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The Much Maligned National Bird

We learn about it in school, it’s on our coat of arms, it’s somewhere in every government building across the country – but why does it not receive the same veneration as its counterpart? Well, this is aside from the issue of a single nation having two national birds. After a quick search, I realized that Trinidad and Tobago is the actually only country in the entire world to have two officially recognized national birds. By this same logic, St Vincent and the Grenadines should have a couple hundred national birds.

Anyway, this poor bird has been shoved aside in favour of the more resplendent Scarlet Ibis. Everyone knows and loves the Scarlet Ibis. What is it about this “secondary” national bird that has ensured that it has never captured the hearts of us as children growing up in this young nation? How many citizens of this country actually know its real name? Like that friend you’ve had for a number of years but you’ve never known his/her real name. Why is there so much mystery? Why are there so many questions?!

All that aside, allow me to introduce the Rufous-vented Chachalaca – or Cocrico – as it’s referred to locally. Chachalacas are a large family of reasonably large birds, distantly related to the Guan family (of which Trinidad harbours its own).

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These birds are ubiquitous across forested areas of Tobago – so much so that they are viewed as pests by locals. Eating out the kitchen garden is the main complaint. As a photographer, this simply allows for flexibility in working with a cooperative subject!

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Not only are they common, they’re often ridiculously tame. Viewed by many as an ugly brown bird, few have taken the opportunity to understand the subtle gradient from brown to an entirely grey head. Not to mention that pink wattle.











From what I’ve seen, when in the mating season, males’ wattles tend to be engorged almost. The flood of adrenaline and other hormones fuels a particularly aggressive copulation, with the male grabbing the consenting female by the neck.

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Sprouting from that union is the cutest iteration of the life of a Cocrico, don’t you think?

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Now given that Tobago has a perceived over-abundance of Rufous-vented Chachalaca, what should be the solution? A cull? People seem to use this as justification for an open hunting season on these social birds. Few have taken the time to listen to their calls properly. We all know the raucous co-cri-co that echoes over the valleys at the crack of dawn (and all day) – but did you know that in the quiet of the forest – in their moments of solitude – they make the softest crooning noises to one another? I wish I could describe it better – but it’s just something that you need to experience to fully understand.

I have a definite solution for this “problem” though. Stop killing snakes. Tobagonians have a well-established, deeply-ingrained fear of snakes, and usually will kill anything that loosely resembles a snake. But snakes have an essential role to play in maintaining the populations of other animals in check. As the major predator on the island, all other species fall under their jurisdiction. Snakes will take eggs and young birds, perhaps a large Boa Constrictor may grab an adult or two.

The balance only works when all parties are present.

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