Photographed in Rio Bentsen State Park
Almost always heard before it is seen, the Plain Chachalaca is sort of a long-tailed, tropical chicken that lives in the treetops. These sandy brown and gray birds walk along tree branches to eat flowers, buds, fruits, and insects. They’re locally fairly common in brushy and thorny forests along streams in the Rio Grande Valley and south into Central America. Though their plumage is subtle, their raucous, rhythmic morning chorus is anything but—a classic sound of the Tamaulipan brushlands that livens up any outing.
Although most birds in the Galliformes—such as quail, grouse, turkeys, and pheasants—are ground dwellers, Plain Chachalacas are at home in trees. Their young can cling to branches with both wings and feet as soon as they are dry after hatching.
Pairs of Plain Chachalacas give their loud calls in the early morning and early evening. Chachalacas also call when a storm is approaching or there is some other change in the weather.
The Plain Chachalaca is the only member of the family of guans, curassows, and chachalacas to reach the United States. The family contains approximately 50 species, ranging from Mexico to southern South America, many of which are endangered because of hunting.
Photographed in Attwater NWR.
Turkey Vultures are large dark birds with long, broad wings. Bigger than other raptors except eagles and condors, they have long "fingers" at their wingtips and long tails that extend past their toe tips in flight. When soaring, Turkey Vultures hold their wings slightly raised, making a ‘V’ when seen head-on.
Black Vultures are large raptors. In flight, they hold their broad, rounded wings flat and angled slightly forward. The tail is very short and rounded. They have small, bare heads and narrow but strongly hooked bills.
In the U.S., Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.
Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, but Black Vultures aren’t nearly as accomplished sniffers. To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring Turkey Vultures. When a Turkey Vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the Black Vulture follows close behind.
One-on-one at a carcass, Black Vultures lose out to the slightly larger Turkey Vulture. But flocks of Black Vultures can quickly take over a carcass and drive the more solitary Turkey Vultures away.
Black Vultures lack a voice box and so their vocal abilities are limited to making raspy hisses and grunts.
Although Black Vultures and their relatives live only in North and South America, the oldest fossils from this group—at least 34 million years old—were found in Europe.
Photographed in Anahuac NWR with Loyd Dalton on 10-09-2019
Grasslands and savannas are great places to fly a kite and that's exactly where you will find the White-tailed Kite, flying as if it were attached to a kite string. With its body turned toward the wind and wings gently flapping, it hovers above the ground, a behavior that’s so distinctive it’s become known as kiting. From above it tips its head down to look for small mammals moving in the grass below. Its white underparts, gleaming white tail, and black shoulder patches are its other marks of distinction.
During the nonbreeding season, the White-tailed Kite roosts communally. Sometimes more than 100 individuals pile into a few trees or tall shrubs at the edge of a grassland or savanna.
White-tailed Kites have a tiny range in the U.S., but they occur throughout the Americas, breeding as far south as Chile and Argentina. A closely related and very similar species, the Black-shouldered Kite, occurs across Europe, Africa, and Asia.