In North America, Chukars live in dry high-elevation shrublands between 4,000 and 13,000 feet. They usually occur on steep, rocky hillsides with a mixture of brush, grasses, and forbs. They also occur across barren plateaus and deserts with sparse grasses. In most areas, big sagebrush is the dominant plant species, which can be an important part of their diet. Chukars tend not to stray far from water, especially during the short, hot summers. Individuals move continuously and range widely, especially during winter when birds move in groups. In tough winters with heavy snowfalls, Chukars may venture down into agricultural fields or towns in search of food.Back to top
Chukars are ground foragers and are 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). Chukars also eat seeds from pinyon pine, sunflower, rough fiddleneck, and tansy mustard. During the late fall and winter, green grass leaves provide the bulk of their diet.Back to top
Chukars hide their nests near rocks and brush on mountain slopes, or under sagebrush, saltbush, goldenbush, or desert tea.
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. Females do most of the nest tending, although males sometimes stay with their mates and help during the nesting season.
|Clutch Size:||10-21 eggs|
|Number of Broods:||1 brood|
|Egg Length:||1.5-1.9 in (3.7-4.8 cm)|
|Egg Width:||1.2-1.3 in (3-3.2 cm)|
Pale white to coffee colored, with purplish, reddish, or yellowish brown spots.
|Condition at Hatching:|
Covered in down, eyes open, able to leave the nest and feed soon after hatching.
Chukars spend most of their time on the ground, only taking flight for short distances when threatened. 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, often tucked under vegetation or a rock. Chukars are monogamous and males hold territories during the breeding period. Courtship displays often begin with calling by the male and female. The male then performs 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 sweeping the ground. The male typically leaves the female after the eggs are laid, though a small percentage of males stay with the family group. Chukars are social birds and form family groups called coveys that can grow to include multiple families. 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.Back to top
Chukars were introduced to the United States from Pakistan in 1893, but few survived. Between 1931 and 1970, additional introductions in the western U.S. helped establish wild populations in 10 western states (California, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming) and British Columbia, Canada. Chukars also successfully colonized the six main islands in Hawaii after introductions in the 20th century. Now they are common in the western United States and British Columbia and the population was stable from 1968 to 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 9 million. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List. Wildlife officials manage Chukars as an upland game species and some states still release farm-reared birds for hunting purposes.Back to top
Christensen, Glen C. 1996. Chukar (Alectoris chukar), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2016). The State of North America's Birds 2016. Environment and Climate Change Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.
Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.
Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.
Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.