Bird Fact Friday— “Tropical Chickens”

Adapted from pages 264-265 of The New Neotropical Companion:

The 56 species of chachalacas, guans, and curassows are similar in appearance to chickens and turkeys, and are in the same order, Galliformes, but are in their own family, Cracidae. They are found in dense jungle, mature forest, montane forest, and cloud forest. Though individuals and sometimes pairs or small flocks are often observed on the forest floor, small flocks are often seen perched in trees.

The 15 chachalaca species are all slender, brownish olive in color, and have long tails. Each species is about 51 cm (20 in) from beak to tail tip. A chachalaca has a chicken-like head, with a bare red throat, usually visible only at close range. Most species form flocks of up to 20 or more birds. Chachalacas are highly vocal. The Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) is among the noisiest of tropical birds. Dawn along a rain forest edge is often greeted by a host of chachalaca males, each enthusiastically calling its harsh and monotonous cha-cha- lac! The birds often remain in thick cover, even when vocalizing, but an individual may call from a bare limb, affording easy views.

A female Bare-faced Curassow (Crax fasciolata) perched in a tree. This is an example of a “Tropical Chicken.” Photo credit: John Kricher.

Twenty-five species of guans and 16 species of curassows occur in Neotropical lowland and montane forests. Larger than chachalacas—most are the size of a small, slender turkey—they have glossy, black plumage set off by varying amounts of white or rufous. Some, like the Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus) and the Helmeted Curassow (Pauxi pauxi), have bright red “horns” or wattles on the head and/or beak. The Blue-throated Piping-Guan (Pipile cumanensis) and the Red-throated Piping-Guan (P. cujubi) have much white about the head and wings and a patch of colorful skin on the throat. 

Guans and curassows, though quite large, can be difficult to observe well. Small flocks move within the canopy, defying you to get a satisfactory binocular view of them. Like chachalacas, guans and curassows are often vocal, especially in the early morning hours.

There are 23 species of New World quail (family Odontophoridae) in the Neotropics, but seeing them requires a lot of searching and good luck. They are generally a secretive, cryptic group, rarely giving observers a good close look, as they scurry quietly along the shaded forest interior. Most of these species have narrow ranges but a few are more widely ranging.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.


This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Bird Fact Friday– the American robin, a wood thrush & their songBird Fact Friday: Gulpers & Mashers >>