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Plain Chachalaca ... Hardly !
by Christine Donald, Outdoor Recreation Planner, Santa Ana NWR
published June 2016



The Plain Chachalaca (chah-chuh-lah-kuh) is a large chicken-like bird in the family Cracidae whose origins are in Mexico and Central America. Here in the United States they can only be found in Southern Texas.

However, calling the Chachalaca plain just isn't right! There is nothing at all plain about these fascinating birds which I call "Chachies". If you get bored watching them, then you aren't really paying attention to what's going on. They are cuckoo! No pun intended. When you come to Santa Ana NWR in the morning, they will greet you with their loud raucous calls that seem to be in surround sound. Peering up into the trees you will see several of these birds calling out to others all around the refuge.

To some this may be an annoying cacophony, however, to me it is the "Chachie Symphony" which greets me as I arrive to work each morning. Not classical music, but definitely one of the wondrous sounds of nature which I always enjoy when I am outside.

Morning feeding time always brings in the Chachies, like somebody ringing a dinner bell, here they come. Chachies get use to people quickly. They will walk right up to you impatiently waiting to be fed. If you are a little slow to get the chow out for them they often come right up to the window and look into the building as if to say, "Hurry up, you're late, we're hungry!" It they could knock on the door they would.

They are intriguing to watch during breeding season. Chachies' tempers fly as the males chase each other and fly all over the place, often in an ungraceful manner. I had one almost run into me in its frenzied attempt to get away from another one. Sometimes these large birds, up to a pound and a half, will land on tree branches too thin to fully support their weight. It is comical to watch them bobbing and bouncing low to the ground while the thin branch struggles to hold them. My favorite time of the year is approaching when I see the young poults out with their mommas. The hen stays very busy trying to keep her chicks hidden in the shrubs and bushes away from hungry hawks. Another generation of chachies born who will live on the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge adding to the natural beauty of the site. Come on out to Santa Ana NWR to enjoy the Chachalacas, but please ...
Don't Call Them Plain!

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
3325 Green Jay
Alamo, TX 78516
956-784-7500