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September 20, 2021

Return of Bird of the Week: Rufous-headed Chachalaca

Rufous-heaed Chachalaca, Southwestern Ecuador
In WC’s experience, at least, this is the flightiest, the most easily spooked of the Cracids that WC has seen. You can see some motion blur in the head in this photo; even at ISO1600, the fastest WC’s Olympus E-3 could shoot without very serious grain, the shutter speed was only 1/200th of a second at f7.1. The bird’s head came up, it turned away and ran down the branch, disappearing in a tangle of liana vines. There were five birds in the tree; this is the best photo. Sigh. You woudn’t know it from this photo, but this is the most colorful of the Chachalacas, with rufous tail tips, a  rufous-chestnut throat and a creamy lower breast and abdomen. Its iris is brown, its facial skin is a dark bluish grey  and its legs are a pale blue. WC – and, WC suspects, his readers – would love to see one in the open. Although its diet is primarily fruit, it will eat seeds, flowers and leaves at times. It a mid-sized cracid, about 55-65 centimeters long and 620–645 grams. WC’s guide suspected this might be a juvenile bird, based on behavior, but the literature contains no descriptions of juveniles so it’s impossible to know. The species has an odd, spotty distribution. Because of that and because the Rufous-headed Chachalaca has suffered range contraction linked to habitat destruction, from logging, overgrazing and agricultural intensification, it’s classified as Vulnerable and perhaps Near Threatened. Its overall population is speculated to number no more than 10,000 birds, bu no one knows for sure. It’s poorly studied. All the breeding data is based upon a very few captive birds. And, as WC has suggested, it’s maddening to try to photograph. For more bird photographs, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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