Rufous-headed Chachalaca Ortalis erythroptera


Justification of Red List category
This species has a small, fragmented and declining population owing to the effects of habitat destruction and hunting. This combination of factors results in classification as Vulnerable.

Population justification
A new population has been discovered in eastern Esmeraldas, Ecuador, which, judging by the area of potentially available habitat, may hold one of the world's largest subpopulations. However, population densities are usually low, and the population there is currently estimated at only 500-1,000 birds (O. Jahn and P. Mena Valenzuela in litt. 2007). Its historical range to the south is now extremely fragmented, with viable populations restricted to only a few locations and probably maintaining less than 1,000 mature individuals. The population is thought to be best placed in the band 2,500-9,999 individuals, based on density estimates and the species's Extent of Occurrence. This equates to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
A moderate and on-going population decline is suspected on the basis of continued habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Distribution and population

Ortalis erythroptera is largely confined to the Tumbesian region of west Ecuador, in Esmeraldas, Manabí, Guayas, Los Ríos, Chimborazo, Azuay (P. Coopmans in litt. 1998), El Oro and Loja; extreme north-west Peru, in Tumbes and Piura (Barrio and Begazo 1998), and extreme south-west Colombia, in Nariño (Strewe 2001). In the last decade, a new population was discovered in humid and wet areas of eastern Esmeraldas, mostly along the major river systems where forest cover is severely fragmented (O. Jahn and P. Mena Valenzuela in litt. 2007). At this moment, it is unclear whether this population was previously overlooked or if it represents a recent expansion of the species's range. Although it is possible that the chachalaca temporarily benefits from forest fragmentation in that area, deforestation rates in Esmeraldas are so high that almost total deforestation might occur within one or two decades (O. Jahn and P. Mena Valenzuela in litt. 2007). Population densities are usually low. Its historical range to the south is now extremely fragmented, with viable populations restricted to only a few locations and probably maintaining less than 1,000 mature individuals.


The species inhabits dry deciduous woodland, lowland riparian forest, humid lowland forest, lower montane cloud-forest, forest edge, degraded forest habitats, scrub, and occasionally agricultural land at elevations up to 1,850 m, although there are few recent Peruvian records below 1,000 m (Pople et al. 1997, Barrio and Begazo 1998, Isherwood and Willis 1998, Strewe 2001). It has been observed eating leaves, coffee berries and banana fruits (Isherwood and Willis 1998, Barrio and Díaz 2006). The species is supposedly monogamous. Breeding probably occurs during the wet season (between December and May). Clutch sizes average three chicks (Barrio and Díaz 2006).


In west Ecuador, forest cover below 900 m was reduced from 63% in 1958 (of the cover in 1938) to less than 8% in 1988 (Dodson and Gentry 1991). In higher parts of the species's range, deforestation has been slower, and a greater proportion of forest remains (Best and Kessler 1995, J. Hornbuckle in litt. 1999). In Esmeraldas, annual deforestation rates of lowland evergreen forest were 3.8%; the accumulated loss of primary forest in the last decade was 38% (Cárdenas 2007). The Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve is increasingly affected by illegal logging, hunting, and other activities (O. Jahn in litt. 2007). Colonisation and land development are progressing through infrastructural improvement, particularly the expansion of road networks, and in turn are increasing the impact of logging, cattle-ranching, oil palm planting, and in drier areas also understorey-grazing by goats and cattle (Best and Kessler 1995, O. Jahn in litt. 2007, Jahn 2011). Pressure from mining and agricultural expansion is increasing (G. Buitrón-Jurado in litt. 2018). Continuing habitat loss will soon remove almost all remaining unprotected forest, if effective action is not taken urgently (Best and Kessler 1995, O. Jahn and P. Mena Valenzuela in litt. 2007, Jahn 2011). Degradation of forest fragments through intensive grazing perhaps explains the paucity of recent records at low elevations in Peru. The species is hunted in Ecuador and Peru, even within designated protected areas in the latter (Barrio and Begazo 1998, F. Angulo Pratolongo in litt. 2012).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Significant populations occur in Machalilla National Park (Guayas/Manabí) and the Northwest Peru Biosphere Reserve (Tumbes and Piura), but these are affected by illegal settling, hunting, livestock-grazing and habitat clearance (Parker and Carr 1992). Several other protected areas in Ecuador hold populations (Parker and Carr 1992, Best and Kessler 1995, Pople et al. 1997, Barrio and Begazo 1998, Isherwood and Willis 1998, J. F. Freile in litt. 2000), and it may occur in the lower parts of the Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve (O. Jahn in litt. 2007) and the large Chongón-Colonche Protection Forest, which is the nucleus of a reforestation project (E. Horstman in litt. 2000). A breeding programme is being carried out by Crax Peru at a breeding centre in Olmos (V. R. Díaz Montes in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor populations. Research and manage limiting factors. Conduct research into its biology (Strahl et al. 1994). Map the forest patches of the Cordillera Chongón-Colonche to identify further sites for protection (E. Horstman in litt. 2000). Improve the effectiveness of protected areas in west Ecuador (Parker and Carr 1992). Designate the Awá Reserve, Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, Awacachi corridor, Gran Reserva Chachi, and Canandé Reserve, including the río Santiago, Cayapas, Onzole, and Hoja Blanca drainages, as a biosphere reserve (O. Jahn in litt. 2007, Jahn 2011). Consolidate protection of the Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve through law enforcement against illegal logging, hunting, and colonisation inside the reserves and sustainable management projects in its buffer zone (O. Jahn in litt. 2007). Increase effective protection (improving capacity and infrastructure) throughout the Northwestern Peru Biosphere Reserve (encompassing Amotapes National Park and El Angolo Hunting Reserve). Reintroduce the species at suitable sites (F. Angulo Pratolongo in litt. 2012). Initiate an education programme for communities adjoining Northwestern Peru Biosphere Reserve. Continue the captive breeding programme (V. R. Díaz Montes in litt. 2007).


56-66 cm. Small, brownish, arboreal cracid. Rufous head and neck, brown upperparts, rufous primaries and tips to outer rectrices, belly becoming whitish, red dewlap. Voice Song repeated, raucous kwak-ar-ar, cha-cha-kaw or shriller kra-kra-ka phrases; alarm calls guan-like honking and yelping calls.


Text account compilers
Khwaja, N., Sharpe, C.J., Symes, A., Jahn, O., Symes, A., Benstead, P., Wheatley, H.

Hornbuckle, J., Coopmans, P., Horstman, E., Buitron, G., Jahn, O., Angulo Pratolongo, F., Mena-Valenzuela, P., Freile, J., Díaz Montes, V.R.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Ortalis erythroptera. Downloaded from on 10/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 10/12/2023.