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Chukar

Alectoris chukar ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: PHASIANIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A native of southern Eurasia, the Chukar was introduced to North America as a game bird. A handsome little cinnamon and gray partridge with striking stripes along its sides and a bright red bill and feet, the Chukar is a distinctive game bird. Since the 1940s this species has established itself in the Great Basin and southern Canada, where it lives in arid, rocky terrain. It has also been introduced to Hawaii.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Male
Length
13.4–15 in
34–38 cm
Weight
19–27 oz
538–765 g
Female
Weight
12.9–19 oz
367–538 g
Other Names
  • Perdrix choukar (French)
  • Perdriz chukar (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Chukar takes advantage of all water sources, from rivers and creeks, to springs and nearly stagnant seeps that hardly moisten the ground. They have been found getting water in mine shafts over 3 m (10 feet) below ground level, and sometimes they have been observed well back in mine tunnels where only faint light revealed the water.
  • In Hawaii, Chukars may play a beneficial role—similar to that of the rare native Nene goose—in dispersing native plant species.
  • Chukars are opportunists and may eat cultivated grains when available, but they are not a serious threat to agriculture. Most birds live outside of agricultural areas and take only grain left on the ground after harvest.
  • Chukars seem to enjoy a good dust bath. Dusting bowls are commonly found alongside trails, near shelter of shrubs and trees, and at base of rocky outcrops. Dust bowls are particularly prevalent near watering sites, where birds seem to prefer the damp soil.

Habitat


Mountains

In North America, Chukars live in arid to semiarid high-elevation shrubland, between 4,000 and 13,000 feet. They are usually on steep hillsides with rocky slopes—including rimrock, talus, and bluffs—that have a mixture of brush, grasses, and forbs. They also occur across desert with sparse grasses and barren plateaus. In most areas, big sagebrush is the dominant plant species and can be an important part of their diet. Chukars are usually found close to a water source, especially during the short, hot summers. Individuals move continuously and range widely, especially during winter when birds move in groups. In tough winters, when snow covers their rural habitat, Chukars may venture into agricultural fields or towns.

Food


Seeds

Chukars are ground foragers, and predominantly vegetarian as adults; chicks are fed mainly insects. In North America, Chukars’ preferred foods are the leaves and seeds of annual and perennial grasses, primarily introduced cheatgrass, and seeds of plants associated with the sagebrush plains of the Great Basin, or the saltbush flats of more southern areas. Chukars also eat seeds from pinyon pine, sunflower, and tansy mustard. During the late fall and winter, green grass leaves provide bulk of their diet. Long winters and deep snow may force them into agricultural areas and towns in search of food.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
10–21 eggs
Egg Length
1.5–1.9 in
3.7–4.8 cm
Egg Width
1.2–1.3 in
3–3.2 cm
Incubation Period
24 days
Egg Description
Pale white to coffee colored, spotted with purplish, reddish, or yellowish brown.
Condition at Hatching
Eyes open and covered in down, able to leave the nest and feed itself soon after hatching.
Nest Description

Chukar nests are simple depressions scratched in the ground and lined with dry grasses and breast feathers. One nest measured in British Columbia had an outside diameter of about 8 inches and was 2 inches deep. The female does most of the nest tending, although males sometimes stay with their mate and brood throughout the breeding and nesting season.

Nest Placement

Ground

Chukars hide their nests near rocks and brush on mountain slopes, or under sagebrush, saltbush, goldenbush, or desert tea.

Behavior


Ground Forager

Chukars spend most of their time on the ground, and only rarely take flight for short distances when threatened, preferring to run if possible. Their alert and vocal nature make them sentinels for approaching danger, and they have distinct calls for both ground and overhead predators. Birds roost on the ground, tucked under vegetation or rock, or sometimes even in plain sight. Chukars are monogamous, and males hold a territory during the breeding period. Males typically leave females after eggs are laid, though a small percentage of males stay with the family group. Courtship displays often begin with calling by both male and female, followed by the male performing a mixture of poses and behaviors, including tilting his head, turning sideways, pecking at objects, and circling the female, sometimes with a wing held low and sweeping the ground. Chukars are found in family groups called coveys that can grow to include multiple families or broods of chicks. Unmated adults of both sexes may also form a covey. During years of drought, adults may stay in these coveys all year, with only a few individuals pairing up to breed.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Since being introduced into North America, Chukar populations have been stable and are slightly increasing, according the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9 million birds, with 5% living in the U.S. The species rates a 7 out of 10 on the Continental Concern Score. Chuckar is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Starting in the late nineteenth century, Chukars have been introduced across North America as a game bird. They are a favorite game species among western hunters, and are one of the most heavily hunted upland game birds. Chukars thrive in areas altered by overgrazing and fire. Their ability to move long distances has enabled these birds to establish wild populations in 10 western states (California, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming) and British Columbia. They have also successfully colonized the six main islands in Hawaii after being introduced there in the 20th century. Population levels can vary dramatically from year to year depending on environmental conditions; fires and cold winters can kill adults and chicks. Chukars continue to be introduced in some areas and are managed as an upland game species.

Credits

Range Map Help

Chukar Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident, though in colder climates, individuals at higher elevations (between 6000 and 10,000 feet) descend to or below the snow line during winter.

Find This Bird

Once in a while Chukars venture into neighborhoods, but usually you have to take a trip to the wild shrublands to find this bird. Their colors blend into their habitat, but look for their striking red bills and striped sides as they run along the ground, and listen for their wide array of calls and sounds.

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