachalaca is considered awkward but brief bursts of flight can be sustained for short periods of time. Plain chachalaca hens will lay 3 eggs in nests constructed in the forks of tree limbs. The young are precocial (hatched or born in an advanced state and able to feed themselves almost immediately). Adult birds live between 5-8 years in the wild.
The Plain Chachalaca is a secretive bird that can be difficult to find in its native habitat and as such is considered a challenging hunting experience for the seasoned outdoorsman. The legal hunting season begins in early November and ends in mid-February. The daily bag limit for chachalaca is limited to five birds per day. Texas Parks & Wildlife offers both hunting and viewing opportunities for the Plain Chachalaca at various facilities that are State-owned in the Rio Grande Valley. Hunter access is allowed in select areas as is public access to viewing sites. Studies indicate that the global population of the Chachalaca is estimated at 500,000 to 5,000,000 birds and does not show any signs of decline.