Foam Lake Birding No. 36

This is a first for me – writing directly from afar. My California articles were written in Foam Lake before we left for Carlsbad. As a result my vacation time was free, as it were. In this case, I will be writing from the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas (where the temperatures presently range from 20C to 35C). Another first is that I will be using the internet to get these articles to the Foam Lake Review. Hopefully, everything works out well.
This week’s featured bird is very common throughout all of the wooded areas around here. However, most of the land has been cleared for agriculture which obviously has had an effect on the birds themselves. Therefore most of the birds are concentrated in nature preserves, although, some ranchers/farmers are nature lovers and have good stands of bush on their properties with resultant bird populations.
The birds look like dingy brown pheasants, but are only distantly related to them and the chicken family as a whole. The Chachalaca (pronounced cha-cha-la-ca), though common, is very difficult to spot in the wild. Hunting them for food by peasants has made them very wary of humans. The birds live in small flocks feeding on the forest floor, but roost in trees like chickens or turkeys. In fact, except for feeding, they spend almost their entire time in trees where they are very agile and silent – much like squirrels. One could be in the middle of a flock of Chachalacas and not be aware of it! The only way to get a really good look at them is in wildlife preserves and parks where they have become quite tame.
The Chachalaca gets its name from its loud and distinctive call – cha cha lac, usually given in the morning or evening. While roosting, one of the dominant birds lets out a loud cha cha lac, whereupon the rest of the flock joins in the chorus (racket). This can continue for several minutes, followed by a period of silence to be followed by a repeat performance. It is quite an experience to hear them. It could be compared to the gobbling domesticated turkeys make when they are startled. The Aztecs called the bird “he who will not stop talking”.
This week’s photo shows two Chachalacas and an Inca Dove (very common throughout the Southwest) eating seeds that have been spilled by Cardinals and House Sparrows from a feeder hanging directly above. I tried to get the muskrat-sized Fox Squirrel in the picture, but squirrels and Chachalacas do not like each other very much so I could not get a good picture with both of them in it.
In closing this first “Texas” article, I would like to point out that the lower Rio Grande Valley is very Mexican in all aspects – the people, the plants and animals. The birds that I will be writing about are found here and nowhere else in the USA or Canada. I should also point out that many summer residents of the Foam Lake area, especially water fowl, winter here, however, I will write about them when they have migrated back to the Canadian prairies. In the meantime, I hope you find these articles about the Rio Grande birds interesting. Adios from southern Texas.