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Chachalacas are mainly brown birds from the genus Ortalis. These birds are found in wooded habitats in far southern United States (Texas), 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. 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.[1]

The generic name is derived from the Greek word όρταλις, meaning "pullet"[2] or "domestic hen."[3] The common name is an onomatopoeia for the four-noted cackle of the plain chachalaca (O. vetula).[4]

Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data tentatively suggests 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.[1]


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, USA)
  • Ortalis phengites (Snake Creek Early Pliocene of Sioux County, USA)

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


  1. ^ 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. doi:10.1080/10635150290102519. PMID 12554460.  edit Free version
  2. ^ Waue, Roland H. (1999). Heralds of Spring in Texas. Texas A&M University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780890968796. 
  3. ^ Arnott, William Geoffrey (2007). Birds in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-415-23851-9. 
  4. ^ Leopold, Aldo Starker (1972). Wildlife of Mexico: the Game birds and Mammals. University of California Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-520-00724-6. 
  5. ^ Glowinski, S. L. 2007. The rediscovery of the Utila Island Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula deschauenseei). Bulletin of the Cracid Specialist Group. Vol. 23: 28-29.


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