Raucous - Tumultuous - Texas Mornings!

by Dave Hanks

The semi-darkness slides gently into daybreak. The day is new, fresh, and with hints of warmth later on. My wife and I are in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, and it’s with much anticipation that we await the day’s events. The morning is suddenly disturbed by loud, harsh, and continuing noise. Searching the trees, we eventually locate the source. It is emanating from a group of Chachalaca perched on the lower branches.

The Plain Chachalaca is a chicken-like relative of the turkey. In the USA it is found only in extreme southern Texas. These birds are extremely noisy in the early morning hours – sounding very much like their name. After this territorial display, they leave their overnight perches to forage on the ground. If you have a feeding station to attract other species, they can become quite troublesome as they will keep other birds away.

This species is gray to brownish-olive above and tan below. It has a small head and a long tail that is tipped with white. They are not nearly as big as a turkey but still quite large at about 22” long. They will feed on leaves and buds and scratch through the ground litter. They will readily feed on bird seed (especially corn) and even take fruit – such as banana chunks.

Our first experience with this bird was on a sunrise stroll in Santa Ana refuge. We were greeted with a tremendous noise from the darken trees. After much squinting into the darkness, we spotted the source. Later, at Bentsen State Park, we were delighted to have them come into our campground where I was able to photograph them. However their welcome soon ran out as they totally monopolized our feeding station to the determent of others.

In spite of their drawbacks, this is a most intriguing bird.

(The Rio Grande Valley’s Plain Chachalaca)