Chachalacas are galliform birds from the genus Ortalis. These birds are found in wooded habitats in the 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 agricultural 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]

Rufous-vented Chachalaca - Guacharaca del Norte (Ortalis ruficauda) (8629080871).jpg
Rufous-vented chachalaca, Ortalis ruficauda
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Cracidae
Subfamily: Cracinae
Genus: Ortalis
Merrem, 1786
Type species
Phasianus motmot
Linnaeus, 1766

16, see text.


The genus Ortalis was introduced (as Ortalida) by the German naturalist Blasius Merrem in 1786 with the little chachalaca (Ortalis motmot) as the type species.[5][6] The generic name is derived from the Ancient Greek word όρταλις, meaning "pullet"[7] or "domestic hen."[8] The common name derives from the Nahuatl verb chachalaca, meaning "to chatter." With a glottal stop at the end, chachalacah was an alternate name for the bird known as the chachalahtli. All these words likely arose as an onomatopoeia for the four-noted cackle of the plain chachalaca (O. vetula).[9] The genus contains 16 species.[10]

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]


Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
  Plain chachalaca Ortalis vetula Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, northern Guatemala, northern Honduras and just into the north central part of Nicaragua
  Grey-headed chachalaca Ortalis cinereiceps eastern Honduras to northwestern Colombia (from South Chocó to the upper Atrato)
  Chestnut-winged chachalaca Ortalis garrula Colombia
  Rufous-vented chachalaca Ortalis ruficauda northeast Colombia and northern Venezuela
  Rufous-headed chachalaca Ortalis erythroptera Colombia and adjacent Ecuador and Peru
  Rufous-bellied chachalaca Ortalis wagleri Mexico
  West Mexican chachalaca Ortalis poliocephala Mexico, from Jalisco to Oaxaca
  Chaco chachalaca Ortalis canicollis Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay
  White-bellied chachalaca Ortalis leucogastra Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua
  Colombian chachalaca Ortalis columbiana Colombia.
  Speckled chachalaca Ortalis guttata western Amazon Basin
  East Brazilian chachalaca Ortalis araucuan Atlantic forests in eastern Brazil
  Scaled chachalaca Ortalis squamata southeastern Brazil
Little chachalaca Ortalis motmot northern Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela
Chestnut-headed chachalaca Ortalis ruficeps north central Brazil
Buff-browed chachalaca Ortalis superciliaris Brazil

Prehistoric speciesEdit

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)[11]

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.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): 946–958. doi:10.1080/10635150290102519.
  5. ^ Merrem, Blasius (1786). Avium rariorum et minus cognitarum : icones et descriptiones collectae et e germanicis latinae factae (in Latin). Lipsiae [Leipzig]: Ex Bibliopolio Io. Godofr. Mülleriano. p. 40.
  6. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-List of Birds of the World. Volume 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 16.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Leopold, Aldo Starker (1972). Wildlife of Mexico: the Game birds and Mammals. University of California Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-520-00724-6.
  10. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2020). "Pheasants, partridges, francolins". IOC World Bird List Version 10.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  11. ^ 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 linksEdit

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