Outwitting the Chachalaca

In my first year here at the Retreat a large ground-feeding bird played havoc with most of the crops I was trying to grow. They came every dawn and dusk in a large flock to eat the leaves off the sweet potatoes, the corn off the cob and to pluck the flowers off the beans, melons and almost every kind of plant before the fruit could grow.

The local name for this bird is Hock-en-call because it makes a sound like vendors in the market place shouting out their wares, a harsh sound which the birds use to warn competitors that this is their patch.

In that first year I tried all the tricks I knew to keep them away: scarecrows, string lines, silver ribbons and tin lids swinging in the wind but they laughed at them all. Being committed to conserving nature, the more drastic options were not on the table.

I studied them for a while wondering what I could do next and noticed that they did not fly directly into their chosen feeding areas but landed outside and walked in. So I purchased a roll of 5ft high chicken wire and painstakingly cut it in half to make it stretch further — my cash was limited.

The resultant 2ft 6ins high fence did the trick. Many evenings I enjoyed the sight of them walking up to the fence and turning away in frustration.

The resident flock emigrated to more available pastures and all was quiet for a while. Then a young enterprising male arrived with two wives in tow. This new group followed the same pattern of landing outside the feeding area, walking up to the fence, and then turning away. Many times in the following weeks I saw the young male strutting up the fence line trying to find a way under or through the wire to no avail. I began to relax.

Then one day I saw it fly directly into the area while its wives remained outside. Then in another couple of days the wives began to copy their leader and they began to fly in too. It was clear to me that when the leader bred from his two wives he would quickly teach his offspring to do the same. I was in danger of losing the battle.

Now comes my confession.

A local man advised me to get a pellet gun and, if I did not want to kill the leader of the flock (which I didn’t) and just scare it away, I should shoot at its body as it had exceptionally tough feathers that could resist even shot gun lead.

Well I did just that and killed the bird stone dead. Now there are no bird invasions but there is this little bit of guilt lurking around inside my brain casing.

— H.A.E.

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