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Rufous-vented Chachalaca - Guacharaca del Norte (Ortalis ruficauda) (8629080871).jpg
Rufous-vented chachalaca, Ortalis ruficauda
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Cracidae
Subfamily: Penelopinae
Genus: Ortalis
Merrem, 1786

12-15 (extant), see text.

Chachalacas are galliform birds from the genus Ortalis. These birds are found in wooded habitats in far southern United States (Texas),[1][2] Mexico, and Central and South America. They are social, can be very noisy and often remain fairly common even near humans, as their relatively small size makes them less desirable to hunters than their larger relatives. As invasive pests, they have a ravenous appetite for tomatoes, melons, beans, and radishes and can ravage a small garden in short order. They travel in packs of six to twelve.[3] They somewhat resemble the guans, and the two have commonly been placed in a subfamily together, though the chachalacas are probably closer to the curassows.[4]

The generic name is derived from the Greek word όρταλις, meaning "pullet"[5] or "domestic hen."[6] The common name is an onomatopoeia for the four-noted cackle of the plain chachalaca (O. vetula).[7]

Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data tentatively suggest that the chachalacas emerged as a distinct lineage during the Oligocene, somewhere around 40–20 mya, possibly being the first lineage of modern cracids to evolve; this does agree with the known fossil record – including indeterminate, cracid-like birds – which very cautiously favors a north-to-south expansion of the family.[4]


Prehistoric species[edit]

The cracids have a very poor fossil record, essentially being limited to a few chachalacas. The prehistoric species of the present genus, however, indicate that chachalacas most likely evolved in North or northern Central America:

  • Ortalis tantala (Early Miocene of Nebraska, USA)
  • Ortalis pollicaris (Flint Hill Middle Miocene of South Dakota, USA)
  • Ortalis affinis (Ogallala Early Pliocene of Trego County, Kansas, USA)
  • Ortalis phengites (Snake Creek Early Pliocene of Sioux County, Nebraska, USA)[9]

The Early Miocene fossil Boreortalis from Florida is also a chachalaca; it may actually be referrable to the extant genus.


  1. ^ Marion, Wayne R. (September 1974). "Status of the Plain Chachalaca in South Texas". The Wilson Bulletin. 86 (3): 200–205. JSTOR 4160499.
  2. ^ Sherr, Evelyn B. (2015). Marsh Mud and Mummichogs: An Intimate Natural History of Coastal Georgia. U. Of Georgia Press. p. 96. Archived from the original on 2015-07-23. In the 1920s Howard E. Coffin introduced a breeding population of chachalacas to Sapelo Island, and this breeding population still exists.
  3. ^ "Gray-headed Chachalaca". Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Pereira, S. #X. R. L.; Baker, A. J.; Wajntal, A. (2002). "Combined Nuclear and Mitochondrial DNA Sequences Resolve Generic Relationships within the Cracidae (Galliformes, Aves)". Systematic Biology. 51 (6): 946–58. doi:10.1080/10635150290102519. PMID 12554460. Free version Archived 2016-04-11 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Waue, Roland H. (1999). Heralds of Spring in Texas. Texas A&M University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780890968796. Archived from the original on 2017-11-27.
  6. ^ Arnott, William Geoffrey (2007). Birds in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-415-23851-9. Archived from the original on 2014-06-11.
  7. ^ Leopold, Aldo Starker (1972). Wildlife of Mexico: the Game birds and Mammals. University of California Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-520-00724-6.
  8. ^ Glowinski, S. L. 2007. The rediscovery of the Utila Island Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula deschauenseei). Bulletin of the Cracid Specialist Group. Vol. 23: 28-29.
  9. ^ Wetmore, Alexander. 1923. Avian Fossils from the Miocene and Pliocene of Nebraska. Bulletin American Museum of Natural History XLVIII pp. 483-457.Web access

External links[edit]

Media related to Ortalis at Wikimedia Commons Data related to Ortalis at Wikispecies