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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Plain Chachalaca -- Ortalis vetula
(formerly Chachalaca)

RANGE: Resident from the lower Rio Grande Valley to Costa Rica. Introduced on Sapelo, Blackbeard, and Little St. Simons Islands, Georgia.

STATUS: Locally common to uncommon; largely restricted to parks and refuges because of clearing of habitat for residential and agricultural purposes.

HABITAT: Prefers wooded stream beds with thick growths of ebony blackbead, hackberry, mesquite, and thick, shrubbery undergrowth. Rarely found far from water; also inhabits thick growths of sugarberry, Texas lignumvitae, huisache, cedar elm, and willow. Has adapted well to living in relatively small (1 to 5 acres) tracts of dense woodland vegetation.


NEST: Constructs a small, flimsy nest or uses old nests of birds such as the yellow-billed cuckoo, groove-billed ani, or curve-billed thrasher. Nests in trees, or in vines supported by trees, from 3 to 33 feet above ground. Most commonly uses cedar elm, huisache, sugarberry, anacua, and ebony blackbead. Spanish moss and tangled vines commonly support and conceal the nest.

FOOD: Eats berries, especially hackberries, along with the fruit of mesquite, mangoes, junipers, palmettos, persimmons, wild grapes, and figs; also eats green leaves, buds and shoots of plants, grain (especially cracked corn), and some insects.

REFERENCES: Johnsgard 1975a, Marion 1974, Marion and Fleetwood 1978, Oberholser 1974a, Terres 1980.

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